Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — One thing you can count on in Washington besides political posturing is Hecht’s and its ever-present sales.
Like other divisions in May Department Stores’ retail stable, Hecht’s is defined in the Washington market by its promotional pricing strategies on an assortment of fashion-oriented private label apparel, and bridge lines, but also carries lower-priced better and moderate lines seen all over.
“Hecht’s has been one of the star performers in May Department Stores,” said Bernard Sosnick, analyst with Oppenheimer & Co.
Hecht’s, a new entry into WWD’s top 10 scored high in the survey among baby boomers, particularly those between 40 and 49 in households with annual incomes of $50,000 to $69,000. The firm is also popular with working women, and empty-nesters, who spoke highly of the chain’s convenient locations, assortments and variety of quality brand offerings.
According to Dan Barry, an analyst with Merrill Lynch, a year ago Hecht’s sales per square foot were about $203, among the highest of May Co.’s divisions. This calculation was made when Hecht’s had 45 stores and sales of $1.4 billion.
Hecht’s began as a family operation in 1937. The St. Louis-based May Co. bought the business in 1959, but Hecht’s is still viewed with fondness as a home-grown department store. That image carries stock, particularly since much of the locally based competition has closed in the last 10 years. Among the dropouts from the retail scene here were Woodward & Lothrop, last year, and previously Garfinckel’s and Raleighs.
With the demise of local competition and a shakeup in retailing across the region, Hecht’s has pursued an aggressive expansion beyond its Washington-Baltimore home turf. This campaign began in 1990 when it entered the southern Virginia market by purchasing and renaming four Miller & Rhodes stores in the Richmond and Tidewater areas. It continued with the acquisition of the John Wanamaker and Strawbridge & Clothier chains last year.
“Hecht’s is typical of what’s happening nationally. Strong retailers expand into new markets as weak operators are forced out,” Sosnick said.
The chain now has a 71-unit empire stretching north into Pennsylvania and south to North Carolina.
As Hecht’s increases its territory, on the home front it continues to face increased competition from a myriad of national department and specialty stores, as well as discount chains, ranging from Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and J.C. Penney to Target, Wal-Mart and Upton’s. However, Barry said Hecht’s has proven it can hold its own, with its buying clout as part of May Co. and its high number of stores. It has also staked out a strong niche in the moderate zone that really isn’t occupied by others, with the exception of J.C. Penney, and Kohl’s is moving into the Mid-Atlantic corridor. A major battle is looming beginning next year.