I Shopped Them All

There was an editorial in the New York Times today named "I Shopped them All" by Letitia Baldrige who happened to be the social secretary and White House chief of staff for Jacqueline Kennedy. 

The article was about the demise of the large department stores.  Federated Department stores purchased May Department Stores last week.  The merger will surely close a variety of department stores owned by them that are now competing against each other in the same market.  It was bound to happen.

My first job out of college was working for Macy’s.  I went through the Macy’s training program.  You began with a 3 month intensive seminar and then were placed in store line.  At this point you begin to move up the ladder.  I began as the Cosmetic manager in Kings Plaza Brooklyn, got promoted into an Assistant Buyer job in moderate women’s sportswear, got promoted to an Assistant Store Manager in New Rochelle and then got promoted to become a Buyer of Large Size Women’s sportswear.  I was there through a very interesting time. 

I began in 1983 when business was booming.  The "One Day Sale" became a new way to generate business.  It was exciting.  Business peaked in 1984.  The Gap and other stores such as the Limited started to explode.  Department stores were now sharing their market share with other retailers.  So in turn the Department stores decided to borrow heavily and make themselves into private entities instead of publicly traded companies which meant that they were being held to different expectations.  They needed to generate better profits. 

Sales people were cut, buyers were no longer given free reign to sink or swim because management became so concerned about profits that they micromanaged every facet of the organization.  Soon, theft was up because less people were on the floor.  This affects your bottom line.  Instead of trying to create something different, management started to think that looking like a Gap was the way to go.  Inventories were bloated because stores started producing their own merchandise overseas in bulk which was costly and wasn’t exactly the right product by the time it hit the stores.  I could go on and on.  It was unfortunate.

Personally, I moved on once they became private.  Buyers weren’t getting stock, just being asked to work harder to make the owners benefit.  Not for me. 

I remember when Department Stores were wonderful places to shop.  Exciting cutting edge merchandise was making its mark on the floor.  When you are able to buy the same pair of shoes in any country in the world, I am not so sure you would be able to create the same type of excitement anymore on the floor. 

Everything is a cycle.  The small boutique shops around the city have the most interesting inventory.  The sales people are personal and help.  Even high end stores like Barneys don’t have the same type of customer service, although they should.  The only department store that still does a great job is in Paris, at Bon Marche but it is just one store not several. 

What will be the next department store?  Is it an Apple Store crossed with a Starbucks crossed with a Prada crossed with a Baby Gap.  Who knows?  That is one of the most wonderful things about Capitalism.  New ideas can be generated and executed and businesses can grow.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the Federated of the future. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Nancy

    Yesterday, I walked into Filenes’. It was dead. It looks like what Zayre’s and Bradlee’s used to look like.
    Where is the French shop, the Judith Leiber handbags and the Ferragamo shoes? Just before the Campo Debacle when Filenes’ was a Federated store, up until the early 1990’s it was a pleasure to shop in that store. When Campo bought Filenes and then was forced to sell Filenes’ to the May Company inorder not to have a monopoly by having both Allied and Federated under one leader, Filenes and it’s patrons lost out. The May Company completely changed that store. Filenes’ is not good, but Macy’s is worse.

    Jordan Marsh Co. was a middle of the roader. When Elliot Stone became President, the store was upscaled. There were Max mara boutiques and other wonderful designer shops within the store. You could buy Baker and Hendredon Furniture, and even Baccarat crystal. When Campo went into bankrupcty, Jordan Marsh also followed suit. Macy’s came in and if it is possible, Macy’s in the New England area, looks worse than Filenes’ so we are not very excited by this new development on the retail front. If Mr. Filene were alive, he would be devastated.

  2. Jonathan

    Bon Marche presents the mechandise in a much more creative way than anyplace in the US. The service is not great at Bon Marche…on a par, IMHO, with Bloomingdales. For a great combination of style and service, go to Selfridge’s in London. OK, it can’t compete with Bon March’s food selection (although I’ve had many a meal from Selfridge’s and was always very happy) Selfridge’s has a great look/vibe and the salespeople are helpful. The only place with salespeople that come close to Selfridge’s level of service is Nordstrom. But with the Pound at 1.9250 and the Euro at 1.3415, the cost probably isn’t worth it.