Merchant Robert Lauter Remembered

Carole Sloan, March 10, 2008

Services were held here March 3 for legendary home furnishings executive Robert Lauter, 88, who died in California on Feb. 26.

Lauter was a major force in retail home furnishings, spending 40 years at Macy's New York, W & J Sloane, and Burdines, Florida. He left Macy's as svp of home furnishings having spent 24 years with the store, to join New York-based W & J Sloane which he headed for six years. He was with Burdines for 10 years when he retired in 1986. He then joined Joseph Cory Warehouse in Jersey City, N.J. as svp.

He later became a consultant in the home furnishings market.

Lauter's influence in the home furnishings world went back as far as his tenure at Macy's where he spearheaded the concept of annual themed events such as The Far East, The Best of Britain, and The Mediterranean. It was during the Best of Britain event that home lifestyle icon Terence Conran made his major American debut.

To Howard Socol, former ceo of Burdines and now ceo of Barneys New York, "Bob gave Burdines a direction in the home; he had a true vision for what a home store should be. He had the thoughts and executed the visions. He brought an upscale assortment at the top echelon of the business."

In addition, Socol noted, "He was a very good trainer. He took the time and energy to train people. And he was a gentleman. He acted and dressed like one."

For Matt Sergio who worked for Lauter at Macy's and later Burdines, where he headed the home fashions department, "He was the most influential person in my career, my mentor, my strength."

Sergio added, "He had a vision and picked people to execute it and stepped back. He developed themes in a strong way like the Palazzo event and Scandinavia. He believed that department stores should lead in trends."

Phil Cutler, now retired, also began his relationship with Lauter at Macy's. Cutler called him "a really special man. He was the only 13th-floor executive who understood the value of image making. He never told us what to do — but was deeply involved; always a gentleman, but demanding yet generous."

To David Tracy, now an industry consultant but earlier head of Fieldcrest, "Bob's strategies were always good; he was a builder of franchises and his judgment and expertise were very well balanced."

"He brought a lot of flair to retailing; he had a lot of style," remarked Chip Scala, president of the Waverly division of Ellery Homestyles. "He was a real merchandising merchant — creative, smart and a type we're not going to see anymore."

Lauter is survived by two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.

Memorials in his name can be made to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

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