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Out of time

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, January 8, 2001

It will be an exceedingly tumultuous year coming up.

The results of the traumas of 2000 are still to be identified, and more traumas on both the supplier and the retailer side are considered probable for this year.

It wasn't surprising to most that another two key retail players are leaving the scene. What was surprising was the timing. But that just underscored how different business is now compared with a decade or two ago.

Home textiles and retailing, in general, have been the recipients of gobs of venture capital bucks over recent years. And those bucks don't come cheap.

The VCs get a lot of their bennies upfront and take huge gobs on a month-by-month basis. And when the payout doesn't come quickly enough, jettison becomes the operative word.

That's what happened to Montgomery Ward.

For Bradlees and Wards there were similarities as well as differences that caused their demises.

Both had a series of managements with disparate ideas on how best to run their business.

Bradlees never was able to tap into its key strong suit of having stores where its customers lived. The stores were tired, dreary and each change in management never really understood that the basics of retailing were missing.

When walking into many a Montgomery Ward store, a miner's lamp would be an appropriate escort since lighting was at dim or dimmer. Over the years, the lack of acceptance in the apparel field was blamed for Wards' lack of progress.

Bradlees went upscale under one management, promotional after another, constantly confusing its customer base.

People came and left Wards like a revolving door. Under Roger Goddu, reformatting was critical but the issue was time and the needs of parent company General Electric which left little breathing room.

At Bradlees, it was a similar amount of outdated stores, merchandise that didn't make it in today's world and an image that couldn't compete with the burgeoning competition in the Northeast.

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