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Daffy’s Taps Caryn Lerner

For the first time in its 50-year history the privately owned off-price chain has a non-family member at the helm.

For the first time in its 50-year history, Daffy’s, the privately owned off-price chain, has a non-family member at the helm who may position the company for a sale.

This story first appeared in the March 1, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Caryn Lerner, formerly president and chief executive officer of Holt Renfrew in Canada and before that president of Escada USA, has become Daffy’s ceo, succeeding Marcia Wilson, who becomes chairman.

The 66-year-old Wilson is the daughter of Daffy’s founder Irving Shulman, who started the business with one store in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1961 as Daffy Dan’s Bargain Town. Shulman, who is 96, shifts from chairman to chairman emeritus. The company has grown to 17 stores in the New York metropolitan area, with a total volume of $155 million, and sees room for growth within its current territory and beyond.

“It’s time for a change. It’s time for a fresh perspective,” Wilson told WWD on Monday. “In every sense, retailing is changing rapidly.”

Bringing in an outsider to manage a family business can be tricky. “I’ve never done this before so it’s hard to anticipate how it will be,” Wilson acknowledged. “But I don’t think it will be difficult. I have been thinking about this for a long time. Caryn and I have very much the same sensibility and vision for the business.”

Moreover, Lerner will be fully in charge of running it, and report to Wilson, who has been involved in the retail chain for 40 years, and the board.

When asked if there would be any division of responsibilities between her and Lerner, Wilson replied. “She is going to have them all.” Lerner said it was too soon to say whether she would recruit new executives to the team. “It’s hard to say on Day One. Daffy’s has a great infrastructure and an incredible team.”

Opening stores will be an immediate priority, with units set for Bay Plaza in the Bronx this spring and Times Square, on 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, in the fall. Also, the Manhasset, Long Island, unit is reopening this spring following a fire. “We see plenty of growth opportunities in the immediate area and plenty of opportunities across the country. Everybody loves a bargain,” Wilson said.

Daffy’s is planning a celebration of its 50th birthday later this year and, beyond that, the family might decide to sell. “Ultimately, we want to reap the fruits of our labor,” Wilson said. It’s now Lerner’s job to pump up the business, add locations and raise profitability to position the company to be sold.

From 2004 to 2010, Lerner served as president-ceo of Holt Renfrew, the luxury chain in Canada, where she opened two flagships in Vancouver and Calgary, rebranded the company’s identity, and expanded the merchandise mix, including shifting shoes from a leased to a company owned business model.

She is considered an aggressive merchant, with a high taste level and experience on the retail and wholesale sides of the business. Before Holt Renfrew and Escada, Lerner held posts at QVC, Jones New York, Barneys New York and Bloomingdale’s.

Daffy’s, which once sold silver dollars for 88 cents, is known for its whimsical marketing and advertising and has a high profile in the Tristate area. The store sells men’s, women’s, children’s and home products at 50 to 80 percent off. Wilson said Daffy’s was profitable last year but declined to reveal figures.