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Retailers perfect art of hand wringing

Jeff Linville, Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, May 3, 2004

Well, it looks like nobody's perfect. And least perfect of all is a very wide swath of retailers.

Recent months and weeks have seen a number of retail moguls explaining away some of this year's challenges with references to what should have happened in the past. An old friend calls this the "shouldda, wooda" excuse.

Some of these admissions are across the board, while some are directly home driven.

Probably the biggest — and one viewed with both hope and apprehension — is the move by Federated to have a central home-furnishing buying and marketing organization.

No surprise here as to the need — and Federated's Terry Lundgren was forthright in discussing what had to be done. The jury is still out, since the units haven't begun day one as a total group, as to what will happen.

Then there's the big guy in Bentonville. At an analysts' meeting last week, a senior executive admitted that Wal-Mart excessively chased dollars, buying more than needed and lowering prices too much.

At the Kohl's shareholders meeting last week, company executives were also forthright in their admission that the formula which had worked so well for so many years had lost its effectiveness, as competitors caught on and nipped at the company's heels in an attack on its strengths.

At the same time, executives lost sight of their core advantages, and the price scenario was not the positive it had been in recent years.

And at JCPenney, despite its turnaround progress, it did not hit the mark with its promotions efforts, and found that was an area to be rebuilt.

Then the May Co. moved a number of executives around and out in an obvious move to revitalize. Its marquis division, Lord & Taylor, is striving to become more of a fashion leader, rather than a May Co. department store look-alike.

The list goes on and on. As this year unfolds, it will be interesting to see how these and others in the retailing community attempt to change their approaches. Pricing will continue to be a critical measuring point, but how each company approaches pricing will be even more important.

Now that virtually everyone is into wide aisles, central checkouts, shopping carts and better visuals, the need for overall differentiation is even more acute.

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