By  on April 20, 2009

Neiman Marcus Inc. has promoted Gerald Barnes, a veteran of the luxury retailer, to president and chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Direct division.

Barnes, who was executive vice president of merchandising at NM Direct, fills the slot vacated by Brendan Hoffman, who became ceo of Lord & Taylor last October.

“This is a pretty seamless process,” Barnes said on Friday, noting he had been chief merchant of the division and was unofficially acting as the interim ceo of NM Direct while the company was deciding on the appointment.

Barnes said a new chief merchant to succeed him will be determined, though there is no rush to fill the position.

“The Internet is definitely the healthy part of the direct business,” Barnes said. “It’s driving our business, and it’s definitely the part of the business we are concentrating on. Our traffic online is up compared to last year. We are very excited that we continue to reach customers in their homes. Now we are trying to entice them to buy more. We are always making improvements to the Web site. We have different things being tested right now that are working out well. Over the next three or four months you will see a number of improvements in the way it works.”

As far as the offerings, Barnes said they continue to be much the same. “We haven’t augmented or decreased any part of the offering. We are happy with the way the business is working. We just want the customers to respond the way they have in the past. They’re a little reticent right now.”

He characterized the catalogue side of the direct business as “a little bit tougher,” but overall, NM Direct has recently outperformed the specialty retail segment, which includes Neiman Marcus Stores and Bergdorf Goodman. While specialty retail posted a $13.9 million operating loss last quarter, direct business posted a $14.7 million operating profit.

At the end of Neiman’s fiscal year, which concluded August 8, 2008, NM Direct had $747.5 million in sales and $117.7 million in operating profit.

Asked about the catalogue side of the direct business, Barnes said the consumers’ response has been more “passive,” with many more apt to read the catalogue and then go to the Web site for purchasing.

Barnes joined Neiman Marcus Stores in 1983 as a men’s sportswear buyer. He rose to vice president, divisional merchandise manager of men’s sportswear; vice president, general manager of the downtown Dallas store, and divisional merchandise manager in bridge sportswear and Galleria. In 2001, he was promoted to senior vice president, general merchandise manager of fashion for NM Direct, and in 2007 he assumed additional responsibility for creative services. He was promoted to executive vice president of merchandising for NM Direct in April 2008.

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