Friday, May 27, 2011

New massage franchise opens at Sharon Corners

A former naval officer is opening an Elements massage franchise in the Sharon Corners shopping center near SouthPark mall.

The store will be the city's first Elements, joining a crowded massage scene with dozens of studios and spas of all types, independents and franchises. Elements owner Mark Little, who has lived in Charlotte for about 10 years, said what will set his franchise apart is a focus on therapeutic massage.

The health benefits of a good deep tissue or Swedish massage more than justify the expense, Little thinks. Similar to Massage Envy's (which has a half-dozen stores in Charlotte) business model, Elements has a membership option, offering discounts for monthly massages.

Little's Elements massage has a grand opening today, Friday, May 27. The business is offering discounted massages and Father's Day specials. Little says he plans to open two more massage stores in south Charlotte over the next two years.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Family Dollar still talked about as takeover target

Two months after rejecting a takeover bid from billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, another influential investor is discussing the Matthews-based company's allure as an acquisition.

Bill Ackman, of Pershing Square Capital, gave a presentation yesterday at an investment conference called "All in the Family," touting the likelihood for a takeover of Family Dollar in the near future. Family Dollar, one of the Charlotte region's biggest homegrown success stories, could be worth a lot more per share than its current value, Ackman said, and possible buyers could include rivals like Dollar General or other leveraged buyout firms.

Ackman, also a well-known activist investor, also said his firm is buying Family Dollar shares. But he said his investment will only be a passive stake, and he won't pressure management for changes.

The mention of Family Dollar as a takeover target could reignite speculation that the nearly 7,000-store chain could be bought sometime soon. But the company still has a so-called "poison pill" in place, discouraging any hostile takeover attempts, so any buyer would likely have to approach with a significantly higher offer than Peltz's tender of $55-$60 per share.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New luggage store slated for SouthPark

SouthPark mall is getting a new luggage store, a few months after old standby Sharon Luggage closed its doors.

Atlanta-based Mori Luggage and Gifts is set to open Friday, June 3. The 3,500-square-foot store, featuring designer lines including Vera Bradley, Tumi and Victorinox/Swiss Army, will be the company's first in North Carolina.

In addition to luggage, the store will carry "fine writing instruments, leather wallets, jewelry boxes, globes, chess sets, and... a wide selection of travel accessories including packing folders, luggage tags, and passport cases," according to the retailer.

The first 100 customers at the store on Friday, June 3, will get a free Vera Bradley zip ID case. The store will also have special sales and a raffle for hundreds of dollars of prizes during its first month at SouthPark.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lowe's: We're hiring IT professionals

Lowe's Inc. announced Monday that it plans to hire up to 300 information technology professionals, beefing up its digital workforce as the role e-commerce plays in its business continues to grow.

The jobs will be based in Mooresville, where Lowe's is headquartered, and will include engineers, application developers, managers and others. Lowe's said 150 of the hires will be for new positions. The company currently has about 1,000 IT workers on staff. If you're interested in applying, visit this site.

Lowe's, which operates about 1,750 stores, is trying to grow its business in the face of strong economic headwinds. The housing market hasn't come close to recovering (in fact, its taking what many believe is the much-feared double-dip), and consumers still aren't back to the heady days of spending $25,000 for a kitchen remodel on a whim.

That's left Lowe's to focus on customers planning small jobs, generally less than $500. The company has grown its website and its presence of Facebook to connect with customers and sell to them outside of a traditional store. Company executives have also spoken about the importance of turning the company from a brick-and-mortar retailer to a multi-channel, home improvement provider.

In a statement, chief information officer Mike Brown said: “The walls of our stores have expanded as our customers and employees rely on technology to plan and execute their home improvement needs."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New South End furniture store opens

A new store opened last weekend across from Atherton Mill on South Boulevard, with the owner pledging to focus on selling high-quality, American-made furniture.

High Cotton Home Company is the second store by The Furniture Connector owner Rodney Hines. His other store is off South Boulevard, past Remount Road.

Hines said the 7,000-square-foot High Cotton Home store is meant to be an expression of a "Charlotte" style.

"We are not Atlanta and we're not like any other part of the country,"  said Hines in a press release. "We're a city that is becoming increasingly proud of its own style, and I want High Cotton Home to be the embodiment of the relaxed, yet luxurious style that I see as uniquely Charlotte.""

The store sells furniture from multiple American designers and manufacturers, including Vanguard Furniture in Hickory. High Cotton says it offers more than 50 finish and 1,600 upholstery options.

The new High Cotton Home store could presage something of a furniture renaissance for Charlotte. Stickley Furniture also announced this month that it is opening a second showroom, in addition to its store near SouthPark, in a 36,000-square-foot former Boyles furniture store near Northlake Mall. That location has been empty since Boyles declared bankruptcy during the recession.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lululemon to open Friday at SouthPark

Yoga-inspired apparel retailer lululemon athletica is set to open Friday, May 20, at SouthPark, offering free yoga classes and pricey apparel. The retailer's former showroom on Central Avenue, in Plaza-Midwood, is closed.

The Canadian chain has been growing rapidly, with revenue jumping nearly 60 percent last year, to $712 million. SouthPark store manager Jodi Patterson said in a statement that the retailer is looking forward to opening in the upscale mall.

"We are thrilled to roll out our yoga mats and sweat once a day with our new friends in Southpark Mall," said Patterson, "and look forward to providing our guests with beautiful technical apparel for all their sweaty pursuits."

Free Vinyasa Flow yoga classes are planned for Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Taco Mac set to open in University City

Beer lovers in the University City area are about to get another 100-plus tap option, with a second Taco Mac location set to open with a VIP party on Monday.

The Georgia-based chain already has one location in town, in Piedmont Row near SouthPark. The second location is in the old Texas Land & Cattle Steakhouse at 517 University Center Boulevard, off West W.T. Harris Boulevard.

The owners say it will have more than 70 high-definition TVs and a patio with room for 80 customers. In addition to the 100 taps, the Taco Mac will also feature 200 bottled beers.

The new Taco Mac will be just over a mile from beer juggernaut The Flying Saucer, another chain that's made having a ridiculously big beer selection and a loyalty program (UFO Club at The Flying Saucer, Brewniversity at Taco Mac) a centerpiece of their business.

But with a large college nearby, the owners are probably betting there are enough beer enthusiasts to support both.

Debit card PIN pads tampered with at five local Michaels stores

Five local Michaels stores - four in Charlotte and one in Matthews - have been added to a list of the retailer's locations found to have tampered PIN pads. The tampering could have led customers' payment cards to be compromised.

The arts and crafts retailer first found the tampering last week, and thought that the problem was limited to the Chicago region. Now, it's found 90 pin pads in multiple states that have been tampered with, affecting nearly 10 percent of its stores.

Affected customers have already reported money stolen from their bank accounts, often at California ATMs, and often in the amount of $503, the Chicago Tribune reports

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NASCAR, Wal-Mart team up for big race promotion

In a combination as American as baseball and apple pie, Wal-Mart and NASCAR are teaming up to cross-promote each other this month.

Live music, stock car simulators, discounted merchandise such as race flags, T-shirts and tailgate gear are one tap at Wal-Mart, as well as in-person appearances by drivers. Packages of four tickets for $99, including four hot dogs, four sodas and a souvenir program are also being sold online.

Both the retail and racing giants have been struggling recently. Wal-Mart is fighting the longest slump in its history: Sales at US stores open a year or more have fallen for the last seven quarters. And NASCAR operators have had to lower ticket prices and work harder to get fans into its raceways, as recession-weary consumers and customers cut back.

A full list of the events, with dates and locations, is below, after the jump. You can also see more at

Monday, May 9, 2011

Peltz sounds off on Family Dollar

Nelson Peltz, the billionaire financier who recently made an unsuccessful bid to buy Matthews-based Family Dollar, answered some questions about his investing strategy and his relationship with the company in an interview with Fortune.

In the interview, published Monday, Peltz claims to have a better relationship with Family Dollar's management than has been portrayed in the media. He also repeats his calls for Family Dollar to open more stores to match competitor Dollar General's explosive growth over the past two years. The full interview is here.

Peltz is a founding partner and CEO of Trian Fund Management, a New York-based fund managing several billion dollars. Over the course of his career in high finance, Peltz has been called a corporate raider and a takeover artist as he's become known for buying under-performing companies and selling them for a profit. In his most celebrated transaction, Peltz bought Snapple for $300 million and sold it three years later to Cadbury-Schweppes for about $1.5 billion.

He first disclosed Trian had a large stake in Family Dollar last summer. Peltz pushed management to open new stores more quickly and to buy back stock. Earlier this year, Peltz said he was the company's largest shareholder, with an 8 percent stake, and made a $7 billion offer to take the company private. Family Dollar summarily rejected Peltz, and adopted a "poison pill" to discourage hostile takeover attempts.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Stickley's opens 2nd furniture showroom - in old Boyles building

New York-based furniture manufacturer Stickley has closed on a 36,000-square-foot building near Northlake Mall to turn into its second showroom here - and hopefully turn a new leaf in the hard-hit furniture market.

The building, at 7215 Smith Corners Boulevard, was formerly a showroom for Boyles Furniture. Conover-based Hendricks Furniture Group, which operated 34 stores including all the former Boyles locations. The company went belly-up during the recession, briefly emerged from bankruptcy and then announced it was liquidating its two remaining stores late last year.

The new showroom, which will carry Stickley and other furniture brands, is expected to open in mid-August. Stickley said its current showroom, at Sharon and Colony Roads, will remain open.

"At a time when many furniture manufacturers are closing their doors or reducing their footprints, we feel blessed to be in a position to expand," said Stickley CEO Aminy Audi in a statement.

Terms of the sale weren't disclosed. The property was valued at $3.2 million in this year's tax revaluation.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Retail sales jump in April, some still cautious

An index of sales at 25 major retailers jumped more than expected in April, but some analysts are still cautious about what we'll see going forward.

You can read a detailed story about the sales results here (apologies if anyone gets paywalled out by the New York Times).

The basic gist of things is that sales jumped more than forecast, climbing 8.9 percent. Analysts had expected a rise of 8.2 percent. Some retailers missed expectations, but even they still saw good results. Kohl's, for example, increased sales 10.2 percent, while analysts forecast a huge bump of 15.1 percent.

Economic forecasters said again that there's plenty to be wary about, and the cautionary factors should be familiar by now. National average gas prices are shooting up and expected to top $4 for a gallon  of regular in a week or so (Charlotte's gas prices hit $3.87 a gallon Thursday, and should hit $4 in under two weeks at the current rate of increase). Jobless claims are headed back up, though whether it's because of one-time events or worse trends, no one knows.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lowe's jumps in customer rankings; new Concord Mills stores

Two pieces of quick news for Wednesday: Mooresville-based Lowe's Inc., the second-biggest home improvement retailer, jumped from fourth to second place in J.D. Power and Associates' customer satisfaction rankings, and Concord Mills announced three retailers set to open this year.

Lowe's, which had sales of nearly $49 billion last year, raised its scores in J.D. Power's fifth annual survey of home improvement customers. The increase was largely driven by improvements in merchandising, J.D. Powers said. Ace Hardware ranked first in the study, and Menards came in third (typo fixed - thanks, readers).

All of the retailers scored in a fairly narrow band between 708 and 786 on a 1,000-point scale used to judge retailer quality, with Lowe's beating the industry's average score of 754. Other interesting tidbits from the survey: The average customer spent $1,650 at home improvement stores in the last 12 months, and the percentage of customers using self-checkout stations rose from 42 to 53 percent.

Also on Wednesday, Lowe's announced it is donating another $500,000 to the Red Cross relief effort for victims of recent tornadoes, on top of $250,000 already gave.

Shifting gears, Concord Mills said on Wednesday that Crazy 8 will open there later this summer. Crazy 8 is a kid's clothing retailer run by the Gymboree Corporation. The mall also said that Relax Wellness, offering therapeutic chair massages, will open later this month, and Diva Nail Spa will have a grand opening for its remodeled store.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Higher sales forecast despite rising gas prices

Analysts are predicting positive results in spite of the sharply higher cost of fuel when many national retailers report their April sales figures this week, according to reports out today.

That would be welcome news for an economic recovery that's been shaken recently by higher-than-expected jobless claims, higher commodity costs and higher retail prices for many consumer goods.

Ken Perkins, of Retail Metrics, expects a 7.6 percent jump in same-store sales in an index of major retailers. He predicts the rise will be led by double-digit sales increases at discounters and teen apparel retailers. Wayne Hood, of BMO Capital Markets, is predicting an 8.2 percent bump, largely driven by discounters and club stores.

The late Easter holiday this year was expected to shift about 1 to 2 percentage points of growth from March into April's results. Sales at major retailers rose 2.2 percent in March.

Both Perkins and Hood acknowledged that lousy (and in many places, tragic) weather likely dampened consumer demand in April. And gas prices, spiraling up in a sickly echo of 2008, are also expected to rein in consumer spending.

(Downer note: At the current rate of increase, we're two weeks away from paying $4 a gallon for regular in the Charlotte metro area). Perkins wrote in his forecast that gas prices "are near record levels set in the summer of 2008 and at the psychological level where consumers change spending patterns." Even if retailers meet estimates for April, it remains to be seen how they'll weather the summer.