Zara's theme, the shop of things to come

THERE were no block-long queues or overnight campers at the launch of Zara's fourth Australian store yesterday.

THERE were no block-long queues or overnight campers at the launch of Zara's fourth Australian store yesterday.

An hour before the Spanish fashion retailer opened in Chadstone Shopping Centre, only a small media gaggle had gathered outside the bright new double-storey, 1400-square-metre store.

But by 9.30 am, Zara's official kick-off time, about 100 shoppers mysteriously materialised, lured by a Facebook page, social media and word of mouth.

They swarmed inside and began dashing from rack to rack. Zara's fourth opening (one in Sydney, one in Adelaide, now two in Melbourne) might not have generated the usual hysteria, but it was a fair show of shopper loyalty, considering that, like Topshop, it does not advertise, but spreads the word by its website, blogs, tweets, Facebookers and gossip.

It's remarkably effective. "I'm really excited," said a Murrumbeena mum, Rita Kurek. She had dropped the children at school, and was now on a familiar hunt. "I usually go to the city store, so this is a lot closer for me."

She had unhooked three tailored, tweed "Chanel-esque" sleeveless dresses priced eye-poppingly cheaply at $119 each, and a chic buttermilk hop linen spring coat for $199.

"I love Zara for the quality, the price, and because it's not made in China," she said.

In fact, it's made at its huge base in Spain, as well as in Brazil, Turkey and other low-cost manufacturing centres

But, buyer perceptions about Zara and its slightly younger, hipper rival, Topshop, two global fast-fashion conglomerates that already have footholds here, is positive and resilient beyond most Australian retailers' wildest imaginings.

Asked how long stuff typically hung from the same racks, one staff member said: "We are changing daily it is hard to know how long this jacket will be here."

It's a quick-track business model that has fired the Zara and Topshop mantra: "Grab it now, or miss out."

And it guarantees that customers, once hooked, will keep coming, going through the stores almost as often as new stocks.

For shopping malls, the maths is blindingly obvious. A Sydney CBD leasing agent, who did not want to be named, said the shopping mall's classic lure, a department store, just did not generate enough people to keep modern malls going any more.

"Historically, shopping centres needed an anchor a department store on the left side, a supermarket on the right," he said. "But, David Jones and Myer are getting slower."

Competition is hot among agents to sign "mini major" tenants instead.

Both the Inditex-owned Zara and British-owned Topshop will open more Sydney stores in October.

Other similar conglomerates reportedly scouting for sites here include the Swedish chain H&M, Japan's Uniqlo, and America's Abercrombie and Fitch and Forever 21, are considered gold prospects, with plans ranging from 50 to 80 stores opening in coming years.

"They're the crowd pullers," says Gary Loo, director of Knight Frank retail leasing in Melbourne. "They have a larger footprint, bring in new product all the time and support a wider product range, which the typical smaller fashion retailer can't, and they entice people back again. And again."

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