Kathy Bufano, a merchant with a wide range of department and specialty store experience, has become president of merchandising and marketing for Belk Inc.

Bufano becomes the highest ranking official in the Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk organization outside Belk family members. Tim Belk is chief executive officer, Johnny Belk is president and chief operating officer and H.W. McKay Belk is president and chief merchandising officer. The company was founded in 1888 by William Henry Belk and is in the third generation of Belk family leadership.

Bufano will report to McKay Belk. Her position was vacant for about a year and a half since Mary Delk, who was a consultant before joining Belk, decided to return to that field. Since then, McKay Belk has been filling in.

“This will take a little bit of the pressure off me and allow me to focus on more strategic issues now,” said McKay Belk in an interview Friday when Bufano’s appointment was revealed. “We have had a lot of activity over the past 24 months,” including the purchases of Proffitt’s, McRae’s, Parisian and the Migerobe fine jewelry company. “We are spending a lot of time working on all those opportunities, which has been very exciting, but they require a lot of extra work.

“I think Kathy is going to fit right in with what we are doing. There is obviously lots of change going on in the vendor community, but Kathy is known in the market.”

Bufano most recently was ceo of Vanity Shops, a 200-store junior specialty chain based in Fargo, N.D. She began her retail career in 1977 and has held key executive-level and general merchandising posts with Sears Roebuck, Dress Barn, Macy’s East and Lord & Taylor. While most of her experience has been in women’s, Belk did point out that at Sears she was responsible for softlines, including men’s. She’s known as a results-driven, bread-and-butter merchant with strong experience in private label and growing volume.

Bufano officially starts at Belk on Jan. 17. She will have all merchandise and marketing areas, including private brands and sales promotion, reporting to her.

At Sears, Bufano was behind several initiatives including introducing the Covington private sportswear brand; pumping up Canyon River Blues, another proprietary brand; launching big-and-tall shops with national brands and Covington; discontinuing scores of labels in apparel and soft home that meant little to consumers, and making other selling floor changes.

This story first appeared in the January 7, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Though the Belk chain is still controlled by the family, McKay Belk pointed out that it’s not unusual to fill top jobs with non-Belks: “We did that before with Mary Delk, and we have a number of general merchandise managers that have come from outside, as well as top officials in stores.” He added that the chief financial officer and general council are also non-Belks. “We are always looking to strengthen the organization from internal sources and external sources.”

Belk is the nation’s largest privately owned department store company with 303 stores in 16 Southern states.

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