Tim Feran
Columbus Dispatch

In almost a decade of forecasting trends, Ohio retail observer Chris Boring usually has been able to guess the top trends of the year, months ahead of time.

But even he was surprised when he realized what had to be this year’s No. 1 trend: “Outlet Mall Mania.”

“I never dreamed this would be the No. 1 trend for 2013 a year ago,” said Boring, principal at a company called Boulevard Strategies. “In fact, the last time I looked at outlet malls was the 1980s or ’90s.”

Back in the ’80s, outlet malls flourished, he said. But as more of them were built in the ’90s, the inevitable shakeout occurred.

“What seemed to happen was, the ones that survived got stronger, and very quietly the industry regained momentum,” Boring said. So quietly that when top mall owner Simon Property Group bought an outlet mall company in 2004, it surprised everyone. Simon owns Summit Mall in Fairlawn.

“Flash forward to today, and sales per square foot are now 90 percent higher than at their traditional malls,” Boring said.

So, the announcement in rapid succession that four outlet malls are planned for central Ohio was actually a story waiting to happen.

That the four groups backing the proposals all have heavyweight credentials is making it difficult for those who want to predict the eventual winner.

“I think one of the projects at the Routes 36/37 interchange will move forward, and there’s also a good chance that the Glimcher or New Albany project will also move forward,” Boring said.

Whichever of the latter two projects does advance “has to have a significant differentiation from whatever is built at Routes 36/37,” he said.

That being the case, Boring believes one project is particularly intriguing — the New Albany project involving Leslie H. Wexner, Limited Brands founder and CEO.

“We’ve seen what Mr. Wexner has done with the regional mall concept. He turned it on its head with Easton. I’d love to see what he would do with an outlet mall. I don’t have a clue what he might do, but I can’t see him just building a garden-variety outlet mall.”

Patently authentic

In a story that raised a few eyebrows, Apple recently registered a trademark with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for its Apple Store interior layouts.

Not the logo or the products ... the store layout.

The description on the registered trademark certificate almost seems like a generic retail store for any brand you might think of.

In part, the filing reads: “a clear glass storefront ... rectangular recessed lighting units traverse the length of the store’s ceiling ... rectangular tables are arranged in a line in the middle of the store parallel to the walls ... There is multi-tiered shelving along the side walls, and [an] oblong table with stools located at the back of the store.”

Retail is a highly competitive business, but is this taking competitiveness to an extreme?

A number of analysts say no, including Eric Daniel, creative director at Fitch.

“To me the simplicity of the Apple Store is a metaphor for the Mac operating system,” Daniel said. And the simplicity of both the operating system and the store reinforce the uniqueness of the brand.

So, when someone threatens to dilute that unique appeal, danger lies ahead. Such was the case a few months back, he said, when pictures surfaced of fake Apple stores in Thailand.

“So it makes sense they would trademark the store design,” he said. “Their store is no less a part of their trademark than the logo or colors. It’s part of their brand package. This gives them legal status, some resort to intercede on their own brand’s behalf.”

‘D’ for designer

They’re making sure that the “D” in DSW stands for “designer.”

The Columbus-based footwear and accessories retailer recently held its first design competition with the Fashion Institute of Technology, and it gave the winner more than just a handshake.

DSW is showcasing the shoe collection designed by Fashion Institute graduate SunJeong Kang at the DSW in New York and online at DSW.com.

Kang was one of 45 students who submitted two designs each to a panel of judges from DSW, Marc Fisher, Nine West, Chinese Laundry, Vince Camuto and Highline United.

She created the Violet & Red Wallis Sandal (in black and neutral) and the Violet & Red Sandy bootie (in black and brown), styles that won over the judges for architectural elements and mixed materials.

The competition is the first of many to come, said chief merchandising officer Debbie Ferre.

Top workplaces

Speaking of DSW, the company was the lone Columbus-based retailer to place in the top 10 of “The 2012 100 Best Retailers To Work For” list compiled by Retail Life, a website. It was based on salaries, advancement, company pride and more.

Topping the list was Apple, followed by Costco and the Container Store. Just behind DSW was American Eagle Outfitters.

The top 100 included Limited Brands, at No. 16; Macy’s, 29; Abercrombie & Fitch, 81; Wendy’s, 92; and Big Lots, 95.