As we all digest word of the proposed joining of May
Yesterday, my colleague Seth Jayson covered the merger, revealing it as a bit of a yawner for Wall Street, of course, since the rumor's been grinding along, as we observed in JanuaryandFebruary. And even before that, this was a move that many anticipated, maybe questioning only a matter of when.
However, another side of the story -- which may mean a lot to some -- is the rebranding of regional chains, a topic covered by online versions of local papers across the country. I know that here in the Washington, D.C., area, the Hecht's chain -- now part of May -- is the last of the local department stores. In addition to Hecht's, we used to have other local chains such as Woodward & Lothrop (known fondly as Woodies) and Garfinckels, both of which have been out of commission for years now. Buzz is that Hecht's stores may be changed to Macy's -- and that seems to be the case with regional department stores across the country.
The list of endangered May retail brands may be in your hometowns -- names such as Strawbridge's, Foley's, Kaufmann's, Meier & Frank, and Robinsons-May, to name just a few. Some of these names have pedigrees that stretch back for a century or more.
Of course, there are strategic dilemmas as some middle-of-the-road department store retailers struggle with the times. Look at the success of upscale names such as Nordstrom
Although some of the Hecht's stores I've stepped into recently seemed a little worse for the wear, it seems that maybe, in the current economic climate, a home-grown brand could (theoretically) help woo customers back, given decent direction. That's as opposed to retooling venerated brands as Macy's and becoming just another name in nationwide homogenization, when many department stores are struggling with coming across as bland to begin with. (There isn't a joke about "Generica" for nothing.)
Sure, what's in a name? Operationally, very little. However, if it's customer loyalty that these two giants want, as they come together in a changing retail environment, they might do well to recognize that while change is inevitable, a sacrifice of local history may not be the way to progress.