Friday, September 30, 2011

TCBY fro-yo gears up to grow

As frozen yogurt joints continue popping up across the Charlotte area, TCBY has announced a major deal with a local franchisee to expand in the Carolinas.

Samuel Batt, who I previously wrote about here, currently owns and operates seven TCBY franchises in Charlotte. He brought the first self-serve TCBY format to the city, similar to popular new hotspots like Pinkberry and Yoforia.

Now, TCBY has signed a 10-year agreement with Batt to open or franchise another 23 stores in North and South Carolina, for a total of 30 stores. Batt has two more franchises set to open by the end of the year, one at the Quail Corners Shopping Center and one at the Town Center Plaza in the University area.

The move will increase TCBY's presence across the Carolinas by more than 50 percent. The chain currently has 29 stores in North Carolina and 14 in South Carolina.

"The company’s first self-serve location launched in Charlotte last year and set the stage for significant growth in the surrounding area,” said Batt in a statement. “This expansion of stores will provide more accessibility for customers by bringing locations closer to home."

Other notes:

The remodeled and expanded Belk store at Monroe Crossing mall is set to reopen Wednesday, Oct. 12. The store is undergoing a $5.8 million renovation. Belk has expanded the store by 30,000 square feet, to a total size of 90,000 square feet, and the store's fixtures, flooring and lighting have been redone. The children's department, formerly in a separate, nearby store in the mall, has been brought into the main store.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Carolina Ale House opens uptown

Beer drinkers uptown, rejoice: There's another spot to imbibe uptown, with the opening of Carolina Ale House.

The Raleigh-based chain's first Charlotte restaurant is now open, bringing its total number of restaurants to 16.

Located at 201 S. College Street, the new restaurant's menu includes food such as dry-rubbed chicken wings and burgers topped with chili and coleslaw, along with a pretty solid beer list.

Have you tried this place yet? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rock Hill Galleria J.C. Penney gets a facelift

J.C. Penney's Rock Hill store is scheduled for  a renovation that will grow selling space by more than 60 percent and add new merchandise lines, as the retailer works to raise slumping sales.

The department store, opened in 1991, is one of the mall's anchors. Construction will kick off shortly, the mall's owners said, and be completed by fall 2012. The store will increase to 83,000 square feet from its current 51,600 square feet.

"The JC Penney expansion is a positive step in re-energizing the retail offerings at the tri-county’s only enclosed shopping center," said Michael Wheat, director of leasing for the Galleria's developer, Cypress Equities.

The bigger store will also have more name brands in clothing, a new line of home goods and a Sephora cosmetics shop, according to Observer partner The Rock Hill Herald.

J.C. Penney has been reporting disappointing financial results lately. The retailer reported its second-quarter sales dipped about .8 percent, and in August J.C. Penney reported its monthly sales fell 4.5 percent compared to a year ago.

A major part of the company's efforts has been adding Sephora boutiques, which sell high-margin items, to its department stores. The company now has Sephoras inside about a quarter of its 1,100 stores, and added 22 more last quarter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Events showcase products for blind at Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods

On Wednesday, eight area Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods will host events showcasing products with packaging for the blind, with a portion of proceeds going to benefit the visually impaired.

The event is in support of "Braille Awareness Day." Body care product company Cleanlogic CEO Isaac Shapiro says he started the day to honor his mother.

The Cleanlogic products feature Braille on the packaging. A portion of any proceeds will be donated to the Metrolina Association for the Blind.

Here's a list of the stores participating:
Harris Teeter:
Arboretum, 3333 Pineville-Matthews Road (free vision counseling at this location)

Steele Croft, 13000 South Tryon Street

Matthews Festival, 1811 Matthews Township Parkway

Cotswold, 112 S. Sharon Amity Road

Lowe's Foods:

Kenton Place Shopping Center, 17001 Kenton Drive, Cornelius

Mint Hill Town Center, 7036 Brighton Park Drive

Stockbridge Commons Shopping Center, Tega Cay

Schoolhouse Commons Shopping Center, 4445 School House Commons, Harrisburg

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Brixx Pizza opens new Gastonia shop

Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, first opened in Dilworth in 1998, is opening its first restaurant in Gastonia.

The new restaurant is on Cox Road, across from the new Target store and I-85. Brixx said it is the restaurant's first location built from scratch, and will seat 139 customers inside and 30 on the patio.

The Gastonia location is owned by franchisee Dan Thrower, who also owns the Medical Center Pharmacy and diner in the same shopping center.

Brixx has grown to 22 locations, and the company says its looking to expand with additional franchises across the Southeast.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Versona Accessories store to open next week

Charlotte-based apparel retailer Cato is branching out into more upscale shopping, with the launch of its Versona Accessories store concept next week in south Charlotte's Arboretum shopping center.

The store is set to open next Thursday, Sept. 29. Cato, which operates some 1,285 stores mainly focused on value-priced apparel, said the Versona stores will sell "jewelry, handbags, shoes, belts, scarves, hair accessories, sunglasses, gift items and more" in an "upscale shopping environment comparable to better specialty and department stores."

The new store will employ about 25 people, Cato said.

"Versona Accessories promises to be a unique fashion destination where women can find the perfect accents to any outfit, no matter what the occasion. We are excited about our first Versona store opening in Charlotte," said Cato CEO John Cato.

The Arboretum store will be followed by openings in Columbia, SC, Baton Rouge, LA, and Louisville, KY in October. Cato plans to open 40 to 50 more Versona stores over the next 18 months. The retailer's real estate materials say Cato is searching for 7,000 to 9,000-square-foot stores in high traffic shopping centers and malls with upscale fashion tenants.

For the most recent quarter, Cato reported in August that its profits rose to $18.1 million, up from $17 million last year. Total revenue rose slightly for the quarter, to $237 million.

But sales at stores open for a year or more, considered a key measure of retail health, slumped about 1 percent for the quarter, Cato said. Executives blamed the bad economy, and said still-high fuel and raw materials costs could dampen its results for the rest of the year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bi-Lo celebrating its 50th anniversary

Mauldin, S.C.-based Bi-Lo is turning 50, and a four-state tour celebrating the occasion will stop Wednesday at a store in Charlotte.

The tour, in a vintage Airstream trailer, will be at the 8120 South Tryon street store (at the intersection with West Arrowood Road) from noon to 2 p.m.

The tour stop will include prize giveaways to customers, including t-shirts and Bi-Lo brand products. Ten shoppers will receive $250 worth of groceries and ten will win $70 worth of gas. A six-pack of glass bottles of Coca-Cola will be priced at 99 cents, the same as they cost in 1961.

Bi-Lo operates 207 grocery stores in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two new TCBYs: Quail Corners, Town Center Plaza

Two more TCBY frozen yogurt stores are slated to open in Charlotte this winter, one in the Quail Corners shopping center in south Charlotte and one in the Town Center Plaza shopping center at Highway 49 and W.T. Harris Boulevard.

Both franchise stores will be owned and operated by local entrepreneur Samuel Batt (you can read more about Batt in this previous story about local business owners, or on TCBY's website). The two new locations will bring Batt's number of TCBY franchises to eight. Batt opened Charlotte's first TCBY self-serve store in April 2010.

Quail Corners is in the midst of a multi-million dollar redevelopment, and TCBY is the first new tenant announced. The store will be filling the space left by a recently closed Dilworth Coffee shop. In Town Center Plaza, the new TCBY will be going into the closed Heavenly Ham store.

Both shopping centers are leased and managed by Charlotte firm CNL Crosland Commercial Real Estate.

Frozen yogurt has seen a big popularity surge in Charlotte, with names like Yoforia, The Frozen Isle and Menchie's popping up.

If you want to read more about the rise of frozen yogurt in south Charlotte, check this Observer story out.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hot Christmas gift list out - already

Fall hasn't even replaced summer, but the predictions of what we'll be buying come Christmas have already begun.

PriceGrabber, a comparison shopping site, says it has compiled a list of what will be the hottest holiday purchases, based on "PriceGrabber internal Web analytics and secondary research (Google Trends, CNET and PCWorld).

The list is tech- and gadget-heavy, which probably isn't surprising given that it appears to be based mostly on Internet data. PriceGrabber claims each of the items will "make a splash."

Here is the list, in full:
· Canon® EOS Rebel™ T2i DSLR: Canon’s 18-megapixel EOS Rebel T2i is a great entry-level digital SLR camera. It offers terrific image and video quality and has an audio-in jack to add sound to videos.
· Mattel® Loopz™ Game: This unique electronic game requires that a child has both memory and skill in order to be a winner. Players must mimic the action of the Loopz in the game to win points. This game is intended for small groups of one to four.
· Fisher-Price® Dance Star Mickey: This interactive Mickey Mouse™ plush toy walks, talks and dances to the most popular beats of all the Disney® classics.
· My Pillow Pets™: These pillows double as a toy that children can play with. They can be shaped like a dolphin, a dog or even a ladybug.
· &eBook Reader (Amazon® Kindle 3™, Barnes & Noble® Nook™, Sony® Reader™): An eBook reader holds a consumer’s library, providing access to favorite book titles at one’s fingertips. eBook readers make it easy to take notes, save clippings of quotations and highlight passages.
· UGG® Australia Classic Short Boot: The Australian-brand unisex sheepskin boots are lined with fleece, have a nonslip rubber sole, wick away moisture to help feet stay dry and come in a variety of colors.
· Apple® iPod Touch™: Apple has added all of the most advanced features to its iPod Touch, allowing consumers to converse over FaceTime™, shoot scenes in HD and utilize the highest-resolution iPod™ screen to date.
· Apple® iPad 2™: The latest iPad was released in March 2011 and features an all-new thinner, lighter design equipped with two cameras for FaceTime and HD video recording, dual-core A5 chip and same 10-hour battery life.
· Kinect™ for Xbox 360™: Kinect allows consumers to control games and entertainment in extraordinary new ways, such as with the wave of a hand or the sound of one’s voice.
· Syma® S107/S107G RC Indoor Helicopter: At approximately 7.5 inches long, the brand-new three-channel gyro mini metal RC helicopter is one of the world’s newest, smallest and lightest RC helicopters. It charges directly either from the USB cable or from the controller, which uses AA batteries and has a full-function control for the perfect flight.
· Motorola® DROID 3™: Motorola DROID 3 is the successor of the Motorola DROID 2™. It comes with a 4-inch qHD display and has a 30 percent faster graphics chip than its predecessor, but it also sports a larger five-row keyboard. In addition, the new handset boasts 27 percent faster multitasking performance over the DROID 2 Global thanks to its 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP chip. The DROID 3 also is capable of recording 1080p full HD videos with its 8-megapixel rear camera.
Added PriceGrabbe: "Other notable products forecasted to be a hit during the holiday shopping season include the Apple® iPhone 5™, which is scheduled for release in fall 2011, and the LeapFrog® LeapPad Explorer, a personalized play and learning tablet for children and available on Aug. 20, 2011."

What do you think of the list? Are these things you see yourself buying? And is it too early to forecast favorite Christmas presents?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First EA Sports Experience comes to Charlotte's airport

If you've been dying to play Madden while waiting for your flight, Charlotte/Douglas International Airport finally has a solution: The country's first EA Sports Experience has a grand opening scheduled there for Friday.

EA Sports is the videogame maker responsible for many major sports titles (including games based on FIFA, the NBA, NCAA, the PGA Tour and of course the juggernaut Madden series).

The new EA Sports Experience, located in the airport's Concourse C, will be sort of a combined sports bar/videogame cafe/travel lounge. EA execs say the 1,400-square-foot store features food, drink, merchandise from local and North Carolina teams, 24 televisions for sports and four game consoles with EA titles to play.

"Hopefully, consumers will see it as kind of a waypoint in their traveling day," said Chris Erb, EA's VP of brand marketing. The store has spots for travelers to charge their phones and laptops.

Having an EA-branded chain of retail stores and traveler waystations is also a great marketing opportunity, Erb said.

Currently, the game kiosks feature just-released Madden 2012. They'll also have NCAA football games to coincide with the college football season.

Boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard will be on hand for Friday's 11 a.m. ribbon-cutting, EA said, as well as mascots from rivals Duke and UNC Chapel Hill.

EA plans to open two more EA Sports Experience stores in airports this year, Erb said.

Other news: Charlotte-based apparel retailer Cato reported disappointing August results on Thursday, with stores open for a year or more seeing their sales drop by 3 percent. Retailers as a whole seemed to fare better in August: An index of stores tracked by Retail Metrics posted a same-store sales increase of 3.9 percent, excluding gasoline.

Another daily deal coupon site, Half Off Depot, is debuting in the Charlotte market. The site currently lists more than 100 deals in Charlotte, for things ranging from paintball to spa services to car detailing to restaurants. The site is one of dozens that have sprung up in the wake of industry-leader Groupon.

Half Off Depot says what makes it different is that its deals aren't offered on a time-limited basis, and it pays merchants in advance, rather than split proceeds with the merchants after the deals are sold. Lately, however, there's been a lot of negative buzz about the sites (like this Bloomberg story). What do you think? Are we overdue for a daily deal bust?