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11/18/2022

Luxury lives on Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive...and off I-270 in Columbus?

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Easton Town Center
Top luxury brands have taken up residence in Easton Town Center to make personal contact with small groups of key customers.

One of Ohio’s fastest-growing metros is the center of a Midwest expansion embarked upon by leading luxury brands.

One of the most remarkable retail stories to emerge from the pandemic was the huge lift in sales of luxury goods. Luxury spending in the United States catapulted upward by 47% in 2021 and continued to stay aloft by 14% in the first quarter of 2022, defying record inflation and macroeconomic concerns.

The story of luxury retail is not just growth, but the evolution of the segment. Once located exclusively in flagship markets, luxury has begun expanding outside of primary markets, exploring new states and opportunities. That trend is prominent here in the Midwest, where luxury brands have made real inroads recently. Understanding the factors behind this trend reveals insights not only about the luxury segment, but the growing importance of Midwestern markets.

Relationship retail. Mirroring national trends, Easton Town Center in Columbus has seen a significant increase in luxury sales relative to pre-pandemic numbers. While the city’s population has grown by 2.5% since 2019, our demographic makeup hasn’t changed. So what has? It seems to be a focused effort on the part of luxury retailers to reinvest in customer relationships and excellent service, meeting shoppers where they live as many shoppers stayed closer to home.

A key factor that defines the luxury shopping experience is relationship-building. In a space where a comparatively small number of shoppers can support most of a store’s sales, building strong relationships between sales associates and repeat shoppers is critical. This emphasis on relationships is becoming the standard as consumers have come to expect more personalized ways to shop and brands look for ways to provide that experience.

With a personal shopping experience—and a comparable selection of products—shopping around the corner instead of around the world becomes a welcome convenience.

Pandemic pressures. How is this relationship-focused approach relevant to luxury’s Midwestern expansion? The pandemic shifted where and how luxury customers shopped. Many who regularly traveled to New York, Los Angeles, or Europe to visit flagships were forced to look closer to home.  

As a result, these individuals have found they value the personal connection and service received when relationships are established with local sales associates. Building a consistent connection helps shoppers home in on their preferences and get insider tips on new products.

Columbus demographics. If the pandemic reinforced the fact that luxury brands need to meet their customers where they are, the nationwide growth of the segment reflects that there is an untapped population of affluent customers in cities across the Midwest. Ohio has been a hotbed of luxury growth, and the epicenter of that growth has been Columbus. Not only has Columbus experienced impressive growth in the last decade, but it’s an accurate economic indicator for Middle America and a dynamic test market for retailers.

From Fintech and investment to healthcare and aerospace, that economic diversity yields a broad demographic profile that encompasses blue-collar rust belt farmers and white-collar corporate professionals. For luxury retailers looking to enter the Midwest, Columbus creates a uniquely appealing and well-suited opportunity to test concepts and products.

The Gateway. Easton’s reputation as the “Gateway to the Midwest” for luxury and coastal brands looking to expand is well-earned. With 30 million annual visitors from across the region, retailers have access to a confluence of consumers and an atmosphere that is welcoming to established and experimental brands, pop-ups and digital natives. Luxury retailers have noticed. Gucci recently opened its first Ohio location in Easton, joining iconic brands like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co, and Tory Burch. Amazon Style also recently opened its second location nationally at Easton bringing contemporary brands like Vince, Theory, Equipment, Paul Smith, and many other exciting names.

Easton’s luxury success is emblematic of the segment’s growing traction in the region. As luxury brands tap into a brand-focused consumer base with money to spend and new reasons to spend it closer to home, the strong growth of luxury in the Midwest is exciting, but not surprising.

Spencer Jordan is senior VP of leasing for Columbus-based Steiner + Associates, the co-owner, developer, and manager of the award-winning Easton Town Center. Jordan can be reached at [email protected]

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