Leaving the Sun Belt: L&T Axing 32 Stores To Boost Profitability

In an unprecedented downsizing, Lord & Taylor will close 32 low-volume stores, reversing the chain’s expansion through the Sun Belt in the 1990s.

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Jane Elfers

Photo By WWD Staff

Gene Kahn

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — In an unprecedented downsizing, Lord & Taylor will close 32 low-volume stores, dismantling much of a misguided expansion through the Sun Belt during the Nineties and returning its focus to core Northeastern and Midwest markets to seek better profitability.

About 3,500 L&T associates will lose their jobs. Included in that figure are 190 jobs at Lord & Taylor’s flagship here and distribution center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Such areas as finance, public relations, visual, restaurant services and advertising were reportedly hit.

According to analysts, L&T is marginally profitable, and the least profitable of all the divisions of May Department Stores Co. Filene’s and Robinsons-May are considered the top-two money-makers, though the performances of the divisions are in close proximity.

The St. Louis-based May Co. said in its announcement Wednesday that the cutback was another step in L&T’s strategic repositioning over the past three years into a more upscale retailer emphasizing better and bridge fashions, including such lines as Kate Spade and Bobbi Brown beauty products.

In an interview, Jane Elfers, president and chief executive of Lord & Taylor, said, “We have repositioned our merchandise assortment, our sales promotion and marketing. We’ve updated the look of our stores. They’re cleaned up and have new visuals, and now we are repositioning our real estate strategy. It’s always a difficult decision when people are involved, but it’s a proactive decision for the future success of L&T.”

The restructuring will shave L&T down to 54 stores in 11 states and Washington, D.C., with St. Louis the most western remaining location. Currently, L&T has 86 stores in 19 states. The nameplate remains nationally known and the corporation’s most fashionable division.

The downsizing also leaves L&T with a simpler buying strategy. A separate warm climate buying program will no longer be required and buyers will be relieved from trying to convince vendors to ship sites that sold little merchandise. L&T will follow a real estate path that comes closer to other higher-priced specialty chains, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, which have been far more restrained in their expansions. Neiman’s has 35 stores and Saks has 60.
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