macy’s Is Learning

macys2In an article called “Macy’s Discovers the Strength of Independent Retailers”,  “Retailing Together” reports on Macy’s recent announcement that they are laying off 7,000 workers and moving the merchandising and buying decisions into local district offices.  It seems that Macy’s has discovered that markets are different and that consumers, especially in the Midwest, like to have a part in the buying decision, too.  Imagine that!

Here in St. Louis, our traditional department store was Famous-Barr, part of the May Company.  When Federated Department Stores bought May in  2006   , the promise was that local management would be retained and that shoppers would notice little difference.  But it didn’t take long to see changes in the stores’ merchandise.

Famous-Barr became Macy’s and buyers located in the Midwest were replaced with national buyers.  Turns out not to have been such a great decision.  Now Macy’s is doing a 180 and trying to recover lost customers and sales.

Meanwhile, independent retailers just keep on doing what they’ve been doing all along.  If ladies in Missouri like a certain style of shoe, the local shoe store has them while Macy’s has been trying to force them to wear something else.

If gentlemen in Iowa prefer tweed sport coats, that’s what the local men’s shop is carrying while the national chain’s trendy offerings crowd the closeout rack.

On the other side of the coin, the agility and flexibility of the local merchant make it much easier for them to react when local tastes do change.

I hate to age myself, but I was working for a national retail chain in the early ‘7os.  The disco craze made Nehru jackets a hot item.  All the local stores (including Famous-Barr) had them in stock.  By the time my company’s buyers in New York reacted to the trend, got orders through the beaurocracy,  and got merchandise into the stores, I got my Nehru jackets the day after all the local stores had put them on closeout.

Not much has changed.  Customers are still  looking for value, not just price.  They’re looking for personal service, not an hour-long wait in a checkout line.  They’re looking for a place, like Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.”

And that, my friends, is what independent business is all about.