Friday, September 07, 2007

Once More into the Breach for Marshall Field's Protesters


Saturday, September 9th will mark the one year anniversary of the end of Chicago's legendary Marshall Field's department store and its rebranding as the local Macy's outlet. A group called Fields Fans Chicago will again be gathering, from 1 to 2:30 P.M., under the store's great clocks to protest the change. The group's has a great website that's definitely worth checking out.

The group claims to have distributed over 60,000 leaflets, 63,000 label buttons, and thousands of "Field's Is Chicago/Boycott Macy's" bumper stickers in support of its cause. It cites its continuing boycott of the store as contributing to a 77% drop in profits for the Macy's chain last quarter.

"As we continue our grassroots efforts to bring back Marshall Field's in all its glory," the group's announcement reads, "it is good to keep in mind that in corporate America, anything can happen. After seven years as part of Daimler, Chrysler is again an independent American auto company. 'AT&T' became 'Cingular' only to reverse course back to 'AT&T.' "

Unfortunately, these examples don't exactly present optimistic harbingers. Chrysler is a deeply-troubled company in a deeply-troubled industry, which Daimler was dropping like a hot potato before it could inflict even more damage on its parents finances, and the rebranding of Cingular as AT&T comes from the same kind of global consolidation that resulted in Macy's replacing the Fields name. The only valid example mentioned by the group, the triumph of Classic over New Coke, remains notorious because it represents an extremely rare exception to overall trends.

And that's the key issue. The former Marshall Field's biggest problem is not the name change - although that monumentally stupid move managed to wipe out a century of valuable brand equity overnight - but the fact that while, in in their heyday, the great department stores like Field's and Bullocks and Filenes were all about uniqueness, in today's supply chain economy, it's all about sameness and standardization. It's not about building a business, it's about wringing every last profit from being the last and biggest dinosaur in an industry that is struggling to justify its continued existence.

You only have to look at Macy's latest move to market itself through a series of celebrity endorsers that is said to include Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, and Jessica Simpson. What, exactly, do these people have in common other than being famous for being famous, and what, exactly do they have to do with building a department store brand? The answer, of course, is very little.

The resort to celebrity endorsers is most often a mark of desperation. A quick high, bereft of nutrition, followed by a long, painful withdrawal. In the rare cases where they're used well, with a logical and compelling relationship to the brand they're promoting, celebrity endorsers can be enormously effective. When merely slathered on like cheap perfume, however - as is the case with the Macy's campaign - they're simply marketing smack.

I am in total sympathy with the protesters and wish them only the best, but without a bold and radical rethinking of what a large city's flagship department store should be, and how what made it exciting and seductive can be translated effectively into the realities and possibilities of today's markets, reinstating the Marshall Fields name won't help much. The nightmare scenario is the recent closing of the century-old Carson Pirie Scott flagship, designed by Louis Sullivan. Corrosively unsentimental, Macy's could just decide that their massive State Street property is worth more as marketable real estate than as a department store, which would be a real, but completely plausible, tragedy.

18 comments:

Pete said...

Considering the Field's that everyone is nostalgic for is the one of 40-50 years ago (and earlier) and not the 2006 version, I'd say Macy's did a huge favor to the Field's legacy by changing the name. By '06, after years of neglect as a minor subsidiary of Target, the department store had long since ceased to be what everyone thinks of when they hear the name "Marshall Field's."

Now, thanks to the new parent company's misguided rebranding, people will be more likely to associate the faded State Street dinosaur with Macy's, while associating the glory years with Marshall Field's.

I'm sure the protestors mean well, but restoring the original name isn't going to bring back the classic Marshall Field's. So I really wonder why they're even bothering. Good lord, people, there's an endless war going on in Iraq, and economic inequality, and mediocre schools, and a relentless assault on our civil liberties, and the biggest thing you can protest about is the name of a department store? Come on!

Ward Up said...

"....Good lord, people, there's an endless war going on in Iraq, and economic inequality, and mediocre schools, and a relentless assault on our civil liberties, and the biggest thing you can protest about is the name of a department store? Come on!...."

I love responding to that sort of critique. Does the above commenter not realize that, during the time that he/she wrote that comment, that he/she could have been working on those causes?

Why is the above commenter neglecting those causes? Why is the above commenter instead using his/her time to criticize pro-Field's Chicagoans?

The fact is that any person can work on more than one cause at a time. I happen to know a few FieldsFansChicago leaders. They are each involved in several other extremely worthy causes, giving far more of themselves than the average Chicagoans whom I know.

By the way, please come out to the rally this Sunday at 1:00 PM. There will be a bunch of ladies in 1890's dresses and 1890's hats, in addition to lots of other fun stuff. The boycott is working!

Robert Salm said...

I would rather have my past 17 years in Chicago with a nostalgic Marshall Field's name than a day with Macy's.

serena said...

it makes me simultaneously laugh and feel sad for those who hold a department store as something near and dear to their heart.... go get a puppy. join a gym. volunteer.

Anonymous said...

Marshall Field's was a dying brand. You need only do a Google search to find articles in local Chicago papers prior to the Macy's buyout about the falling sales, profits and layoffs that were occuring. What nobody seems to understand is the it was Field's in name only. It was run out of Minneapolis! In reality, these were "Dayton's" with the Field's name on them. As for the use of celebrities in Macy's advertising, each has a line of products being sold in the stores, so it is reasonable that they are in the ads to promote these goods! Why does the writer feel otherwise??

Anonymous said...

During the late 80's to the early 2000's, the entire US department store sector saw sales declines, particularly post 9/11. Field's was no exception, but did fare better than most.

In fact, prior to Macy's takeover, Field's average sales per store was higher than both Macy's and Bloomingdales and national retail surveys showed that Field's rated among the top 5 in the country for customer satisfaction... as did Neimans and Nordstroms. Macy's didn't even make the list.

And, although Field's saw sales declines, as did every other major department store, Field's always posted a profit - more than $100 million in its worst year. Macy's on the other hand filed for bankruptcy. In fact, Target credits Field's for providing more than $1.5 Billion in profits that paid for the Target chain's national expansion. My point is that Field's was far from failing.

In 2004 and 2005, prior to Macy's takeover, Field's profitable sales were growing. It is only after Macy's eliminated and replaced Marshall Field's name that sales immediately began to plummet. Even before the change, customers began their very vocal efforts to preserve the Field's name, but Macy's ignored them.

Field's role in the traditions and growth of Chicago are above and beyond any other company in US history. Field's worked to bring the World's Fair to Chicago in the late 1800's and built the Museum of Science and Industry (then known as the Field Museum) as the Fair's showplace. Field's leadership and generosity also built what is now known as the Field Museum, and the Art Institute, and the Shedd Aquarium, and the University of Chicago (with Rockefeller). Field's lead the charge to rebuild the city after the Chicago Fire and providing credit to help families and businesses get back on their feet. Field's also helped Chicago survive the great depression, preserving employees jobs and even completing construction of the Merchandise Mart as an optimistic investment and commitment for the city's future.

This sort of good-will earned, cherished traditions created and community partnerships pioneered are trademarks of what the Marshall Field's name means to Chicago and to so many other communities throughout the midwest region. In fact, the Marshall Field's State Street store alone attracted more than 9 Million customers each year making it Chicago's 3rd most popular tourist destination. When Macy's name and red star went up over Marshall Fields' name, the city was offended and angered and customer visits and sales dropped immediately by approx. 40%. Now tell me if that doesn't suggest that a name DOES make a difference.

More than even Harrod's in London and Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Field's name has proven its value and its ability to flourish without becoming a national brand. If Field's is restored, customers have made it clear they will return to celebrate their own, unique and cherished Marshall Field's. The hope is not for an improved Macy's, but a return of Chicago's iconic Marshall Field's because Marshall Field's IS Chicago.

Lynn Becker said...

I'm always grateful for every comment readers post on my blog, whether they agree with me or not, but I have to note that the above post is probably the most cogent analysis of the Marshall Field situation, and why it's important, as any I've read. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Everyone, please come to the protest on Sunday, 1 pm at State and Washington.

Marshall Field's is worth fighting for if you're a real Chicagoan. Macy's aligning itself with the likes of Donald Trump and Martha Stewart says it all.

BOYCOTT MACY'S.

And, it's not just the name we want, it's everything that Field's was and Macy's is NOT.

Come ask the protesters what other causes they support, Pete. This line of attack is getting really tired.

KPO'M said...

Federated's gross miscalculation was to repeat Target's early mistake of taking the store downmarket. Target took Field's from the top tier down one level and suffered as a result. Federated took it down another tier or two (just above Kohl's and JC Penney) and, not surprisingly, has suffered as well.

Nordstrom and Sak's success over the past year, in spite of the economy, is evidence enough that Federated took Field's in exactly the wrong direction. Not surprisingly, these are among the few stores left with some semblance of uniqueness.

As for Macy's, because of its blunders, it has no credibility as an upscale store, so a return of the Field's name and a return upscale at some of the premier locations is probably exactly what is needed to turn them around. Federated managed to keep 30Bloomingdale's separate. Why can't they do the same with 15-20 premier Field's stores in the Midwest?

t said...

Serena said...
it makes me simultaneously laugh and feel sad for those who hold a department store as something near and dear to their heart.... go get a puppy. join a gym. volunteer.


I do volunteer...every week. I do walk the walk -- and write the checks -- for causes I believe in, causes that may have more global ramifications than this. But it doesn't stop me from fighting for something that's locally important.

If you think Field's was "just a department store," then you're missing the point. As another poster said, the downtown Field's was the third-largest tourist attraction in the city. If you honestly can't see that this lame-brained change (and corresponding downscaling of the store's merchandise) has had no effect on the city's economy, I invite you to walk through Macy's on any weekday. Were it not for the cheerless employees, it could be classified as a ghost town.

Macy's arrogant "shove-our-second-rate-merchandise-down-their-throat" attitude is just one more step in the Walmartization of the American economy. You can have it...not me.

Anonymous said...

kpo'm got it exactly right.

Give the midwest about 15 Marshall Fields' stores:

State St.
Water Tower
Northbrook
Woodfield
Oak Brook
Minneapolis Downtown
Mall of America
one other in MSP
Mayfair
Somerset
Twelve Oaks
Briarwood
Woodland (Grand Rapids)
Franklin Park
St. Louis Galleria
West County
Chesterfield
Oak Park Mall

If you want to get it to 20,
Merle Hay
Meridian Mall
one store in Omaha

operated out of Chicago and I think Macy's could salvage it.

Rest of the stores...make them Macy's.

Bargains for the secondary/tertiary malls, prestige for the bigger malls,

Anonymous said...

Waving placards on State Street, etc., is not accomplishing anything.

If you feel strongly about the department store, put together a plan and buy it. Given the crisis in residential real estate these days, lenders would probably welcome the opportunity to invest in a commercial project.

Waiting for someone else to solve a problem that is so important to you seems so un-American.

Anonymous said...

Dear Serena:

go get a puppy.
Did that. I have two, in fact.

join a gym.
Ooh, I belong to a pilates studio. Does that count?

volunteer.
This week I volunteered my time for two different organizations.

I guess I can go protest Macy's, now!

Lynn Becker said...

"put together a plan and buy it."

you seem to be of the "freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one school."

But no, if consumers don't happen to have the billions to buy Macy's, that doesn't invalidate their arguments. It's the consumer's role to say your product sucks, as they are currently to Macy's, and as they have been saying to Dell about its computers and service, knocking that company from its pedestal. The difference is that the result with Dell has been the return of Michael Dell to try to steer his corporation back to the roots that made it so successful. Contrast this to Macy's, whose strategy appears to be: when you dig yourself into a hole, dig deeper.

Randi Doeker (Anon at 7:11) said...

Sorry – I didn’t mean to suggest that you, Mr. Becker, should call an M&A firm.

I look at the protest signs and am slightly surprised they don’t say “Boycott Macy’s – Shop Bloomies.”

To me they look like whining children. Successful adults solve problems. As other posters have explained, it’s not a problem with the name. It is not 1950 (or 1900 per their costumes). The department store industry has changed.

My suggestion is that the protestors form a task force to do the research necessary to tell Macy’s how to un-invent itself back to the store of their dreams. They have been sufficiently successful to get enough press to gain the attention of academics who might happily offer their expertise.

Keisha Kornbread said...

It's just hilarious to me how people are going up in arms about this whole thing after all this time.

I agree, if they want the MF store back so badly, work on buying it. Macy's own the store and they can do whatever they feel should be done with it. The public doesn't have any word or say in it...since it's not theirs. If they don't like it...go shop elsewhere. Stop bugging Macy's about this failing dinosaur.

I don't care what they do to the store. I have since long stopped shopping at this location and the stores for years. MF and Target sell nothing that I buy. I've never lowered my standards to consume that disgusting candy or wander their empty aisles and floors. I went into the store 2 weeks ago for the first time in 5 years and I ran out covered in the stench of commonness and with an ill stomach. I loathe that store, that location even moreso than the Macy name....standing outside with signs wasting my time does me no good...I use real power....my dollar. I can still shop at Neimans, Saks and any of my usual shops along Oak....so I couldn't care less about MF.......

Anonymous said...

Pro-Field's supporters deserve our thanks rather than the arrogant condescension shown by a few of the above writers.

It is tiresome to have to point out that persons can be active with more than one cause. I know some Field's supporters who are incredibly active with volunteer work and protest for social and political issues.

They are not sitting at keyboards feeling more noble than others. They are out doing things.

By the way, to the guests who call the protesters "whining children," why weren't you at Soldier Field yesterday at midfield with a megaphone? You could have been out there lecturing the 60,000 fans that they have their priorities out of whack...and should instead be out working on your pet causes.

The boycott is working. These Fields supporters, a diverse group of young and old Chicagoans, have been extremely effective. They are out there doing something. Ironically, critics of the protesters are spending time plunking away at keyboards to run down the work of others. Get out there and work on your causes, for Chrissake.

Anonymous said...

Chicago needs, deserves, and should have a One of a Kind store-like Bergdorf Goodman in NYC: a beautiful, clean, well stocked, upscale store with gorgeous settings,(the breathtaking building already exists--it just needs to be polished up) topline merchandise, courteous and helpful and eager personal customer service; the most fabulous shoes and clothing and everything else from around the world. An irresistible destination and very much worth the trip. That one-and only one-store should be named Marshall Fields State Street. Unique to Chicago. The rest of the creepy cheap Macy's stores can call themselves whatever they want, but Chicago is Fields.