In the inflationary years that followed World War I, the company raised its prices, which resulted in it changing the store name to the V (five) Dollar Limit. When he saw growth, Beall built a larger store, which eventually became Beall’s Department Store.
More members of the Beall family joined the company, including Beall’s son, E.R. Beall. In the 1950s, the younger Beall saw potential in shopping centers that served middle-income retirees who came to Florida. He opened more locations in Bradenton and Venice, Fla., which drove the company’s sales past the million-dollar mark.
Beall also created the Bealls Outlet chain in 1987, which was a response to the outlet-retailing boom in the Carolinas. In 1992, the company opened a Bealls Outlet location in Arizona, which was the first location outside its home state of Florida.
Today, Bealls Inc. has more than 535 locations, which include more than 450 Bealls Outlet and Burkes Outlet stores. “Our premise is that we are the shopping solution for the family offering brands and fashion at big savings,” Alves says.
Bealls Inc. recently refocused the Bealls Outlet and Burkes Outlet concepts, Alves says. Previously, the stores were geared to a more mature market, including retired and snowbird customers.
Both outlet businesses had been very successful. However, “It wasn’t that we were trying to exclude our very loyal and long-term customers,” he asserts. “We [wanted to] reposition the organizations and focus them around a broader audience.”
Bealls/Burkes Outlets wanted to capture a customer base of working families with the stores, which required them to look and feel very different, Alves says. This included adding new fixtures and lighting that would “present product in more delightful and inviting ways,” he says.
“We also were able to take a significant amount of inventory out of the stores,” he continues. “With that extra space, we were able to re-merchandise them with more features for an easier shopping experience as well as introduce new and expanded products.
“We had to elevate the level of fashion and brands that we were offering the customers at unbelievable values,” Alves says. “The merchants were able to add 300 new vendors last year and 400 new vendors this year.”
Bealls/Burkes Outlet did not meet any reluctance from its employees during the process. Instead, “The team embraced all of it,” he reports. “They were excited by the vision.”
The changes have been met with positive responses from the stores’ customers, Alves adds. “Our relationships with our long-term customers have gotten even stronger,” he says.
“Equally, we’re seeing, as we hoped, a lot more new customers with those families coming with their kids,” he declares. “It’s been really positive all around.”
Building Up Strength
The changes in the Bealls Outlet and Burkes Outlet stores required changes to its employee-training program, Alves says. “We put a lot of effort behind the ‘employer of choice’ program for our field operations team, and hired a learning and development individual to look at opportunities for training,” he says.
“We’ve really put forward a concerted effort,” Alves asserts. “We believe one of our competitive advantages over our peers is we deliver outstanding customer service. To do that, we have to invest in our people.
“We have to put learning and development programs in place to maximize that talent,” he continues. “That’s really how we start to build [up] our bench strength.”
Bealls/Burkes Outlet also wants to elevate its field-level team, Alves adds. “We’re looking for a lot more career-minded people,” he describes. “We have recently introduced a very successful college recruitment and intern program, to develop our future leaders.”
An Aggressive Strategy
Over the past two years, Bealls Inc. has opened new Bealls Outlet and Burke’s Outlet locations, as well as relocated and expanded others, Alves says. “We’ve been real aggressive on our real estate strategy now that we’ve got a new store model that we like, with a different look and feel,” he says.
“We renovate between 30 to 50 stores a year to the latest prototype, and then we open or relocate another 20 to 30 stores per year,” he describes. “We plan to continue to do that and accelerate the new store growth even faster in the coming years.”
Although Florida is the company’s largest state, “Our biggest growth states are Texas, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina,” Alves says. “We are micro-focused on these priority states; working to reach critical mass in these markets represents 80 percent of our planned store openings.”
Arizona, he notes, was the very first state where Bealls Inc. put an outlet store outside of Florida. “We’re long-established there,” he says, noting that the company will likely target locations in Phoenix.
Texas, he adds, is a top priority for Burkes Outlet, as it is for many of its competitors. “For any major retailer, it is probably in their top-three markets,” he says. “We already have 40 stores in Texas, so we have some representation.
“We believe we can grow to 150 or 200 in Texas,” he describes, noting that Burkes Outlet plans to target Dallas. “We just need to grow the store count.”
North Carolina also represents another growing market for Burkes Outlet. “We have successful stores in that market,” he says. “The state holds the right demographics for the company. There’s also the recognition factor from a lot of Floridians who find their way to North Carolina for the summer.”
Bealls Inc. has made investments in new technology, including a new point-of-sale system. “We’ve completed the transition into a SAP point of sale software in the stores,” he says. “It’s given us the ability to serve our guests more efficiently and more effectively.”
The company also implemented a new allocation system in its merchandising office. “Our new SAS planning and allocation system helps us really understand how to allocate the right goods to the right stores at the right time,” he says. “It’s given us an elevated level of information.”
The company also launched a new website for Burkes Outlets that has established its e-commerce business. “We’re very happy with it,” Alves reports. “We’re continuing to learn and make changes as days and weeks go on.”
An important goal in the development of the site was to reflect the feel of shopping at Burkes Outlets. When customers are at the stores, “You never know what you’re going to find,” Alves says. “It’s an ever-changing assortment.”
Customers also feel a sense of urgency around making a purchase, a feeling the company wanted to replicate. To do that, the company implemented a merchandise countdown that lets consumers know when products are going out of stock, Alves says.
“If you want it, you’ve got to buy it now,” he says, noting that sold-out items are left on its site for several days so that consumers are aware of missed opportunities. “We’re trying to convey that sense of a treasure hunt. These are things that a traditional retail website doesn’t have imbedded in their business.”
Bealls and Burkes Outlets also connect to customers through social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, Alves says. “It’s more of an organic marketing campaign as opposed to a traditional external marketing campaign,” he says.
“Word of mouth is critical,” Alves continues, noting that the company wants to win over every shopper. “When they connect with us they’ll tell four people about their experience in our stores. It’s really our overarching method.”
An Engaged Team
Alves credits the success of the Outlet business to its employees. “It’s all about the people and we’ve been able to really leverage the synergy of the team,” he declares. “We are very clear and focused on what we want to accomplish and who we want to serve in our stores.”
He further credits the Beall family’s management, which has nurtured a team culture. “There’s a genuine respect and sense of belonging that everyone has,” he says.
“It’s a very healthy level of respect for each other, and equally, a very passionate and very committed group of people,” he says. “They are deeply engaged in this business.”
Alves predicts a strong future for the Outlet business. “We see ourselves continuing to expand our unique model,” he says. “We are in 16 states, but in many of those, we don’t have the density that we’d like to.
“We also believe there are many more markets we could extend to,” he continues. “That’s what we are working towards also. We will continue to nurture our e-commerce business and connect to more customers throughout the digital world as well.”