Frank J. Guzzetta, president and chief executive of Hecht's, will leave the department store by Nov. 1 to head up Marshall Field's, its sister chain in Chicago, May Department Stores Co. said yesterday.
During his four-year tenure as president, Guzzetta launched broad initiatives to clean up Hecht's stores and upgrade fashions. Known as a stickler for detail, he routinely spends Saturday mornings driving from one Hecht's store to another to evaluate merchandise and customer service.
Guzzetta, 59, said in a recent interview he believes "that with the right product, you win." But despite his efforts, Hecht's sales continued to slide, in the face of competition from discounters and specialty stores.
May has not yet appointed a replacement for Guzzetta, but an announcement is expected in the next week. Guzzetta is replacing Marshall Field's President Linda Ahlers, who is retiring at the end of the year. Earlier this year, May bought Marshall Field's, which has 62 stores in the Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis areas, from Target Corp.
Guzzetta, who was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment, joined Hecht's in 1988 as a divisional vice president of men's sportswear. In August 2000, he became president and chief executive of Hecht's and Strawbridge's, whose stores are largely located in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Hecht's, like Woodward & Lothrop, Hechinger and Crown Books, was gobbled up by a large, out-of-town institution. But the chain maintained its name and a local corporate office in Ballston, with Guzzetta serving as its public face in the city's civic, business and arts communities.
Guzzetta, a Capitol Hill resident, sat on the boards of Signature Theatre in Arlington, the Washington Ballet and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
"He may be the last major local retailer who was so much a part of the civic leadership of the region," said W. Lyles Carr III, senior vice president of the Arlington executive search firm McCormick Group Inc. and a member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
Guzzetta championed retail development in downtown Washington at a time when many national chains largely avoided the area. He persuaded May officials, in the face of resistance from within the St. Louis-based company, to spend $15 million to renovate Hecht's Metro Center store, at the corner of 12th and G streets. He argued that downtown's growing office and residential market would support the upgrades.
"He lives in the city and understands it," said Richard Bradley, executive director of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, a nonprofit group that promotes downtown development. He said the Hecht's renovations "clearly happened because of Guzzetta's belief in downtown and where it's going."
At Hecht's, Guzzetta focused on luring consumers back into stores with wider aisles, better displays and stronger customer service. Worried the chain had a reputation for dressing middle-aged shoppers who buy tailored clothes, he pushed for more casual apparel for young consumers.
Under his watch, three new designers -- Michael Kors, Emanual Ungaro and Marc Ecko -- introduced sportswear lines into the department store. "Our customer has become more casual," Guzzetta said. "We needed to respond to that."
Retail analysts have praised the changes but say it will be hard to turn around Hecht's sales. Hecht's, like dozens of other regional department stores, has struggled with profit in the face of competition from national discounters and specialty stores.
Revenue at the Hecht's and Strawbridge's division, which has a total of 81 stores, dropped from $2.46 billion in 2001 to $2.36 billion in 2003.
Guzzetta faces a similar challenge at Marshall Field's. For fiscal 2003, it had $2.58 billion in revenue and generated $107 million in pretax earnings, both down from the previous year.
Before he came to Hecht's, Guzzetta worked for 11 years at the now-defunct Woodward & Lothrop department store chain in Washington. "His first love is merchandise," said Nancy Chistolini, Hecht's senior vice president of fashion. "He is not the bean counter."