An Ireland-based fashion retailer is building its Northeastern U.S. presence with the opening of its first distribution center in Bethlehem, the company’s first in the nation.
Primark hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony with tours of its nearly 700,000-square-foot new building Thursday at 2485 Commerce Center Blvd. on former Bethlehem Steel land in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII, near Route 412.
The timing coincides with Primark’s opening of its newest store in Boston on Sept. 10, which will be supplied by this facility, officials said. The store marks the company’s first in the U.S., with others to follow, including one in the Willow Grove Mall next year and another in the King of Prussia Mall, with a planned November opening.
Primark acquired the leases for the stores from Sears Holdings Corp., said Aidan Shields, chief financial officer for Primark.
“There are a number of others we are looking at,” Shields said of retail locations. “We are looking at this northeast corridor for our entry point in the U.S. The Lehigh Valley is very much a distribution hub. We are happy with the workforce we acquired here.”
The retailer, which markets men’s and women’s clothing, has nearly 300 stores across the globe and operates from 11 million square feet of selling space across nine nations, officials said.
The Bethlehem center has 45 full-time employees as of Thursday and plans to hire about 25 more by the end of the year.
The $38 million third-party logistics facility is operated by Exel, a contract logistics firm that hires employees, manages warehouse operations and is in charge of transporting products to Primark stores. Exel will employ Primark’s operational and systems model that has been used by DHL Supply Chain in the United Kingdom and Europe the past six years.
“We will manage the operations and the transportation; we understand how critical our performance is for the business,” said Dan McNutt, senior vice president of retail at Exel.
Primark’s Bethlehem facility averages about 8,000 cartons of products each day, said David James, head of distribution operations for Primark. About half of the products come from China; so far, workers in Bethlehem picked about 14,000 cartons of merchandise to be shipped to the store in Boston, James said.
The building can accommodate more than 14,000 different products.
Unlike traditional distribution operations, the picking process is hands-free. Instead of carrying a bulky scanner gun to locate items, workers use a headset, James said. Trucks deliver the products to the site already stored in cartons, boxes and packages, so the facility has no packing operation.
Also, once shipments arrive, products in the new distribution center are stored in a more logical, less random fashion, making for more efficiencies since items can be located quicker.
Trammell Crow Co., headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with an office in West Conshohocken, developed the property. Trammell and its partner, Clarion Partners, also based in Dallas, financed the project.
Trammell bought the land for $6.4 million from Lehigh Valley Industrial Park Inc., according to Northampton County property assessment records.
Construction began in 2013. Norwood Co. of Malvern was the general contractor; KSS Architects of Princeton, N.J., designed the project.
“Our presence here underlines the importance of our growth,” said Breege O’Donoghue, group director, business development and new markets for Primark. “This is our first distribution center in the U.S. It’s one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S.”
The Bethlehem distribution site has a number of energy efficient attributes. As an example, she said, it has low-energy lighting with motion sensors activating each zone, while recycling of materials also is a priority.
“This facility will easily reach all of the population centers,” said Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez, who spoke about the growth of the former Bethlehem Steel land in the industrial park and its ability to attract strong tenants. “The transformation taking place at this site is truly remarkable.”