NEW YORK — To help accelerate growth of proprietary brands, The May Department Stores Co. has named Carol L. Williams as president of its product development and global sourcing arm, called May Department Stores International.

It’s a new position where Williams will oversee the design, fabric and color functions of proprietary products, and expand the program into new categories and possibly additional labels. She reports to Jay H. Levitt, president and chief executive officer of May Merchandising Co./May Department Stores International. Reporting to Williams are Jeffrey S. Califano, senior vice president of sportswear product development, and Linda C. Grayson, senior vice president of the design center.

Williams’ most recent job was president and ceo of Jacobson Stores, which she tried to revive, but ultimately, the board decided to liquidate the chain last summer.

"She brings a deep understanding of the retail landscape, the management and development of proprietary product, a strong fashion sense and significant leadership experience," Gene Kahn, chairman and ceo of May Co., said in a statement. "This is a critical step to advance May from a focus on private label to a focus on…innovative proprietary brands that differentiate our stores."

The potential for growth in proprietary products is substantial, he said, noting that the business represents 21 percent of sales in their respective merchandise categories and could grow to 25 percent by 2005.

Over the last several seasons, May Co.’s sales growth has trailed the department store sector, and its stores have been criticized for lacking distinction, creating urgency in advancing the private brand strategy. Last August, two in-house brands, called i.e. and be, bowed in many May Co. stores. In the past year-and-a-half, May Co. has created product development teams in New York and St. Louis.

According to Levitt: "Carol will play a crucial role in the collaboration between product development, MMC merchant teams, our overseas offices and our department store merchants to help increase sales."

Williams, 53, began her 31-year retail career in 1971 at Macy’s training program. She has private label experience, serving as vice president and merchandise manager for Express from 1987 to 1993 and executive vice president and general merchandise manager for The Limited Stores from 1993 to 1997. After stints at Edison Bros. and Parisian, she joined Jacobson’s in 2001.

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