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  • Warren Shoulberg

Mike Gould calls it a career but not a day

Mike Gould calls it a career but not a dayTo a generation of people in the retailing business, if you mentioned the name Mike, it could only mean one person: Michael Gould, who for the past 22 years has been the ceo of Bloomingdale's, perhaps the most iconic store in the business.
     That tenure comes to an end next month with Gould's retirement and the succession of longtime No. 2 Tony Spring to the corner office.
     Gould will not go quietly into the retail sunset, vowing to remain "relevant" in the business and in the education of future retailers.
     But for the time being, he will leave 59th Street with his charge in a very different position than when he arrived in 1991 after a career spent at several department stores including A&S and Robinson's. His predecessor - the legendary Marvin Traub - had remade Bloomingdale's into the upscale, youth and luxury-oriented store it's now known as, but the nameplate was part of a declining department store channel and struggling to find its bearings.
     "In the 70s, they were all saying department stores were dinosaurs," Gould told H&TT a few weeks after the announcement of the transition. "You had all these people who were going to put department stores out of business.
     "But if you had a focus and had a strategic plan," Gould says, that was the difference. "You weren't just selling product; you had to believe in this as a social environment.
     We've tried to be relevant and approachable, that's part of our DNA. You have to have a store that's exciting, that talks to the customer. That's a lot tougher."
     Gould, like many top retail executives - including his successor - began in the home area, as a trainee at A&S. Maybe it's part of the reason he still sees home furnishings as a cornerstone of Bloomingdale's, a fact brought home every day by the location of his office right behind the towel department at the flagship store.
     "Do I think home adds something to Bloomingdale's? Yes. We're the only upscale department store that sells a full line of home: textiles, tabletop, housewares. Why should we ask a Bloomingdale's customer to buy a mattress or textiles from another store?"
     He admits home isn't easy for a department store. "It's more difficult to make money in home, but we feel it's an integral part of Bloomingdale's."
     Nevertheless, the store has learned how to adjust to the different nature of home, eliminating the glitzy - but expensive - model rooms that were a hallmark of an earlier era. It has also closed at least one of its stand-alone home stores that Gould describes as "an idea I had. Stand-alones have been very difficult for us to run."
     Gould has also opened some new or remodeled stores without home departments, most notably the downtown Soho store in New York. "We've had different models for new stores."
     The next generation of new stores will be Spring's concern, not his. Gould - who faced the difficult task of succeeding someone who was not anxious to leave his job and was so identified with the store - said his advice for his successor is simple: "Just be yourself. I don't believe in trying to fill anybody's shoes, not my father's or Marvin's."
     As for himself, Gould - never one to sit still for very long - said his retirement will be anything but.
     "I know I'm going to stay relevant and keep learning. I'd like to teach or work in the nonprofit area. This is a new chapter."

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