By  on March 8, 2005

ATLANTA — Joan Herskovits remembers rushing to Rich’s department store in downtown Atlanta at the last minute during the early Eighties to buy a designer evening gown to wear to a black-tie event. In less than 24 hours, the sales associate had altered, steamed and personally delivered the dress to her home.  

“That’s the way Rich’s was in the old days, but it wouldn’t happen today,” said Herskovits, 53, a retired Delta Airlines flight attendant. She is giving up on the store because the 137-year-old Rich’s nameplate has been dropped for that of Macy’s, which, she contended,  “has the same-old same-old product in every city.”

Some younger customers, such as Kenna Clark, 26, a real estate investment saleswoman, associate Rich’s with their parents and are more comfortable in Banana Republic or J. Crew. “I grew up in the boom days of Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch, and was programmed early on to specialty store shopping,” Clark said.

In Memphis, where Goldsmith’s-Macy’s is now Macy’s, Cara Fromin, a 26-year-old specialty store retailer, said that Macy’s, with Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Bobbi Brown and other brands that aren’t available elsewhere, is starting to look better.

The success of the decision by Federated Department Stores — fresh off its megamerger plan with May Department Stores — to replace the longtime regional nameplates of Rich’s, Burdines, Lazarus, Goldsmith’s and Bon Marche with Macy’s this month should be an early indicator of the level of resistance the company may face as it rebrands most, if not all, of May’s nameplates as Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s by 2007.

Many experts said Federated, with its size and resources, would succeed in channeling the loyalty of devoted customers of the converted stores, though it must focus on customer service, assortments and value.

“Macy’s is now the Wal-Mart of department stores,’’ said Emanuel Weintraub, president of Emanuel Weintraub Associates, a Fort Lee, N.J., consultancy specializing in the apparel industry. “You don’t see Wal-Mart with different names in different cities. Ultimately, consumers are interested in what best serves them, and what they get…outweighs loyalty to a regional store name. How can regional department stores compete against them? They’ll either have to become superefficient, or be bought, or be gone.”

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