The Washington area's first factory outlet mall, a bantam version of the popular Reading, Pa., outlet strip, will open in Fairfax City Friday.
Designed to satisfy the increasing consumer demand for discounted goods and services, the new Outlet Mall in Fairfax will be the home of 15 retailers offering savings of up to 50 percent on what they describe as name-brand, top-quality merchandise.
Ten of the stores are not factory outlets, but will sell discounted goods.
Encouraged by the success of outlet merchants such as Crown Books, Trak Auto, and the many women's apparel discount operations operating separately through the Washington area, John Gardner -- vice president of B. F. Saul Advisory Co., the firm advising the mall developer and owner -- says he saw great potential in an outlet mall.
Factory outlet malls in Cherry Hill, N.J., and North Carolina and the 60-year-old Reading factory outlet marketplace -- where more than 150 retailers sell discounted goods in turn-of-the-century factory mill buildings -- also inspired Gardner, who lured four of the Reading merchants to set up shop in the Fairfax center.
A handful of factory outlet malls are popping up along the Eastern Seaboard in towns from Florida to New York.
Marketing surveys conducted nearly two years ago by B.F. Saul showed that Washington shoppers, who typically are female and middle-aged, also wanted access to a mall where retailers sell discounted goods.
Several thousand of those women already had discovered the Reading outlet complex and regularly journeyed there on weekends and during the Christmas holiday season to purchase discounted goods, the survey indicated.
Eugene Kalkin, president of the parent company which operates Linens 'n' Things, an outlet store selling linens and towels, said its store in the Fairfax mall is only the first link in a chain of outlet shops the company plans to open in the Washington area by next fall. One will be in Rockville, and another is planned for Springfield. Linens 'n' Things already has a dozen stores throughout Pennsylvania.
"Washington is such an obvious market. People there are young, looking for good buys. We've just wanted the right place to move in," Kalkin said.
For several years, officials of the Great Factory Store, which has eight outlets throughout New England and will be the Fairfax mall's largest tenant, have planned to move to the Washington area. They, too, have been waiting for the right location.
Recent population statistics indicating Fairfax grew 33 percent in the last decade convinced the Great Factory Store the time to move to Washington was ripe.
The outlet stores make their money by skimping on the conventional retailer's recipe. Though they accept checks and most major credit cards, they rarely offer delivery services. Employing fewer salespeople per square foot, they do not provide customers with personalized service.
More often than not, they do not offer lay-away services, though several of the stores moving into the Fairfax mall may offer that plan on big-ticket items.
Also, wall decorations are few, and lighting fixtures are simple in the outlet stores.
"This is not the place for the woman who wants all the thrills and frills of shopping. This is the place for people who know what they want to buy and want to save money beyond all else," said Roger Gerst, marketing director for Bobbi Rogers Inc., New Jersey-based parent company of the Great Factory Store.
The recently renovated shopping center, previously named Fair City Mall, used to be filled with several dozen small specialty shops. But without several large department stores to generate business for the smaller stores, the specialty concept never got off the ground, Gardner said.
Since 1974, when Saul Real Estate Investment Trust took over the property after its previous owner defaulted on a loan, the mall steadily has lost tenants. In 1978, after an extensive review of the factory outlet concept which wound Gardner and his associates throughout the Northeast, the trust's developer subsidiary, Franklin Property Co., began the search for factory outlet tenants.
In addition to those already mentioned, the stores which will fill the two-story, 75,000-square-foot mall are: the Reading-based stores, Bag and Baggage and Delta Hosiery; Massachusetts' Off the Rax (a clothing store); Chesapeake Bay Seafood House Co.; Sam's Tailoring Corp.; Harris Agency (an insurnace company); Budget Plan Co. (a household finance company); Bronson Appliance; The Hair Affaire; David Zelman Optometrist, and Pascalino's Pizza.