T.J. Maxx, a national discount retail chain that competes with Ross Dress for Less, is looking to return to the islands after a 14-year absence.
The company is hunting for space in the lucrative Hawaii market, which traditionally has been among the top-grossing locations for large mainland chains.
"At the moment nothing is official," said Thea Houghton, a T.J. Maxx spokeswoman, adding that there are no signed leases in the area.
The company is looking to expand with "three deals that will solidify their entry," according to Wendell Brooks III, who spoke Friday at a Hawaii Developers’ Council forum.
"We are one of the few profitable markets in the country," Brooks added.
The possible return comes as discount retailers are experiencing strong growth and seeking out new markets. The economic downturn of recent years has benefited the discounters as customers look for more value.
"People are definitely out there looking for value-driven products and companies," said Beth Munson, marketing coordinator for Price Busters Hawaii, which operates eight discount stores on Oahu and is reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. "We’re seeing customers that really never used to be our customers, but people are just so budget-conscious these days that they are looking for discounters, looking for coupons and searching the ads more."
Other major chains that are scouring the islands for possible new locations include Costco Wholesale Corp., Target Corp. and PETCO Animal Supplies Inc., according to local real estate brokers.
Ross, which is also looking to expand its presence in the islands, is building a nearly 40,000-square-foot megastore scheduled to open next year in Waikiki.
T.J. Maxx, part of The TJX Cos. Inc. of Massachusetts, sells brand-name apparel, jewelry, home items and other merchandise at 20 percent to 60 percent below department store prices.
The company, founded in 1976, operated 890 stores at the end of 2009. The average T.J. Maxx store is about 30,000 square feet, according to the company’s website.
"It appears to be the typical strategy to open up multiple locations to secure cost efficiencies and ensure that they have a large enough base so that it makes sense," said Mike Hamasu, director of consulting and research at Colliers Monroe Friedlander Inc. "They need multiple outlets to make it work because they have to ship all their goods, train their staff—they have their way of operating."
Discount retailers and big-box warehouses have perpetually recorded among their chain’s highest "sales per square foot" in Hawaii, Hamasu said.
"Transaction volumes are higher here because of the lack of competition," he said. "You don’t have 15 Costcos competing with each other in one market."
The TJX Cos. left the Hawaii market in July 1996 when it sold the leasehold rights to six retail locations—including a T.J. Maxx outlet at the Stadium Marketplace—to rival Ross Stores Inc.
As more customers have shifted their buying strategies, the limited retail marketplace is attractive to national firms seeking to capitalize on Hawaii as a growth market for their products.
"It’s not only good for affordable things to buy, but it’ll be good for the unemployed people looking for jobs," said Aiea resident Kelli Carvalho, 28. "It would be good for the economy because it’ll bring money to the state."