NEW YORK — It’s clearance time at retail. Along with the merchandise, top-level merchants are getting dumped almost daily in the continuing fallout from a tough 2002.

Following senior management changes in the last week at Ann Taylor, Talbots, J.C. Penney and J. Crew alone, on Monday Rob Gruen, Parisian’s chairman and chief executive, suddenly resigned. His responsibilities were taken over by George Jones, chairman and ceo of the parent Saks Department Store Group, operated by Saks Inc. Meanwhile, Filene’s Basement named a new ceo in former Bon Ton chief Heywood Wilansky (see story, page 2).

This story first appeared in the February 4, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Gruen was recruited by Jones in 2001 to reinvent the 40-unit Parisian as “The Specialty Store Next Door,” the tagline for its strategy to regain its high-level service reputation in the South and sell merchandise that is distinct from department stores. Officials said that initiatives put in place by Gruen and Jones — adding private brands and bridge offerings such as Misook, as well as emphasizing full-price selling and fewer coupons — would continue.

But what won’t continue is the long association that Gruen had with Jones. Before Saks Inc., the two worked together at Warner Bros., Target and Rose’s Department Stores.

“This move surprised me, because it’s a relationship that goes back well over 15 years. Rob and George worked together for a long time,” said Kirk Palmer, of the executive search firm bearing his name.

But according to Robert Kerson, managing partner at Korn Ferry, “It’s the end of the year. The numbers are put to bed, and companies lick their wounds, decide to make changes and reinvent their strategies. Retail apparel firms had a particularly tough year. This is the season when executive recruiters make their money.”

Gruen’s departure raised speculation that he had a falling out with Jones, and probably over strategy for Parisian. A spokeswoman for Saks Inc. said that Jones wanted more involvement with Parisian management, especially after consolidation of other department store divisions had been completed in January. “Jones felt he had a good management team in place for the Northern Department Store Group and the Proffitt’s and McRae’s group, so he wanted to spend more efforts on Parisian,” she said.

Parisian is a unique animal among the Saks Inc. retail properties, with some spinoff potential. It’s considered a lower-priced Saks Fifth Avenue, but more fashion and service-oriented than other Saks Inc. department stores. Bob Buchanan, vice president, A.G. Edwards & Sons, previously estimated Parisian’s 2002 sales at $885 million, with comp stores sales flat. Parisian’s newest store opened in Rochester Hills, Mich. last September. Recently, the chain renovated an 85,000-square-foot unit in the Brookwood Mall in Birmingham, Ala., where Saks Inc. is based.

Jones becomes Parisian’s sixth ceo in six years. Officials said it is undetermined whether he will remain at Parisian as ceo, or if someone new will be hired. Before Gruen, Parisian’s ceo list included Travis Saucer, named in July 1999; Tom Wyatt, who came on board in October 1998, and Bill Capiello, in April 1997. Prior to that, Donald Hess was ceo. The Hess family owned Parisian before it went public in 1983. It was bought by Proffitt’s Inc., (now Saks Inc.) in 1996. Parisian expanded in the Southeast and Midwest in the Eighties.

Consolidations at Saks department stores began in earnest in 2000, with the creation of the Milwaukee-based Northern Department Store Group. It includes Herberger, Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, and Younkers, which was added to the group last month. Also in 2000, Proffitt’s and McRae’s were consolidated into a second group, headquartered in Alcoa, Tenn.

In another change at Parisian, Kevin Wills, previously senior vice president of merchandise planning and administration for the Saks Inc. department store group, was named Parisian’s executive vice president of operations. He becomes Jones’ right-hand man at Parisian. The company will appoint a successor to him at the department store group.

Big retail changes occurring in the past week include:

Former Gap ceo Millard Drexler joined J. Crew as chairman and ceo, succeeding Emily Woods and Ken Pilot, respectively.

J.C. Penney named Lana Cain Krauter as executive vice president and general merchandise manager of its men’s and children’s divisions, succeeding William Cappiello.

Talbots promoted Ken Bosworth to executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, ousting H. James Metscher.

Kim Roy, abruptly left as president of the Ann Taylor division of Ann Taylor Stores Corp., with chairman and ceo J.Patrick Spainhour assuming full control.

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