Pulling a “Lundgren”

[UPDATE 12/11/08: Welcome to my readers from FieldsFansChicago.org! You can find my full two-and-a-half years of coverage--and criticism--of Macy's poorly executed takeover of Chicago's historic Marshall Field's State Street retail flagship in my Macy's State Street archive.]

Who says you can’t teach an old Macy’s, Inc. CEO new tricks? Last week, Crain’s Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune both announced the rollout of a new Macy’s marketing campaign entitled, “Take Me to State Street”. According to the papers, the campaign will be full-court media push highlighting the flagship State Street store as a premiere retail destination.

Pessimistic Chicago shoppers might say the strategy was a long time in coming. Sure, Chicagoans held the store in high esteem for the 100 years or so that it was Marshall Field’s. But even after a disastrous 2006 holiday shopping season followed by a year of declining sales, until last week’s announcement Macy’s, Inc. provided little evidence that it gave a fig for local sentiment. (Local designers and long-lost chocolates do not a respected shopping destination revive).

After all, the former-Federated retail juggernaut burst onto the Second City scene with a year of commercials and print ads happily (and as many locals noted, rather cluelessly) shouting that Macy’s was now to be found all across the country–without ever mentioning the word Chicago.

As I detailed earlier this year, the woefully misfiring ad campaign was only one of a string of thoughtless blunders committed by a retail CEO too caught up in the hubris of continental retail conquest to notice. (Remember Macy’s forgetting the names of the streets that surround the State Street store? Giving up sponsorship of Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Cutting the pay of store associates to make up for tanking receipts?)

In 2005, when Federated closed the deal on the former Field’s nameplate and announced plans to retire the monicker, Lundgren faced directly into the firestorm of local protest and made no bones about his belief that civic sentiment would have no effect on the bottom line. The propensity of New York interests to underestimate any and all things Chicagoan is laughable at times. Lundgren’s career-defining lack of judgment in this regard would be hysterical–if it didn’t call the continued viability of the State Street store into question.

And that scares me. Far be it from me to want to see the old Marshall Field’s building go the way of downtown’s former Carson’s store (i.e., down the tubes). There’s nothing I enjoy more than a long lunch on the seventh floor followed by a lazy browse from the top of the State Street store to the bottom. The store represents a chance to experience a living retail history that many urban Americans don’t have access to anymore, and we’re lucky to have the opportunity here in Chicago, no matter what the nameplate on the door. So I hope the store has a better Christmas this year–I want it to stick around.

But it’s telling who made last week’s announcement: Frank Guzetta, Chairman and CEO of Macy’s North. At least the local management finally gets it. Given the massive, money-bleeding scope of the preceding marketing cock-up, I’m not surprised Lundgren laid low last week.

If his absence was supposed to be a face-saving strategy, though, it came as too little, too late for at least one critic quoted by the Trib. Minneapolis retail analyst William Lozito brutally pegged Lundgren’s reputation thusly: “Lundgren just tried to will Macy’s into being. He said everything is going to be Macy’s, and the business just went south.”

May I say on behalf of all Chicagoans, everywhere, we told you so? Chicago may not have the economic heft of Gotham, quite as long a history, or necessarily as blunt a populace. But we do have one thing in common with New Yorkers: we Chicagoans think that our city is the center of the known universe, too. (Even those of us, like me, who moved here from New York).

Future carpet-bagging retailers with their targets set on Hogtown wallets would do well to heed that fact, lest they too witness their sales receipts pull another “Lundgren”.

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