Friday, July 27, 2007

Day Late, Dollar Short

Having spent upwards of $11 billion to acquire its rivals, Macy's is struggling to get the shoppers back into their Chicago stores. No, they're not about to restore the old name of Marshall Field and Company. They've stubbornly committed to the re-branding and they won't go back.

How will they get people to set foot in the flagship store on State Street? It doesn't help that the city's Health Department had to shut down the lower level food court for a few days, citing a fruit fly infestation and leaking plumbing. Those who might have wandered the aisles on their lunch break, after grabbing a quick sandwich, will not be keen to return and wonder what they might be putting into their stomachs besides the tuna salad and bread.

As if that were not enough, a man chose to commit suicide the other night by jumping to his death from an eighth floor balcony. When the Field family built the original store, they copied the lay-out of Galeries Lafayette in Paris, with its full height atrium and open balconies overlooking the ground floor. There's even a Tiffany mosaic ceiling in the Chicago store, doing a splendid job of reproducing the French shopping experience. Unfortunately, the soaring space became the venue for one desperate individual's plunge, and that alone will spook a few potential clients.

The most damaging incident, however, could well be Macy's plan to bring the commission schedules of the former Fields employees into line with New York City. It amounts to a pay cut, and it's due to hit shortly before the holiday shopping season. Those who wish to bolt will be given a severance package.

Imagine shopping in a store where the employees are miserable, grousing about management, and feeling rather strongly that putting in any effort to serve you is contrary to their interests. You'd not be shopping there long, especially if you couldn't find something straight away and had to ask someone -- someone who couldn't give a toss if you found what you wanted.

There'll be Martha Stewart galore, in an effort to attract shoppers. The problem is, the average consumer is aware that Martha Stewart lent her name to a line of products at K-Mart, which is a notch down the quality ladder from Wal-Mart. She's to decorate the famous Christmas tree in the Walnut Room, a quintessential Chicago icon, but the tree was always lavish, not cut-rate.

In a bid to tweak the emotions of Chicago shoppers, Macy's is going to bring back, in limited numbers, some of the old Field Gear line of apparel. It was preppy, somewhat costly, and of good quality for the price. Totally out of line with Macy's bargain basement, overpriced goods, and anyone who considers buying will examine the merchandise very carefully and critically.

The Chicago History Museum will partner with Macy's to showcase the centenary of the Tiffany ceiling and the Great Clock -- all further reminders of what was once Marshall Field and Company, a Chicago classic, the vendors to the carriage trade. It was elegance and grandeur in all its Arts and Crafts decor, giving the ladies what they wanted rather than what some buyers in New York City determined they should want. To promote something that has been lost does not have the makings of a sound business strategy, not when you're the company that did away with it in the first place and the shoppers have yet to forgive you.

But it's too late to reintroduce an old line and bask in past glories. Macy's has already made its first impression, and judging by the lack of feet in the store aisles, it was a rather bad impression. Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren wants to re-invent the department store, but he's going about it in a rather dangerous manner. Cut the wages of the employees, the very people who will complain to their neighbors who will pass the word about Macy's stinginess? If Macy's wanted to add fuel to the boycott fire, they're doing a remarkable job. It's an ongoing case of not knowing the market at all, and then wondering why Chicago shoppers don't meet expectations.

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