NEW YORK — As senior vice president and general manager of Macy’s flagship at Herald Square, Patti Lee has “four-wall” responsibility for sales, profits, shortage, service, visual, human resources and security.
This story first appeared in the September 10, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
She’s been captain of the mother ship since March 1999, after managing the unit on Long Island at Roosevelt Field, which is more than 300,000 square feet and Macy’s largest volume branch with about $140 million in annual sales, and about one-fourth the square footage of Herald Square.
“Having run a store like Macy’s Roosevelt Field prepares you for a place like this, but just finding my way around at first was a little intimidating. There’s a lot of ground to cover,” Lee said during an interview in her office, where she’s not likely to be found often. In and around the flagship, “There probably are certain places I haven’t been, like a few mechanical closets, stockrooms or sub-basements.”
Before that store, Lee managed other key Macy’s branches in Hamilton and Wayne, N.J., and Pentagon City, Va. She’s a 19-year veteran of Macy’s, and a former shoe buyer.
Compared to even Macy’s biggest branches, Macy’s Herald Square seems complicated and chaotic to run, at least to an outsider looking in. Situated between 34th and 35th Streets and Broadway and Seventh Avenue, the 2 million-square-foot flagship stands like a mountain intercepting all that commuter and tourist traffic to the Empire State Building, Penn Station and Times Square.
Lee said on average, 35,000 people visit the store daily, but the range is wide, from 20,000 on a typical day to 100,000 on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Because of the intensity and fluctuations in traffic, staffing needs are complex, with the staff doubling to around 4,000 during holiday season. The store has 1.1 million square feet of retail space, with 75 to 80 percent for selling and 20 to 25 percent for storage. The flagship also houses the corporate offices for Macy’s East.
Nevertheless, Lee, discussing the nature of her job and atmosphere at Herald Square, described the store as highly organized. It’s considered a separate region for Macy’s since it operates as five stores in one, with five store managers. They’re vice presidents for home, ready-to-wear, men’s wear, center court, and special businesses, which include kids, coats, swimwear and lingerie. Merchandise is sold on nine floors, as well as in The Cellar and on the balcony.
Because of the magnitude of the flagship, “From an operational standpoint, we have to be more efficient,” Lee said. When changes are necessary, “It’s a lot like turning the Queen Mary. You don’t just turn the wheel and arrive at the place where you want to be.”
One big course change occurred in 2000, when the flagship began to continue operating after shopping hours were over, becoming 24-7 for most of the year. That’s helped maintain a better flow of goods and achieve higher turns while raising certain labor and logistics issues. Delivery trucks arrive beginning around 8 p.m. from the distribution center in Secaucus, N.J., and a night team of about 100 stockmen arrive around 10 p.m., so they can do their work without disrupting shoppers.
The keys to being a smooth operator are “communications and advance planning,” Lee said. “We start planning the Christmas quarter in June. The level of advanced planning is different here. It is very organized, we have people here with definite responsibilities. There are not a lot of gray areas. It can be hectic, but it is not chaotic.”
Asked what the biggest challenges of the job are, Lee said, “To ensure consistency of service,” which entails meeting the heavy staffing requirements every day. Another challenge is having everyone understand promotions and what’s on the store calendar. “I meet with my people every Monday — the store managers, HR, security, the whole team — to examine the calendar six months ahead,” Lee said. That way, the nature of the promotions sinks in with management first and further down the ranks through subsequent meetings.
On a recent Friday, Lee said she hit every floor, though the detail that she looked at each floor depended on who she was with and what she was there for. Her day was also marked by a meeting with the executive team to review upcoming events surrounding the 100th anniversary. “There will be plenty of follow-up meetings for all the nuts and bolts,” she said.
Her day began at 7:30, with 30 minutes of paperwork, going through her in-basket, her e-mail, mostly eyeing manpower and delivery issues and ascertaining that the store is prepared for the day’s business. On average, 15 40-foot trailers arrive each night; 26 being the most ever. Ready-to-wear, she said, takes about 24 hours to get from the truck to the floor, partly because there are security tagging and other preparations involved to make it floor-ready. Hardlines are faster. For example, George Foreman grills go almost right off the trucks to the floor, and are ready to sell about two hours after delivery, she said.
From 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., Lee made the rounds. She examined merchandise changes in young men’s, a weekend clearance in The Cellar, among other stops, walking the floors at “a very fast clip.”
At 9, she met with the human resources vice president regarding placement of some people. At 9:30, there was a presentation on Macy’s focus network system for employees to watch, where the director of stores discussed service and recognized some outstanding workers. At 10 a.m., Lee had a meeting on key items and key classifications for Christmas. “They’ll be really evident on the selling floor around the first week in October,” she said, not willing to specify them.
At 11 a.m., Lee had a meeting about shortage with staff from center court [accessories, cosmetics and jewelry].
From noon to 2 p.m., when traffic peaks, meetings stop, but there’s no let-up. “Everybody is out on the floor. We don’t like to bother anyone with meetings at that time,” Lee said, who’s out covering more ground. Traffic also swells from 5 to 7 p.m.
From 2 to 4:30, there were meetings with marketing staff to discuss the 100th birthday plans, including mailings, and a benefit shopping night.
At 5 p.m., Lee met with Randy Salise, executive vice president and director of stores, discussing senior executive moves, including general merchandise managers and group managers. And at 5:30, she was back in her office, working on sales projections to help determine staffing requirements.
Just some more of that advance planning.