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Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Don't Go Changing ... Yeah, Right

Changing faces and places on the retail landscape

From westFrom west to east: Alan Gladstone of Anna’s Linens getting ready to open the 300th store; Ron Johnson of Penney’s orchestrating a radically different merchandising strategy; Edward Lampert of Sears trying to restore profitability; Bed Bath & Beyond consolidating its merchandising and operations offices at its New Jersey headquarters; and Macy’s working on a solution to the pending migration of its Martha Stewart brand to Penney.
NEW YORK - Change is the nature of business, but even by that standard, there have been some pretty big changes on the home textiles retail landscape.
     As the industry gathers in New York this week for its twice-yearly market week, it does so with more than a few significant shifts on the retail side of the business. JCPenney, Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy's, Sears, TJX, Kohl's, Anna's: They have all had important developments in their businesses over the past 12 months that will impact the way they shop market.
     For some, it's good news, but for some it's bad. Several retailers are undertaking or are about to undertake important changes in their merchandising strategies. Others are in expansion modes, while still others are contracting.
     How all of it will play out remains to be seen, but certainly the approaches for these stores going forward will mean corresponding shifts for many vendors, with resulting tremors felt up and down the marketplace.
     Here are some brief snapshots of the ever changing retail landscape.

JCPenney
     By now, most everyone in the trade knows there's a new sheriff in Plano and he has some pretty radical ideas for this retailer. Ron Johnson came over from Apple, after an earlier stop at Target, and is bringing critical parts of both companies' retail profiles to what had been one of the most promotional stores in the country.
     The new "Fair and Square" program, with a variation on the everyday-low-pricing format as its centerpiece, kicked off last month, and there are plenty more changes to come, from a total selling floor makeover to revamped advertising to new brands to ... well, to doing most things differently. In fact, one could say JCPenney is learning to think different when it comes to just about everything.
     This will be the first buying cycle since the new strategy was announced, so how Penney buys this market is going to be of major interest to suppliers and competitors alike.

Bed Bath & Beyond
It's the same old BBB coming into market, but the BBBers walking into those showrooms may be different and where they will receive their fall paperwork will be very different, too. Bed Bath is moving its entire merchandising staff from their previous Long Island, N.Y., offices to the central New Jersey headquarters, where operations have always been housed. The bi-suburban polar set-up worked for years, but the powers-that-be decided it was time to bring everyone together.
     Bed Bath is notoriously tight-lipped, but vendors report those not making the move west are primarily in the planning and assistant buying strata and that virtually all of the senior merchandising staff will remain intact.
     Of course, those dearly departed are often the ones who do the legwork after market, so observers will be watching to see if any balls - or POs - are dropped during the transition.

Macy's
While it's not over until the homemaker lady sings, the smart money is betting that in the Martha Stewart tug-of war between Macy's and Penney, the Texas rustlers will take home the prize. If that's the case, there will be some serious rearranging of things in the Macy's private and captured brand corral as the top dog departs.
     This may mean some new labels on existing programs or it could result in some totally new directions for a retailer that has been putting up impressive results lately. Either way, the good thing happening at Macy's will not be the same old thing.

Sears Holdings
Put this one in the contracting column as the Sears/Kmart separated-at-birth twins struggle to find both their rightful place in the merchandising universe and - probably much more importantly - in the black ink department. There is yet another team of chief merchants running Hoffman Estates, but many question exactly how much latitude they have to make a real difference.
     No doubt, there will be new initiatives discussed - if not always acted upon - and the struggle of sourcing versus buying that has plagued the Sears effort will once more come into play this market week.

TJX
In the land of Marshalls and TJ Maxx, the kid sister Home Goods operation is really starting to grow up. While the apparel-driven duet start to hit the strip-center-ceiling when it comes to rapid expansion, the parent company is increasingly turning to Home Goods as its chief growth vehicle, looking for a doubling in the number of stores in the upcoming years.
     This will no doubt create even more of a Little-Shop of-Bargains situation where the cries from stores managers to "feed me" will get ever louder. Equally likely, an ever-increasing number of suppliers will be only too happy to oblige.

Kohl's
If you're like many people in home textiles, you're saying to yourself, "Hey, how did this happen?" One of the most successful, admired and reliable retailers anywhere, Kohl's has very suddenly turned up in the triage area looking for some merchandising medication.
     No one is quite sure if this is a just a cold or something more severe. Kohl's management seemed to hint that its relentless promotional push was starting to wear a little thin.
     Whatever the cause, you know the merchants at Kohl's will be coming to market looking for the remedy. This could mean some significant changes in their buying approach and come fall, a Kohl's selling floor very different than the one you see now.

Anna's Linens
The numeral 300 is both a nice round figure and a pretty impressive symbolic mark for Anna's Linens, the little retailer that could.
     After a modest start and through some ups and downs, the promotional home textiles retailer has staked out its ground as the only true specialty chain in the country other than that operation called Bed Bath & something. Sometime this year, the company will open its 300th store - location and date still to be announced - and while that alone will not mean any radical shift in buying strategy, it does give the store added buying power for exclusives, dedicated brands and other merchandising perks.
     There are a couple of new faces on Team Anna's in for market this week, but Anna's little boy Alan Gladstone is still both the head cheerleader and the man with the keys to the merchandising kingdom.
     So, these are among the highlights of what's new with some of the retailers coming into market ... though certainly not all of them. Walmart and Target continue to reinvent their textiles areas with varying degrees of success, Kohl's is getting over a speed bump for the first time in a long time, the second-tier department stores - Dillard, Belk and Bon-Ton - are working to live in a world dominated by Macy's and the TJX group and Costco continue to operate if not under the radar then above it. And rest assured, there's plenty more where those came from.
     Change is like that.

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