Tuesday, January 30, 2007

way to flop

It’s not working.

The enhanced synergies of the Federated-May merger, much documented on this blog, are turning out to be hyperbole, at least in my neck of the woods. A recent visit to several local converted Macy’s stores confirms this.

Status Quo at Valley View
The Roanoke Macy’s seems to be one of the few former Hecht’s that has maintained its previous market position. This was a very typical Hecht’s previously, having been expanded and remodeled only a few years ago and carrying a very standard line of department store merchandise, sans furniture and rugs. Except for some small tweaks, Federated changed little about this store except its signs.

The inclusion of Federated private labels has enhanced the merchandise mix at Macy’s Valley View, though ladies’ apparel is still a little on the dull side, and the Home Store has lost some of its merchandise breadth and depth without seeming like a smaller selection. You have to give them credit for maintaining a semblance of normalcy, though it’s nowhere near as special a shopping experience as the national ads would have you believe.

River Ridge rows away
The Lynchburg location Macy’s currently occupies at River Ridge Mall must have been a ‘cash cow’ for its various owners over the years, because it’s bound to have made far more money than was invested back into it.

This store is a time warp in every sense of the word. Opened by Thalhimers in 1980 when it was still part of Carter Hawley Hale, the store received minor updates when it was purchased by May Company and turned into Hecht’s, but little else in its nearly thirty year existence. In turn, the merchandise has maintained the same general price point over the years by continually trading down its merchandise mix until the formerly upscale store is now a shell of its former self.

With its only bright spot being its involuntary position as a shrine to early ‘80s department store design, the store fails to impress. Macy’s switched out May Company private labels for Federated ones and thinned out an already paltry selection of clothes and home items.

Even with a national brand name and upmarket aspirations, it plays second fiddle to the Belk store a few hundred feet away.

Still Friendly, but not focused
Macy’s Friendly Center in Greensboro has become a retail enigma. The formerly swanky Thalhimers was heavily renovated and expanded into a fairly fashionable (for May Company) Hecht’s in the late ‘90s, only to stop its evolution somewhere around 2001.

Even with a major push to prominently feature Federated private labels like Charter Cub and Alfani ‘shops’ at prominent spots in the main floor misses department with the Macy’s conversion, this store has evolved from kitchen clean and standardized to a dated hodgepodge of fixture and merchandise styles, none of which mesh well together.

The department that bared the brunt of conversion pains is Misses Sportswear. Formerly a reliable source of classic suits and separates, the department’s push to attract younger customers have left its signature lines looking chintzy and Traditional Sportswear looking more matronly than ever.

Marked contrasts exist. A small but somewhat showy millinery section sits next to a comparatively dowdy suit and dress department. Pricey men’s cashmere sportcoats sit near an uninspiring selection of mid-market Bostonian shoes. An upmarket china selection is positioned near a rack of ‘As Seen on TV’ merchandise. To be sure, Hecht’s had similar contrasts at times, but never as pronounced or badly maintained.

Even the handful of high-end brands that sell well at the store can’t disguise the poor housekeeping and muddled vision this pace now has. Multiple burned out light bulbs in the ceiling and merchandise scattered in all the wrong places are things that Macy’s Friendly Center has that Hecht’s Friendly Center hardly ever did.

De-evolution on Wendover
How do you update an innovative department store? Apparently by removing all innovation.

Greensboro’s Hecht’s Wendover opened as a May Company test store for lifestyle merchandising, eschewing many of the traditional rules about merchandising and display in order to make the store more appealing to modern, time-starved shoppers. While not everything they tried was a success, the test results were strong enough that traditional Hecht’s stores started sporting some of the new techniques: brighter lighting, hipper brands, bigger signs, and more self-serve merchandise fixtures.

Macy’s Wendover represents the shunning of just about all that Hecht’s learned in favor of the tried and true, and decidedly boring. The Federated private labels add little to the mix. New merchandise adjacencies replaced a well-done Juniors’/ Young Men’s department with a Juniors’ department sitting next to matronly sportswear. Time saving ‘express’ checkouts near entrances were supplanted with barely-staffed traditional cash-wraps. Displays went from dramatic to anticlimactic. The total effect is antique merchandising set against a whiz-bang backdrop.

Your mileage may vary, but it’s becoming apparent, at least in this area, that things aren’t as great as they should be at Macy’s.


  1. I havent been in Hechts in a long time, much less the new transformation into a Macy's. There is no draw for me to even explore there. They lost me when they stopped being Thalhimers. I guess time will tell if Macy's takes off 'round here. muddy

  2. Yeah not much special about Macy's unfortunately. Hopefully when the new Martha Stewart line comes in, there'll be reason to go there.

  3. Great work chronicling the demize of the department store! What more do you know about the end of Parisian?

  4. Muddy: I miss Thalhimers a lot, too. These new Macy's won't do much for you, because they're not much better than Hecht's, and they're worse in some ways.

    Anonymous 2: Martha will bring some focus to Macy's Home Store, though it'll probably still feel like an afterthought compared to Hecht's very polished selection.

    Todd: Thanks for the positive comments. I'm not sure how the Parisian changeover is going. The website is still up, and I think they still have most of the stores operating as Parisian.

  5. Always remember, Martha Stewart came from K-Mart. Do you really want that kind of quality in your home? FYI. Joe Boxer used to be a May Company exclusive. The quality was top notch. I still own those items. Once the products went to K-Mart, the quality dived.

  6. The Martha line for Macy's will be different than the Kmart line. Hopefully it'll be better quality as well. Some of the Martha Stewart Everyday stuff I bought is pretty crappy.

  7. Steve --GREAT chronicle of the on going dumbing down of the department store experience. Your insights and understanding of the merchandising "faux paus" of Macy's is refreshing. It is nice to see someone else say what I have been thinking. Macy's really is sticking to tried and true booring and lackluster selling attempts. I wonder if they are simply not delegating and trying to be to "totalitarian" in thier planning, and also afraid of difference or uniqueness in an attempt to be singular and dependable in what you will find --no matter where you are. Unfortunately they are plain and booring. They should EXACTLY be the opposite, but I am afraid that that will never happen. I have found similar findings to what you describe in the old MAY Company division stores of Kaufmann's, in both Pittsburgh and Ohio (in the old May Company and O'Neil's territory) and also the former L S Ayer's locations of the FamousBarr division in Indiana. It IS all very sad. Thanks for such a Great article.

  8. Thanks for the comments. In a case like this, I hate to be right, but if other people are seeing what I'm seeing, Macy's could be in some serious trouble going forward.