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Buyer has been bold about name changes

Will the name Marshall Field's become a footnote in Chicago retailing history?

Federated Department Stores Inc., which on Monday finalized its proposal to purchase Field's parent May Department Stores Co., is not shy about changing the names of the regional retailers it buys.

If the deal is approved, Federated is expected to accelerate its rollout of the Macy's and Bloomingdale's names into national brands. Federated's chief executive said Monday that the retailer would convert most of May Department Stores Co.'s holdings--which also include Filene's, Famous-Barr and Kaufmann's--into Macy's.

"Just imagine the strength of our branding efforts across almost twice the number of stores we operate today," CEO Terry Lundgren said during a conference call. "We're so excited about the growth opportunities that this provides Macy's."

But the fate of May's two marquee names--Marshall Field's and Lord & Taylor--is up in the air.

"Those are two good names," Lundgren said. "What we'll do, as we did in the past, is listen closely to customers and do research. It's my expectation there will be store changes in terms of names to Bloomingdale's and Macy's, but ... before we make that decision we'll listen closely to the market."

At a retail conference in January, Lundgren presented research that supported Federated's decision to rebrand the regional retailers it purchased in the past.

It showed that 70 percent of shoppers said a name change didn't matter. In fact, 10 percent said they'd shop more often at a Macy's than they would at their hometown chain.

Only 5 percent thought a name change was a terrible idea.

Lundgren conceded that some shoppers were nostalgic about their hometown department store chains and reminisced about having tea with a grandmother at a store where the name is being dropped.

But "they've accepted the fact that the name is changing to Macy's," Lundgren said.

That's why one retail observer thinks that the Field's name will disappear.

"They've taken the greatest names in their markets and wiped them out," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of retail consulting firm Davidowitz & Associates. "Marshall Field's is history."

On March 6, for instance, Federated will convert five of its regional nameplates--originally Rich's, Lazarus, Goldsmith's, Burdines and Bon Marche--to Macy's.

Field's State Street store will be converted to a Macy's because "Macy's runs a State Street store in Manhattan," Davidowitz said, referring to Macy's flagship store in New York.

Shoppers on Monday had mixed opinions about the Field's name.

"This store is Chicago," said Ann Johnston, 69, adding that she felt strongly about the name.

Johnston spent Monday afternoon browsing at the State Street Marshall Field's for a new coat. She frequents the store for nearly "everything," from personal items to clothes.

"It's a huge store and they have everything I need," Johnston said.

Another shopper brushed off talks of possible changes to the Chicago institution.

"This is business," said Barbara Rothe. "It's free enterprise. If they change the name, they change the name. So what?

"You can't hold onto the past forever," she added. "It's a global economy and this is what you have to do to compete. You are seeing it everywhere."

One analyst believes the Field's name will stay.

"Our belief is that if a merger were to occur, Federated would convert 10 of May's 12 regional department store divisions into the Macy's brand," Merrill Lynch analyst Daniel Barry told clients in a note Monday. "We believe Federated would keep the names of Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field's, May's two upper-tier divisions, similar to Bloomingdale's."

Whether the Field's name stays or goes, the Macy's name is still expected to enter the Illinois market. May's Famous-Barr department stores, with seven Downstate locations, will likely become Macy's.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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