Monday, March 13, 2006

Sorry, Hecht's, but you are out

Hecht's, Northlake Mall, Charlotte, North Carolina. Photographed with camera phone 9/16/05.

3 Charlotte stores to be converted into Macy's by fall, company says


Charlotte-area shoppers could be saying goodbye to Hecht's and hello to Macy's by the time back-to-school sales start.

Coming changes will give them access to new and sometimes pricey brands not previously available in the Charlotte market, as well as new store looks and the distinctive Macy's star logo.

Local customers are generally welcoming the change, which is coming because the Macy's corporate parent, Federated Department Stores Inc., bought the parent company of Hecht's, May Department Stores Co., last year. Federated plans to convert most of the regional department stores formerly under the May umbrella into Macy's stores, turning Macy's into a coast-to-coast name.

"I will miss Hecht's because I have been a customer of the store ..., but am looking more forward to the opening of Macy's," Elizabeth Zangara of Huntersville said via e-mail. "They have an extensive shoe line, many higher-end clothes, and a great bridal registry."

A Macy's spokeswoman confirmed this week that the company expects its Hecht's stores, including Charlotte-area locations at Northlake, SouthPark and Carolina Place, to be converted by this fall -- and some locations should be finished sooner. The company plans a nationwide ad campaign to unveil the conversions in the fall.

"We're very, very excited about the Charlotte market," said Ellen Fruchtman, spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based Macy's South division. "You'll see things that start to change before fall."

Customers can already use Macy's credit cards in Hecht's stores and vice versa -- and the same applies to gift cards, she said.

By May or June, customers should also start seeing new merchandise in stores, she said. Macy's is known for private label brands such as Charter Club, which includes classically styled clothing and home furnishings, and Style&co., a mix-and-match sportswear line.

The assortment will vary by store, and it's too soon to say which specific merchandise is headed to which stores, but the changes will be evident, she said. "The customer will definitely know she's in a Macy's."

Most current store employees will keep their jobs after the conversion, Fruchtman added. Laura Leary, manager of the Hecht's at SouthPark, said she and the store's 150 employees are upbeat about the change. "There is a really great strategy and plan in place," she said.

Few Charlotte-area customers say they mind trading Hecht's for Macy's.

"(Hecht's) is a fun place to shop for stuff for your house, but I will like the clothing choices Macy's offers!" said Zachary Philmon of Charlotte.

"I'm looking forward to having Macy's in Charlotte," said Carolyn Thomas. "Macy's does have a larger brand range.... (but) I will miss the weekly Hecht's coupons."

Before the Federated merger, Hecht's was viewed as a brand without a strong identity outside the Baltimore area where it was founded by a furniture maker nearly 150 years ago. A recent survey shows few customers feel passionate about the Hecht's name or image, said Britt Beemer of Charleston-based America's Research Group. "I think the Macy's change will be welcome," he added.

The change also pushes the stores more squarely into direct competition with Charlotte-based Belk Inc.'s department stores. Both Macy's and Belk sell merchandise at prices "a notch or two higher" than Hecht's, said Belk spokesman Steve Pernotto.

"They're going to be good competition," he said. "We respect Macy's."

As with the addition of Nordstrom to the market, the addition of Macy's might indirectly benefit Belk by increasing the customer traffic to the malls where it's located, he added. Spokespeople for the three affected Charlotte-area malls agreed last week they expect to see a traffic boost from the Macy's conversions.

As far as the Charlotte market goes, Pernotto said he believes Belk still has an edge because of its local headquarters. He noted the nearest Macy's corporate office is in Atlanta.

"When it comes to the nuances of the Carolinas or Charlotte," he said, "Macy's knows Atlanta really well."

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