On November 11, 2010, in a flurry of anticipation, ribbon cutting, and very long lines, Portland welcomed H&M, one of the world’s hottest retailers, to Pioneer Place in downtown. Throughout the day, between 800 and 1200 people were estimated to have lined the blocks at SW 5th and Taylor to catch a glimpse of low-priced trendy fashions and nab opening day bargains—a very welcome frenzy in an era of vacancy and “for lease” signs. The popular fast fashion retailer’s arrival couldn’t come at a better time, filling a vacancy by downtown’s loss of Saks Fifth Avenue.
H&M’s entry marks another success story for Portland’s Downtown Retail Strategy. In 2008 and 2009, Leland Consulting Group worked on behalf of the City, Portland Development Commission, and Portland Business Alliance to create a retail strategy aimed at analyzing the strengths of downtown, building a marketing strategy and an action plan to engage public and private investments and attract dynamic new retailers to downtown’s signature retail streets. H&M was highlighted as a perfect fit for downtown because of its mix of trendy fashion and very affordable prices—a match for Portlanders who are both fashion and budget conscious. And while Portlanders continue to grapple with the statewide unemployment rate and downtown has experienced retail vacancies, H&M— as a fast fashion retailer— should offer much needed relief to budget conscious shoppers and neighboring businesses needing frequent foot traffic.
Fast fashion retailers are cropping up across the country and it is no surprise that consumers can’t get enough. Fast fashion stores defy retail convention by continually changing their inventory in direct response to what people are wearing on the street. Stores like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara adapt their design, manufacturing, and distribution cycles to continually churn out new pieces and an ever revolving inventory at low prices. They reportedly take inspiration from street style, translate them to new designs, have products manufactured, delivered to stores, and on the rack sometimes as quickly as three weeks. Their output eclipses more traditional retailers that deliver scheduled seasonal fashions only a handful of times a year.
For the customer, this means an “it’s now or never” mentality to shopping. Customers can’t afford to mull over an item, as it may not be there the next time they come back. What it also means is an exciting shopping experience– knowing that every shopping trip will mean new and engaging fashions.
And now, more than ever, when choosy customers have a wealth of knowledge and options at their fingertips- when wallets are slimmer and storefronts face growing competition from online competitors- retailers, developers, and downtowns need to build an engaging and enjoyable experience where customers want to spend their time, not just their money.
Following Saks’ departure, Dave Leland noted:
“Retail is real estate’s fastest changing sector. Therefore, the environment in which retail is located must be healthy, inviting and attractive. Walkable streets, excellent transit, hotels, nightlife and restaurants, a strong office workforce, and public places such as Pioneer Square, Director Park, and the Park Blocks assure a downtown that can accommodate change of retailers without compromising the heart of the city.”
H&M’s opening marks one of many steps necessary to successfully fulfill Portland’s Downtown Retail Strategy. By attracting other exciting tenants, proactively promoting and marketing the merits of downtown’s key retail streets, and investing in the redevelopment of key properties, downtown can continue to grow and thrive.
- Fatima Al-Dahwi, Project Manager and Retail Specialist