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Since Oklahoma City rang in 2012, two high-profile national brands opened stores in the metro area, a continuing trend for retailers that previously had little interest in the market. While Anthropologie and Dave & Buster’s had people shouting from the rooftops, many smaller regional and national brands moved here or expanded their presence.
For Dave & Buster’s, general manager Bob Ball says it was all about demographics. The recently opened arcade and eatery opened a smaller version of its traditional concept, yet 6,000 square feet larger than the Tulsa store, making Oklahoma City a test market. He says some of the larger markets have locations that are 70,000 square feet or more; the Oklahoma City location is 23,805 square feet.
“This is actually the very first store in this prototype,” Ball says. “This is a store we are looking at being able to go into smaller markets.”
local retail experts might not want Oklahoma City to be portrayed as a
smaller market, Ball says the company does not see the city as inferior;
instead, there are simply fewer people than in places such as Atlanta,
Miami and Philadelphia, with populations of several million. The
Oklahoma City metro area, on the other hand, has a population of about
“We’re looking at population base,” he says. “It fits it perfectly here.”
Sure, many have noticed larger chains opening, but Alison Oshel, community redevelopment director with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, says the city has experienced an influx of smaller stores staking claim or expanding here. But there is still work to do.
“Penn Square Mall has added a number of high-profile, smaller national tenants, including Pandora and Vans,” she says. “These are smaller users, but every bit as impactful to the consumer’s attitude about their shopping experience in Oklahoma City.”
Then there are other stores that Oshel hopes will take a closer look at Oklahoma City, noting H&M and Lululemon Athletica. She says the chamber has been trying to recruit those brands and others, while some come calling on their own.
She says she is in hot pursuit of the aforementioned stores, as well as grocery stores Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market and Sprouts. She also would like to see In-N-Out Burger, which opened its first Texas stores last year, and California Pizza Kitchen.
Getting them here is another matter. “Since they all have access to their own internal research, what we bring to the table is the ability to inform them of why our market dynamics are fantastic, even when their own research department has decided that we don’t meet their criteria,” Oshel says. “We spend a good deal of time touting our low cost of living, high disposable income, growing income, increased personal wealth and, not least, the ease of transportation within the entire city.”
Case in point: Whole Foods. Oklahoma City did not meet its demographic threshold, but once the store opened, it was reported as one of the strongest openings in the chain’s history.
Oshel says small fish follow the big fish, and fish do swim in schools. For every large retail win, several smaller ones are likely to follow.
Looking at the successes of 2011, Oshel says perhaps the word is simply getting around that Oklahoma City can support specialty and high-end retail.
“It’s hard to know what
exactly is driving the new activity,” she says. “I happen to believe
that it is the sum of all the good news that is gaining us new
Photo by Shannon Cornman