Macy’s Needs a Clue in Chicago

By Mike Maddaloni on Saturday, May 19, 2007 at 08:52 PM with 2 comments

Marshall Field's logoAs The Hot Iron was not around when Federated Department Stores acquired the former parent of Marshall Field’s and proceeded to rebrand it and in the process drain the life out of the store, you my readers were spared quite a bit! Especially for someone like me, who hails from Western Massachusetts, first worked in Pittsfield, Mass. and moved to Chicago to start a business, I relate a little bit to the late Mr. Field. Add to that my appreciation for history and tradition, it is probably not surprising to you that I have not entered the State Street store since the red star was placed on the awnings of the building.

I don’t need to recant all of the negative press and poor performance numbers that Federated has experienced in the stores that were formerly Field’s, not to mention Macy's attempts to blame others for their own ills. Where Federated’s chairman Terry Lundgren said that it was a business decision to rebrand the stores and build a national brand, it doesn’t help if the people that you want to continue shopping in your stores don’t know anything about you. As for business decisions, since when does spending hundreds of dollars for a sweater constitute a business decision?

When the announcement was originally made, there was the promise Frango mint production returning to the Windy City, and many enhancements to the State Street store including a fresh foods market, recognizing the residential growth in the Loop. It’s been over a year since those announcements, and there is some chatter about Frangos (conveniently timed with chatter about closing Field’s old distribution center in the city) and no fresh food market in sight. Sure, the 28 Shop is back and valet parking have been added, which may account for the store's perception of being overpriced.

Unfortunately I have witnessed this corporate arrogance before. Back in the early 90’s Federated bought the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston and rebranded it. Small plaques were added to the exterior of the store mentioning its history, but nothing else. Two big things Federated did to irk Bostonians was to cancel Marsh’s Enchanted Village, a Christmas display setup every year, and run ads in Boston newspapers featuring New York Yankees player Derek Jeter. The Village is now owned by the city of Boston and fallen into disrepair, and it does not need to be mentioned how much Boston loathes the Bronx Bombers. Fortunately for Bostonians there was Filene’s department store chain… until last year when they were also acquired and rebranded as Macy’s.

In both cases Macy’s did what seems like all they know – to offer coupons and sales. As they have discovered in Chicago, this isn’t working. Sure, they may have wanted to be cautious as to not flaunt the fact that they killed Field’s, but there comes a point where you can’t just mail it in from corporate headquarters and expect people to shop. That isn’t working, and as much as Federated has reshuffled its Midwest management, they are doing the same thing they have always done. Prior to rebranding Field’s there were no Macy’s stores in Chicagoland – apparently Federated thought its sponsoring of a Thanksgiving Parade in New York was enough brand recognition?

Retail, brick and mortar shopping is being hit from all angles today, including the Internet and discounters. If Federated, which will soon be renaming itself to Macy’s, doesn’t create some buzz or mojo soon in Chicago, it may never be able to. And for those who are loyal to Field’s, they can take comfort that when Macy’s faces its demise, it will be their name and not Field’s on the awnings when the State Street store is shuttered.

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