BOSTON — Wal-Mart has named Sara Lee casualwear veteran Karen Stuckey senior vice president of product development for the Bentonville, Ark., retailer’s U.S. store operations, including Sam’s Club and Neighborhood Markets.

Stuckey, 46, will oversee the design and brand position of Wal-Mart’s softline and hardline private labels, including Faded Glory and junior label No Boundaries, starting July 12. She will report to Claire Watts, who held the product development position before being promoted to executive vice president of merchandising for Wal-Mart USA in December.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has been seeking to reduce brand redundancies and more clearly define the labels it will keep in its apparel assortment, as well as increase the amount of private label goods it designs and sources directly.

With direct sourcing, however, the company hefts more responsibility for inventory management, an area that’s proved challenging for Wal-Mart. In the second half of 2003, the retailer struggled with excess inventory and greater-than-expected markdowns.

That’s where Elaine Hughes, president of Manhattan-based executive search firm E.A. Hughes, said Stuckey can make a contribution.

“Karen Stuckey is a very credible executive,” Hughes said. “As a retailer doing private label, you need someone in your midst from the wholesale side that operationally understands how to manage a business of that size, how to plan commitments to goods. I think it’s a very smart hire of Wal-Mart and culturally should be a good fit.”

Stuckey began her Sara Lee career in 1997 merchandising the company’s Just My Size plus-size basics brand, which sells at Wal-Mart, and worked her way up to group president, Sara Lee branded apparel casualwear and emerging businesses. Last Christmas, Sara Lee’s Hanes’ bright-colored fleece sweats were among Wal-Mart’s top-selling goods, the retailer said.

Before joining Sara Lee, Stuckey, who was not available for comment, had stints at Montgomery Ward and Target Corp. She will relocate from Tobaccoville, N.C., to Bentonville.

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