Outlets see 2011 as boom year

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, January 13, 2011

A mini-face lift, an aggressive marketing strategy and the ability to fill vacancies are plans the Outlets of Vicksburg is expecting to accomplish in 2011 after finishing with an OK year in 2010, general manager Margaret Gilmer said.

“We had a banner year in 2009 and had an adjustment in 2010,” said Gilmer, who has been general manager of the shopping center since it opened in 1995. “We felt a little bit of the downturn in the economy. We had hoped sales to be better, but considering the economy, we were pleased.”

The center is kicking off the new year with what Gilmer calls an aggressive marketing campaign to draw in more customers which translates into an increase in sales.

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“We’re tweaking it out to make sure it’s right,” she said. “We’ll send it out to all the corporations’ marketing departments. Every month we’ll have events planned and we’ll have some new things we feel that are important to the community as well as the center.”

This year, the outlets signed on to be a major sponsor of the Miss Vicksburg and Riverbend pageants as community projects and events to embrace local customers, who make up about 60 percent of the center’s foot traffic. Regional shoppers and tourists make up the rest, Gilmer said.

“We market within 100 miles and that’s where our core customers come from,” she said.

During 2010, the center saw one of its 27 stores, Bath & Body Works, close, and Gilmer said she wants to replace that specialty.

“In the outlet business, our playing field had narrowed,” she said Wednesday. “Right now, there isn’t anybody that does the same thing as Bath & Body. We would love for someone to fill that category because we felt like it was a great draw. It was well over a million-dollar store. It’s truly a loss to the center.”

The center has 30 spaces — 26 remain rented — and Gilmer said she hopes to fill the vacancies with specialty shops for men and women.

Leasing agents for the center have been courting such retailers as Black & Decker, a power tool company, and Ann Taylor Factory Store, an upscale women’s apparel shop, who are looking for locations this year.

“We’d like to expand our variety,” Gilmer said. “The real key is having a good tenant mix.”

rue 21, a contemporary men’s and women’s apparel store, saw a boom in business and remodeled its 3,000-square-foot store by doubling space to be able to offer more items.

Since the expansion in October, assistant store manager Sharon Vaughn said she has seen an increase in customers and sales.

“It has doubled,” she said Wednesday. “It’s more work, but it’s also fun. It was a great idea to expand.”

Expansion and such mini-face lifts as painting and molding work also are on the center’s radar this year.

“Possibly in this next year, if the economy turns around, they may be able to build additional space,” Gilmer said.

“The development center owns all the property all the way to Watkins’ (Nursery Home & Garden Center),” she said. “We have over 30 acres so we have plenty of room to expand.”

A road extension project connecting South Frontage Road to East Clay Street is another goal Gilmer said she continues to work toward strongly.

“It’s a costly project, but it’s moving forward,” she said. “It’s been ongoing. The engineers are making sure they are ready for the design phase.”

Discussions and studies to build a bridge connecting South Frontage Road from the Old Highway 27 intersection to East Clay Street at the outlets began in 1990. The projected cost is $12.1 million, she said.