NEW YORK — Bradlees Inc., facing intense competition and disappointing sales, named Mark A. Cohen chairman and chief executive officer, succeeding Barry Berman.

The company, which announced Aug. 30 that a new ceo was being sought, said Friday that Berman will stay with the 136-unit discounter in a role that has yet to be determined.

Cohen resigned last week as chairman and ceo of the 51-unit Lazarus division of Federated Department Stores. He joined Bradlees on Saturday.

“Cohen’s background is absolutely on the money for this job,” said Robert Kerson of Levy, Kerson, Aronson & Associates, the consulting and search firm. “In its heyday in the Eighties, Bradlees’ ready-to-wear business prospered because the store was run with a department store mentality with such ceos as Harry Kohn and Hal Frank. They had backgrounds with Macy’s and Abraham & Straus.”

Kerson, noting Berman’s background is primarily in supermarkets, said Cohen would bring a fresh approach to Bradlees. “The stores need updating, a new ready-to-wear strategy and distinction.”

Cohen has been a Federated executive since 1987, and from 1981 to 1987, was with Mervyn’s, where his last job was senior executive vice president of merchandising. At Lazarus, based in Cincinnati, he led an aggressive renovation program and established a planner distributor organization. Both programs served as models for other Federated divisions.

Jeremiah J. Sullivan, president of Lazarus, will assume Cohen’s responsibilities over the merchandising organization, in addition to his other duties. A search for a new ceo will begin after Christmas.

It is believed that Bradlees is compensating Cohen better than Federated did. In the past year, a number of Federated division heads have left their posts for higher-paying jobs at other chains. Robert DiNicola left The Bon to join Zale Corp., Carl Tooker left Rich’s to head up Specialty Retailers, and Roger Farah left Federated Merchandising for Macy’s. There has also been speculation that Federated, which is merging with Macy’s, could convert the $965 million Lazarus and other divisions to Macy’s, possibly cutting some management. Federated says it has not made a decision on changing store names. Berman joined Bradlees in 1990 as senior vice president of merchandising, after spending 23 years with the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., the discounter’s former parent company. At Bradlees, he rose to president and chief operating officer in April 1991 and chairman and ceo in 1992.

In mid-1992, Stop & Shop spun Bradlees off in a public offering and the discounter began working to lower operating costs and increase profits. But in 1993 operating earnings fell to $13.5 million, from $25.3 million in 1992. Sales rose 3 percent to $1.88 billion; same-store sales inched up 1 percent. In the second quarter of this year, Bradlees reported earnings of $600,000, compared with a loss of $4.95 million in the year-ago period, but sales remained sluggish, rising only 0.5 percent. The situation was complicated by the resignation of Herbert R. Douglas, senior vice president of merchandising, on Aug. 29 — one day before Bradlees said it would seek a new ceo. Douglas became president and ceo of Jamesway.

Cohen was not available for comment.


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