Wal-Mart Apparel Exec Quits
By Tom Ryan
The Wal-Mart executive who led the discounter’s disappointing foray last year into skinny jeans and satin bed sheets is resigning this week.
Claire Watts, executive vice president of apparel merchandising, is leaving
to pursue “other career interests,” Wal-Mart said in a statement. Ms. Watts’
duties will be split between Mark Larsen, who oversaw merchandising for babies,
children and men, and Dottie Mattison, formerly chief merchant for Walmart.com.
Both report to John Fleming, chief merchandising officer.
Ms. Watts, who arrived
at Wal-Mart in 1997 after stints at Limited Brands and May Department Stores,
had been a rising star at Wal-Mart. Under her tenure, Wal-Mart opened an office
in New York to stay atop of fashion trends. She was behind the launch of Metro
7, a trendy store label, and the Mark Eisen men’s line, called George ME, as
part of a new upscale strategy to get the discounter’s more-affluent shoppers
to buy more than just groceries and housewares.
“Claire is a talented merchant,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark told the Washington Post. “The company continues to move in the right direction, and much of that credit goes to Claire.”
While Wal-Mart’s upscale strategy been somewhat successful in electronics, it failed in apparel and home fashions, another area Ms. Watts oversaw until the company eliminated those responsibilities in January. Last holiday season, Wal-Mart reported its worst monthly sales figures in years partly because the lines replaced better-selling apparel basics.
Wal-Mart is back reemphasizing lower prices and more “fashion basics” – i.e., embellished $12 blouses and $14 cardigans – rather than bigger-ticket items like $100 leather coats. At the same time, it has not abandoned its plans to become more fashionable. The design office has moved into bigger quarters in Manhattan’s garment district, according to the New York Times.
But at Wal-Mart’s annual shareholders meeting last month, chief executive Lee Scott said Wal-Mart customers weren’t ready to spend $39 for a sweater. “We have to earn our right,” Mr. Scott told analysts after the meeting. “And we just got up one morning and decided that we could move that customer there, [that] because they trusted us at $13.88, they were going to trust us at $39. And I think John [Fleming] understands clearly…it is a slower transition.”
Discussion Questions: What do you think Wal-Mart has (or should have) learned from its problems selling more fashion-forward and upscale merchandise? Are you encouraged by its new apparel strategy?
- Wal-Mart’s Fashion Maven Departs As Trendy Merchandise Languishes – Washington Post
- Wal-Mart Apparel Executive Resigns – The Wall Street Journal ?(sub. required)
- Wal-Mart Apparel Chief Resigns as Sales Lag – The New York Times