Terry Lundgren is about to get a fresh set of eyes on Macy’s Inc.’s real estate opportunities — while also keeping close tabs on the competitive threat from Amazon.
The company, which Lundgren heads as chairman, president and chief executive officer, is getting closer to hiring a real estate expert to help it better understand the landscape and what is possible.
Macy’s has been paring its real estate portfolio for some time, and in January closed a $270 million deal to remake its Fulton Street store in Brooklyn, N.Y., which served up $100 million to renovate the location and also extended some tax benefits. Tishman Speyer will develop office space at the site.
In addition to closing stores — 36 doors will be shuttered this spring — the company has been selling off small pieces of its far-flung real estate holdings, from a 16-acre mixed-use development site in New Hampshire to a building in downtown Pittsburgh. The company has also been considering partnership and joint ventures for both mall-based properties and flagship real estate assets in Manhattan, San Francisco, Chicago and Minneapolis.
The pressure has been building on Macy’s to leverage its property portfolio after a string of disappointing results.
Activist investor Jeffrey Smith of Starboard Value has been in the wings, pushing for the retailer to consider a real estate investment trust, an idea the company nixed in November.
“Instead of me and [chief financial officer] Karen [Hoguet] just negotiating with these developers, we’re hiring a specialist to help us do that,” Lundgren said Tuesday at the 2016 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Consumer and Retail Technology Conference. Macy’s said in January that it had begun to look for a senior-level real estate executive.
“The kind of people that we’re seeing are completely different than what you’d see in the retail department store industry,” Lundgren said. “And so, for us, we’re getting our own education here because the line of people at our door who are attracted to this job has been very impressive. So you’re going to hear about that in the relatively near future. We’re just making our choices now amongst the very, very good ones. But it’s going to bring a new level of sophistication for us to think about how we’re going to be able to maximize the asset value.”
Bringing in an outside expert gives new urgency and seriousness to Macy’s flirtation with monetizing real estate, something that’s been made more popular by lucrative transactions by Hudson’s Bay Co. and Sears Holding Corp.
Lundgren was careful, though, to say: “We will always be a retailer first. And that’s our primary business. That’s what we do, that’s what we know. This is going to be another set of expertise here that’s going to add value to what we already do as a retailer. But we’re very excited about the potential there.”
Pressed on the topic, Lundgen said that most options were on the table outside of a real estate investment trust, which he said the company has already looked into and which isn’t appropriate, at least right now.
Lundgren also described 2015 as the company’s “setback year,” plagued by unseasonable weather and a strong dollar that kept tourists away.
The ceo said that fashion needs some “strong trends in women’s” and that denim was starting to perk up while activewear remains hot.
Lundgren was also asked about the competitive threat from Amazon, which is paying more attention to the fashion and has been getting plenty of airtime from the fashion industry lately.
“They’re going to have an interesting challenge in sort of getting all those returns coming back online,” he said. “We have stores, and consumers are going to return. Particularly when they buy apparel online, they’re buying two or three sizes of the same item, and they know they’re getting free shipping, so they’re going to return two for sure. And so you’re going to put that into the math, into the equation. And in our case, they’re returning them to the store. The large, large majority of online purchases which are returned in our case come back to our stores because they’re so convenient. And so, we get this type of shot at selling them something else and repurposing that apparel product inside the store.”