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old Chicago flagship store a makeover and new name Bradford Exantus checks the price tags on shoes inside the rehabilitated and renamed Nike flagship store at 669 N. Michigan Ave., which reopens Thursday as Nike Chicago after a six month hiatus. The company declined to say how much it spent on the overhaul. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune) After two decades on the street, Nike's North Michigan Avenue flagship was due for a facelift. "Now we have the opportunity to renew our vows with Chicago," said Tim Hershey, vice president and general manager of Nike North America Direct to Consumer. The Chicago store is the latest to get an upgrade or expansion since Nike announced in 2010 that it planned to roll nike h town shirt out "brand experience" stores aimed at giving consumers not only the gear they want but the service they seek. The first was its Santa Monica, Calif., flagship. The rehabilitation marks the retailer's effort to stay in front of the pack and court consumers with personalized service at big stores in key commercial hot spots. Before the Chicago relaunch, Nike's most recent flagship rehab was in Portland, Ore. It's a low risk way of reinvesting in a business, according to Morningstar equity analyst Paul Swinand. "In the case of Nike Chicago, it's a no brainer, it's a huge tourist destination," he said. "If you look at it as the face of your company for people all around the world, you'd absolutely want to put your best foot forward. You want to be cutting edge." At 669 N. Michigan Ave., the white walled aesthetic of a traditional high end retail outlet has been redone to reflect the look and feel of a classic field house peppered with Chicago style touches: The displays use reclaimed wood from local basketball courts; artwork and photographs celebrating Chicago athletes and neighborhoods hang on the walls. The transformed first floor is a temple to Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan, whose iconic Air Jordan shoe helped propel the brand to its spot as top athletic gear purveyor in the world. Present day basketball superstars and Nike darlings LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have dedicated space with their likenesses and apparel lines displayed in the back of the store. The second floor is dedicated to all things football and soccer, with the Chicago Bears and their upcoming opponent it's the Dallas Cowboys on Monday front and center. On the third floor, treadmills offer runners the opportunity to not only try on shoes but try them out, with running specialists nearby to analyze gaits. The fourth floor, once used for storage, includes an area where shoppers can design and personalize Nike products from shoe treads to materials and shoelaces. Nike also is taking a different approach with merchandising, grouping items by sport. Lifestyle products, including bomber style jackets, used to be displayed separately but now are meshed with the corresponding sport. For example, Bryant apparel is grouped alongside nike 9 elite signature shoes. The rehab of the 50,000 square foot store represents the Beaverton, Ore. based company's shift from simply celebrating Nike products to celebrating the consumers who use them, industry watchers say. "(Nike) has an emphasis on b grade nike shoes for sale activity and action, and having a larger store presence can allow customers to engage and interact in a meaningful way that you can't always get online," said Marissa Vosper, senior strategist at New York based Wolff Olins, a global brand consultancy. It's also all about marketing. With only 28 brand stores and 156 outlet stores, Nike has to go big or go home, according to industry watchers. Competitor Adidas is growing its retail presence around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe and China, by opening more shops. But Nike is focusing more on growing its wholesale business, selling through other retailers, Swinand said. Nike's renewed focus on the customer in its stores makes sense, retail analysts say. "It's time to say, 'thank you,' in so many words," said Pat Dalessandro, executive director of strategy at JGA, a Southfield, Mich. based retail design and brand consultancy. "When you look at millennials and Gen Xers, we want to be celebrated and want to feel that the brands we embrace embrace us back." The company declined to say how much it spent on the overhaul. "We're very happy with the performance of our stores, otherwise we wouldn't be investing the way that we are," Hershey said. Other active apparel brands have also taken the experiential approach, Wolff Olins' Vosper added, noting that active lifestyle outfitter REI's Denver flagship has a climbing wall and allows customers to try out bikes. "It allows people to interact with the product, and really, that translates equity back to the brand as a lifestyle brand as opposed to just an apparel," she said. Nike also made it a point to hire athletes. The company is bringing on more than 200 employees with an interest or background in sports. One hire played professional basketball in Spain, Argentina and Australia, according to the company. When the store closed in March, 160 employees were laid off, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development. Nike officials said all were invited to reapply but did not say how many were rehired. The 44 year old brand releases its first quarter earnings Thursday. Analysts expect the company to earn $1.12 per share on sales of $6.41 billion, compared with earnings of $1.36 per share on sales of $6.1 billion for the same period a year ago.



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