Multi-million dollar retail experiment opens by O’Hare

July 31, 2013

By Alan Yu

(Photo courtesy of AWE Talisman)
Unlike most other outlet malls, this one is indoors and features art installations. Developer Arthur Weiner says this could be the future of outlets.

A retail experiment opens Thursday in Rosemont near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Most outlets are in remote areas, but the Fashion Outlets of Chicago is next to the Kennedy Expressway, the airport, and not too far from downtown Chicago.

Retail consultant Neil Stern says mall developers nationwide will be watching this experiment.

“Not only is this the most well connected outlet mall in Chicago, it might be the most well-connected outlet mall in the country,” Stern says.

Unlike traditional outlet malls, this one is indoors, features art installations from a group of 11 artists, and services for travelers. For example, flyers can print boarding passes and check bags directly to their flight from the mall.

But these amenities come at a price: more than $200 million.

Stern says the experiment comes at a time when outlet malls are growing quicker than traditional malls. He adds that if it pays off, we could see similar developments around the country.

Developers say this outlet is meant to function differently than other outlets. Retailers and manufacturers used to build outlets either to get rid of merchandise they can’t sell, or separate the customers who will pay a premium for cutting edge products and those will travel to buy for the same brand at a lower price, says Jean-Pierre Dubé, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. That’s why outlets aren’t particularly close to major cities.

Stern says manufacturers now have a different reason to sell at outlets -- they want direct access to their customers for greater profits. He points to companies like Coach, Apple and Tiffany, businesses that rely on selling directly to customers and as a result, became some of the most successful retailers.

Arthur Weiner, chairman of Fashion Outlets of Chicago developer AWE Talisman, agrees. He says the artwork and other services not found at other outlet malls give businesses a greater opportunity to show brand pride. He also sees this as the outlet to change all outlets.

“The product that was being presented in America was a very stale product, outdated, underdeveloped, didn’t have the ingredients that consumers wanted,” Weiner says. “When we were presented with the opportunity for this piece of exquisite dirt, we saw the vehicle for the change that we thought was necessary for outlet shopping.”

Alan Yu is a WBEZ metro desk intern. Follow him @Alan_Yu039