Wal-Mart’s New Style: Out With Kathie Lee, In With Trendier Looks

Wal-Mart is bidding adieu to its Kathie Lee label, marking the end of an era and the start of a new apparel department. Here are the details.

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Clancy is not just looking at the near-term prospects of brands or layout, but at the bigger picture of Wal-Mart as an organism needing good people to stay healthy. An important function of a good leader is "replenishing the bench" with talent, she said.

Right now, Wal-Mart is knee-deep in top-ranking talent. Ceo Lee Scott, 54, and executive vice president and vice chairman Tom Coughlin, 53, have many years left to run the empire. Former ceo David Glass and former vice chairman Don Soderquist are both still active in the company — and revered by employees who holler and cheer when they speak at Wal-Mart gatherings.

In such company, it’s clear Clancy, a native Bostonian who spent 15 years at the faltering Bradlees chain, feels like she’s joined the Yankees of retail. She was recruited five years ago by another big slugger, Vanessa Castagna, now chairman and ceo of J.C. Penney stores, catalog and internet.

"The leadership and the culture are just awesome," Clancy said. "Part of the reason I was so taken with the leadership is that at Bradlees, I worked under seven different ceos. We traded up, we traded down, we went mass, we changed direction. Wal-Mart doesn’t change direction. We know who we are."

Communication is paramount. Even barring the security cameras speckling the lobby and battleship gray-painted hallways, there are no secrets at Wal-Mart. Data is plentiful and readily available; there is no tolerance for hoarding one’s best instincts and ideas for personal advancement. When the company gathers in the auditorium for meetings, they file in under an enormous painted quotation about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Meetings (starting at 7:15 a.m. and "don’t be late," says Clancy) are attended religiously. On Mondays, general merchants — about 100 people — convene to share insights on trends, technology and sourcing. This week’s edition discussed Kim Possible, Disney’s cartoon butt-kicking, villain-apprehending heroine. Wal-Mart will ship plus-size Kim Possible merchandise for b-t-s.

On Fridays, Scott gathers top management to review sales and talk about weekend projections. By the time he’s clearing his throat to start the meeting, company planes full of buyers have already roared off to the stores. They are in and out of Wal-Mart and the competitions’ stores all day Friday checking stock levels and comparing prices in preparation for the weekend.
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