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Bealls is going after millennials with new Bunulu store

Bealls Inc. wants shoppers to think of its stores as more than just a place where grandma likes to shop.

So, the Bradenton-based retailer launched a new store concept this year, called Bunulu, which will sell activewear like yoga pants and bathing suits to moms and millennials. The first Bunulu store opened near Fort Myers last week. More are coming — stores will open in Jacksonville and Palm Beach by the end of the year. Another is expected to open later at Tampa's International Plaza.

"Bunulu is for that outdoor, youth-minded person. We sell apparel and footwear but also accessories like Costa sunglasses, Garmins, GoPros and Yeti coolers," said Lorna Nagler, president of Bealls Department Stores.

Bealls is the latest retailer to jump into the "athletic-leisure" game — an up-and-coming apparel trend made famous by retailers like Lululemon, known for charging $100 for yoga pants. But this new line of activewear isn't just for the gym or the yoga studio. Women are wearing yoga pants and tank tops casually to drop their kids off at school, to go to Starbucks and the grocery store.

"Shoppers can discover looks that really are a seamless casualization of bringing that idea of performance into your everyday wardrobe. It's that intersection of showing you live an active lifestyle and fashion," Nagler said. "We really have taken that idea and run with it."

Gap launched its own store line called Athleta, which sells only this kind of fitness-related apparel. A store recently opened in International Plaza. Discount brands like H&M and Forever 21 have expanded athletic sections inside stores to make way for this new trend. Dick's Sporting Goods started its own line of activewear for women this year called "Chelsea Collective," which have their own "girlfriend lounges" and offer free alterations on stretchy pants and blousy shirts.

"The entire sector of activewear is really the streetwear uniform," said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the Retail Group with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City. "This trend is not flooded yet and is giving 'jeans country' a run for their money, for sure."

Bunulu has coastal scenes plastered on the wall in each dressing room so shoppers can take selfies that look like they're at the beach while trying on new clothes. The stores also have a "sand bar" where shoppers can relax and charge their electronics.

The stores sell popular beach brands like O'Neill and Hurley, but also Beyond Yoga, Costa and Ray-Ban. Bunulu merchandise tends to be more expensive than traditional Bealls departments stores but less than Athleta and lululemon.

"The big question is: Is this a fad of or is it a real fashion trend?" said Steve Kirn, executive director with the David F. Miller Retailing Education and Research Center at the University of Florida. "There seems to be room in the competitive space for this style because trends like jeans are less in favor now. People care more about being healthy and active now, and they can communicate that through what they're wearing."

As for Bealls, Bunulu is a way to reach a younger demographic. The retail company, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has traditionally catered to an older shopper like the many seasonal, retired residents in Florida, also known as "snowbirds." Bealls also has department and outlet stores, sometimes called Burkes Outlets, in other states.

"This is a way for Bealls to try to grow customers that won't be dying off," Kirn said. "Their demographic is getting older every year. With millennials outnumbering baby boomers in the U.S. now, if you're not doing something to get that demographic in your pipeline, you're not going to survive. Bealls doesn't have a choice."

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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