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Regardless Who Wins Macy, Retailer Unlikely To Lose Image

May 23, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ For creditors of R.H. Macy & Co. Inc., a big issue is who will own the world-famous department store company when it exits U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

For the people who shop at the retailer’s 111 Macy’s and Bullock’s department stores and its I. Magnin, Charter Club and Aeropostale specialty stores, the owner’s identity really doesn’t matter.

Macy’s character is unlikely to change radically even with new ownership, although some stores might undergo substantial metamorphoses if sold to other retailers, people familiar with Macy say.

Under one scenario being considered by creditors and bankruptcy court, Macy would go to rival Federated Department Stores Inc., which owns Bloomingdale’s, Abraham & Straus, Rich’s, Burdine’s and other big chains.

For Federated, owning Macy would mean a dramatic expansion from its current 230 stores (including 10 Joseph Horne branches Federated is acquiring in Pennsylvania) to 341. But it likely would mean cutbacks at Macy operations that overlap.

Federated hasn’t revealed its vision for Macy because of a confidentiality agreement signed with Cyrus Vance, the mediator appointed by Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland to hasten Macy’s emergence from court protection, a refuge it sought more than two years ago because of crushing debts and weak sales.

Some retail analysts believe Federated, which itself restructured in bankruptcy court several years ago, will scale back the number of suppliers that Macy historically has showcased, including smaller designer and apparel companies with names such as Anna Sui, Mark Eisen and Todd Oldham.

″Right now, their (Federated’s) top 300 vendors account for 62 percent of the merchandise in Federated stores. In the next few years, they’ll up that to 80. There’s be less room for new young vendors. You have to assume that exactly the same thing would happen″ at Macy, said Monroe Greenstein, a retail industry analyst with the investment firm Lazard Freres & Co.

But Greenstein said Federated wouldn’t devastate supplier lists. ″You can cut back without hurting the image,″ he said.

Bonnie Johnson, an assistant professor of fashion buying and merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, agreed. ″When new people own a company, there’s going to be a change ... I think the successful turnaround of Federated has reinforced their approach to the marketplace. But to duplicate their own assortment in another store would be self-defeating.″

Veterans of Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue, the heart of the nation’s fashion industry, say they don’t expect drastic changes.

″You cannot run a business that way,″ said Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller Ltd. ″What makes Macy’s fun to buy at is the excitement″ generated by new designers.

Konheim noted that Bloomingdale’s also is a showcase for small companies, so Federated management understands the need to tailor buying strategy to each store.

In some ways, Federated’s plans are likely to resemble Macy’s five-year business plan. Macy’s proposal envisions returning to profitability under current management using a merchandising structure similar to the one used by Federated during its own reorganization.

Moreover, Roger Farah, who will become Macy’s top merchandising officer in July, worked most recently for Federated.

At the core of Macy’s recovery is a focus on moderate-price shoppers. The company offers expensive merchandise, but its greatest appeal is to middle- class consumers looking for value.

One unknown is whether Federated or any other owner might sell any Macy stores. Some analysts expect that under Federated, Macy’s southern stores, which compete with Rich’s and Burdine’s, might be sold.

A likely buyer would be Dillard Department Stores Inc., which has wanted Macy’s southern branches for some time. If it bought them, the stores would become Dillard branches and customers would see big changes.

Woody Whyte, an analyst who follows Dillard for the Stephens Inc. investment firm in Little Rock, Ark., said customers would notice Dillard’s preference for national brands, a different strategy from Macy’s mix of private and better-known labels.

″Macy’s has a certain cachet about it. People might be initially put off ... but after they give it a chance, I think they’ll be pleased with what they see,″ Whyte said.

″Dillard, when asked what their closest look-alike competitor is, has often said Macy,″ he said.

A sale of stores could have a bigger impact on suppliers, especially if the buyer doesn’t do business with them.

″The only thing that would affect us would be what happens to I. Magnin,″ Macy’s very upscale specialty chain, said Arie Kopelman, chairman of Chanel Inc. ″If there were a change in ownership, we would obviously be looking at that in terms of whether we would continue with that distribution.″

Ms. Johnson of FIT said suppliers are used to finding new outlets for their merchandise if necessary: ″It’s just another change of management that they have to adjust to.″

End adv for Monday, May 23

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