Thursday, May 03, 2007

Give The Lady What She Wants

Walk into the Macy's in downtown Chicago, fire off a canon, and you'd hit no one. That sound in the corridors? That would be the crickets chirping, all alone in the massive building. Not quite as cheery as the sound of cash registers ringing, and the suits at Federated Department Stores, Inc. are trying to turn things around. Fast. There's $11 billion invested in the venture that is failing.

What does a corporation do to turn things around but cut costs? They've started out at the low end, unfortunately, by bringing in cheaper goods that aren't selling. A step below that and one might as well shop at Kohl's to get the same quality at a lower price. Where else can a few dollars in savings be found?

Rumor has it that a large warehouse on the city's North side is about to be shuttered. Although company spokesman Jim Sluzewski says that Federated is looking for a new, modern facility, the odds are, Federated already owns one elsewhere in the country and will consolidate warehouses rather than open another one. That would eliminate 350 jobs or so, a little bit of a savings for the corporation. Alderman Ray Suarez, in whose ward the warehouse is located, is not at all pleased with the pending closure and the subsequent loss of jobs. He was told, he says, that Macy's wanted to keep that warehouse open, and isn't that just the way these out of towners do things?

How about shuttering a store or two? Macy's could easily start with the shop in Lake Forest, a town familiar to anyone who has read The Great Gatsby, or the more recent Gatsby's Girl. To say that Macy's quality of apparel does not meet the demand in the high-end suburb is quite the understatement. Considering the fact the the Marshall Field family has resided in Lake Forest for a long time, and people in Lake Forest are closely bonded, the town would be quite happy to see the backs of the Macy's people as they walked away. The building is owned by Broadacre Management, the lease is up at the end of the year, and the space is being shopped around to other tenants. So, that's another one for the credit column.

How to get shoppers into the remaining stores, that is the question. Chocolates, ladies. Come in. Chocolates. Look, it's the Frango mint. Everyone loved Frango mints, back when they were hand-dipped by real live people up on the eighth floor of the Loop flagship store. Then Field's was bought up by Dayton Hudson and the candy factory was shut down. No longer made in Chicago, the Frango mint was no longer so beloved. Federated will bring it back.

Not all the way back, of course. They have no intention of investing in candy-making facilities, as that would be cost-prohibitive. There is talk that Federated will strike a deal with a Chicago chocolatier, someone like Cupid Candies of Dove Bar fame, to make Frango mints for them. At least it's in the same city, which makes for a nice bit of publicity for the failing Macy's Chicago branch. Frango Mints were once the souvenir of choice, an iconic Chicago product that could only be had in Chicago. And they tasted very, very good.

Frank Guzzetta, Macy's North Chairman, will be making an announcement about the return of the Frango Mint within the next month or two. He envisions hordes of shoppers, all the tourists herding down Washington on their way to the 'Bean' sculpture, making their way into the Macy's on State Street, to pick up their Frango Mints and browse the aisles. Now if he can only erase the collective memory that ties Marshall Field's name to Frango Mints, and implant a happy connection between the Macy's label and Frango Mints. That will take a lot more than a box or two of mint-flavored chocolates. Is there a patron saint of business executives? Perhaps it's the same one as the patron saint of sea captains at the helm of sinking ships.

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