Going to the Inside Man: Neiman’s James Gold

The Neiman Marcus Group named James Gold, a relative unknown, to be president and chief executive officer of Bergdorf Goodman.

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Asked whether he faces a steep learning curve, Gold replied, “I need to dive into the business, to get my hands around it and understand it before I make significant changes. This is a unique store in the most competitive market in the country. So there is a tremendous amount I need to learn, but I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity. We’ve got to stay on top and we will stay on top by continuing to have the greatest assortment and the best people. My job is to maintain the distance from the competition.”

Although there has been some turnover at Bergdorf’s over the last couple of years, including the departure of Peter Rizzo, who served as president and chief merchant, as well as Frasch, it is largely considered a smooth running ship, with the buying and selling organizations working in unison. “Keeping the team together will be a priority for Gold,” said a competitor. “It’s hard to replace people and they have been operating so well as a unit. You hear that from vendors.”

“The groundwork [at Bergdorf’s] is all laid,” said a retail executive from another company. “There are no gaping holes. Gold will be challenged to keep the buzz going at the level it’s been at, without compromising the fashion integrity for the sake of volume. It could be tempting to bring in businesses that maybe aren’t as special to the matrix that Bergdorf has developed.”

The store has a goal of attaining $400 million in sales, but hasn’t given a time frame for that.

Over the past five years, the retailer has filled a void in its product offering by adding advanced and contemporary merchandise to attract both a younger audience or those with younger attitudes. It has also developed new selling and marketing vehicles, such as the Bergdorf Goodman Magazine; added incentives for selling associates, and has a Web site under development for a fall 2004 launch.

Gold will also be dealing with the ongoing renovation of the Bergdorf’s women’s store, much of which has been complete, including the main floor for accessories and jewelry, the beauty floor on the lower level and the second floor for comprehensive designer shops selling ready-to-wear and accessories for Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. The shops are run by brand managers, a new level of management at the store.
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