New CEO for NM Direct

There’s a new pilot at the helm of NM Direct, the $284 million catalog division of luxury goods retailer Neiman Marcus Group. On April 1, Sharen Jester Turney, NM Direct’s executive vice president of merchandise, creative, production, advertising, and public relations, was promoted to president/CEO.

Turney replaces Bernie Feiwus, who resigned to become executive vice president of Brierley Direct Marketing, a Dallas direct marketing company specializing in loyalty programs. “I really wanted to try something new,” says Feiwus, who had been president/CEO of NM Direct for eight years. “The time was right to make a move.”

Feiwus worked with Turney, who started with Neiman Marcus Stores in 1989 and moved to NM Direct in December 1997, to make the transition a bit smoother. “Sharen is a highly energetic and motivated merchant, and I wish her the best,” Feiwus says.

So what is Turney’s first order of business? To get NM Direct’s catalogs, which include apparel and home decor book Neiman Marcus By Mail, home decor title Horchow, and gifts catalog Trifles, online. “We are looking at the Internet from a brand perspective and will probably offer edited versions of our catalogs online later this fall,” Turney says.

The challenge of presenting luxury goods on the Web has kept NM Direct from selling on-line sooner, says Marshall Marcovitz, a catalog consultant and the former president of cooking tools marketer Chef’s Catalog, which NM Direct bought last July. “Marketers have to be careful when selling fashion online because of the limited technology.”

In fact, “a strong reason we bought Chef’s Catalog was for its Internet expertise and presence,” says NM Direct spokeswoman Ginger Reeder. “And we wanted to wait before going online until we could do it right.”

Last fall, Edison Brothers put its Repp By Mail catalog and Repp Ltd. Big and Tall stores, both of which sell specialty-size menswear, on the selling block. Now the St. Louis-based cataloger/retailer finds itself in bankruptcy court for the second time in four years. On March 9, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, less than two years after emerging from its first filing. In addition to Repp, Edison operates the 5-7-9, Riggings, JW, and Coda apparel stores, and retail shoe chains Bakers and Wild Pair.

“The big and tall men’s concepts were not core products for Edison Brothers,” says Leah Hartman, senior vice president at Credit Research & Trading, an investment research firm in Greenwich, CT. “The decision to sell Repp should have been made a year before.” New York investment banking firm Gruppo, Levey, which is handling the sale of the Repp catalog and stores, couldn’t comment on potential buyers. But according to an industry observer who insists on anonymity, potential buyers include cataloger Brylane, whose titles include big and tall men’s apparel catalog King Size, and J. Baker, an apparel and footwear retailer that is interested in expanding into cataloging. J. Baker declined to comment; calls to Brylane went unanswered at press time.

For the first three quarters of fiscal ’98, Edison lost $55 million on sales of $900 million. In its March bankruptcy filing, it reported assets of $346.8 million and debts of $295 million. With numbers like those, Hartman suspects that Repp won’t be the only properties divested. “Edison will probably sell off its individual concepts, and some will survive this bankruptcy,” she predicts. “But expect them to be owned by other companies. We don’t expect Edison to reorganize but to liquidate.”

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