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VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS | THE BUSINESS BEAT

Oxnard Factory Outlet Shops for Retailers

May 18, 1999|COLL METCALFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One thing the Oxnard Factory Outlet mall has a steady supply of these days is parking.

What it doesn't have is a full complement of retailers.

So the 5-year-old mall--which is losing its battle with the nearby and wildly successful Camarillo Premium Outlets--will take a different tack, one that will take it out of direct competition with its neighbor.

Instead of marketing space to so-called "soft" retailers, such as clothing and shoe manufacturers, mall owners are looking to make it a location for businesses selling items such as furniture, office supplies and household appliances.

"It's too difficult to compete with [Camarillo Premium Outlets]," said Reed Henkelman of CB Richard Ellis, the mall's new manager. "They've definitely got a leg up, and we think that it would be better not to compete with them directly."

Last month, owners Fru-Con Development Corp. of St. Louis and Prime Retail Inc. of Baltimore hired Ellis to take over management of the mall, which had previously been coordinated from Reading, Pa.

The move was necessary, some say.

Five of the Oxnard center's 36 retail spaces are empty. Others are closing with markdowns of up to 50% to clear the shelves.

"This has been a difficult task," said Arnie Zahner, senior vice president of Fru-Con Development. "We have lost a few tenants and we don't want to lose any more, but I don't think we can keep competing with Camarillo. . . . We know that there needs to be a change."

The economics and marketing of malls have changed drastically over the last several years.

Where once outlet centers like those in Camarillo and Oxnard competed solely against one another, they are now going head-to-head with the likes of The Oaks mall and the soon-to-be-refurbished Buenaventura Mall.

That has forced outlet owners to sink substantial sums into capital improvement and expansion projects in an effort to grab a greater share of the retail dollar.

The Camarillo mall, which has undergone several expansion and improvement projects, has become one of the county's leading retail complexes.

The city has had the greatest percentage increase in retail sales for the past two years of any community in the county, jumping more than 15% in 1998 to about $396 million.

That compares with about $1.4 billion for Thousand Oaks, approximately $1 billion for Ventura and $1.1 billion for Oxnard, which also boasts the Esplanade Mall along with the outlet center.

The growth for the Camarillo center has largely been due to the sizable investments made to increase the mall's size and scope to include more high-end retailers.

The same cannot be said of the Oxnard Factory Outlet mall, which has not had any additional investment since its construction in 1994.

That, said Steve Kinney of the Greater Oxnard Economic Development Corp., is one of the reasons the mall has fallen on such hard times.

"[Camarillo] comes in every year with some new phase, which brings in more and more tenants, while at the same time the Oxnard mall just stagnates," he said. "Tenants are drawing their own conclusions from this and are, unfortunately, deciding to leave."

Zahner said there are no immediate plans to add on to the Oxnard site. However, Henkelman said there is a possibility of adding new space if they can locate the right anchor tenant.

He also said there may be architectural improvements to soften its countrified facade, a look popular in outlet malls a decade ago.

Since transferring management responsibilities to CB Richard Ellis, the Oxnard Factory Outlet is starting to see some improvement. Henkelman said he is in discussions with a number of potential tenants and expects the mall to be completely occupied by year's end.

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