Some of you may recall from a previous column that my first taste of housewares retailing came as a sales associate at a Macy’s in Upstate New York.
So with that full disclosure, the selection of Macy’s as this year’s HomeWorld Business Retail Champion (see HomeWorld’s May 16, 2011, issue) marks an important achievement for the retailer and its housewares strategy. It should strike a harmonious note, too, for a housewares industry that nervously has witnessed the department store channel’s shrinking share the past two decades against a national big-box uprising.
Reports of the death of department stores were premature, after all.
My brief tour of duty at Macy’s some 30 years ago came when department stores still were usually the first choice in many locales for top-rate branded fashions and home goods.
The Right Move
It was easy for me and others who grew up with Macy’s to embrace Federated’s decision after acquiring May to unite its divisions (except Bloomingdale’s) and corporate identity under the Macy’s brand. It was the right move, even at the risk of alienating in the near term stalwarts of the nameplates Macy’s replaced. I know several Chicagoans, for example, who continue to insist they won’t shop former Marshall Field’s locations now carrying the Macy’s flag.
Sacrificing some traditional customers may be an acceptable loss by Macy’s in its quest to be a top-of-mind destination for current and future generations of shoppers for whom such names as Marshall Field’s, Bon Marche, Abraham & Strauss and May Company one day will be relics of a bygone retail era.
Uniting under the Macy’s name was more than a symbolic gesture to capitalize on an icon familiar across the land to anyone who has watched a Thanksgiving Day Parade or Miracle on 34th Street. It was a chance to deploy a considerable asset on a national (and international) scale while cultivating a focused brand image. It was a necessary national mass marketing-inspired maneuver for a retailer ultimately looking to secure its distinction from national mass marketers.
A unified advertising and web platform supports Macy’s image and marketing efficiency. Keeping the brand on the outside of stores relevant, though, may depend more on brands inside the stores.
Private labeling as a focal point of Macy’s differentiation plan is old news. Macy’s often seems starstruck in its pursuit of celebrity brands, but they help keep Macy’s connected with a diverse public.
The intensifying deployment by Macy’s of house brands in home goods has been met with its share of skepticism. It’s hard to argue, however, against the effectiveness of a captive-brand strategy that has secured exclusivity and lifted sales in a system that fosters collaboration between Macy’s product development and buying teams for a more confluent, yet adaptable merchandise presentation.
Beyond its private-label ambition, Macy’s overall potential in housewares can’t be gauged without factoring a resurgent effort to elevate key national brands in the better-to-best segments and to be more assertive in the identification and launch of promising new resources.
The Macy’s website gives customers in all its markets (and those without a nearby Macy’s store) a chance to shop the full, extensive scope of the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Store,” the famed Herald Square flagship. Meanwhile, the My Macy’s localized merchandising strategy is bearing fruit. The retailer credits its recent sales bloom in part to store assortments tailored to local preferences.
It will take more than a deep-dish pizza pan in each Chicagoland Macy’s to make everyone forget Marshall Field’s. But you don’t need to have grown up with Macy’s to appreciate how important its unified progress is to the future of housewares in the department store channel.