Lord & Taylor President Vanessa LeFebvre visits the Mizner Park store last month before hosting a luncheon to outline changes and seek feedback on how the store can improve. She heard no criticisms from the people who spoke. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Mary Hladky
As the venerable retailer Lord & Taylor works to revive its flagging fortunes, its newly installed president, Vanessa LeFebvre, visited the Boca Raton Mizner Park store on Feb. 14 to outline coming changes and to solicit feedback on how the store can improve.
But the 20 top Lord & Taylor customers, business people and community leaders invited to attend a luncheon offered no criticisms, and many were ardent fans of the store. They praised the service provided by the store’s employees and lauded store general manager Mindy Horvitz.
“We want you to be here for the long haul,” said one invitee. “You are a vital part of the success of Boca Raton.”
LeFebvre’s visit was part of a “listening tour” of the company’s 45 stores that she launched shortly after returning to the company in May as president. She began her career as a Lord & Taylor assistant buyer and rose through the ranks before leaving for positions with Macy’s, TJX Cos., Daffy’s and online retailer Stitch Fix.
In an interview before the luncheon, LeFebvre did not commit to keeping the Boca Raton store open, saying such promises are impossible to make in today’s difficult retail environment.
Although she declined to provide sales figures, LeFebvre described the store as a “top performer” that benefits from having loyal customers in northern states who spend the winter or vacation in South Florida.
“We feel really good about being here in Boca,” LeFebvre said. “We knew the brand resonated with the Boca customer who is living here as well as the customer who is visiting here, so it is a great match.”
The tour of stores is one of the ways she hopes to learn about how the company can knit more closely to the communities where the stores are located.
“I am here to find that sustainable future for us,” she said.
Lord & Taylor stores dotted South Florida in the early 2000s. But the retailer exited the state in 2004, closing stores in Boca’s Town Center mall, the Mall at Wellington Green and the Palm Beach Mall, among others, in the wake of an ill-fated expansion strategy.
As the chain regrouped, Lord & Taylor opened in Mizner Park to much fanfare and rejoicing in 2013, and is its only brick-and-mortar store in Florida.
More troubles beset the company last year, and it closed 10 stores, including its New York City flagship on Fifth Avenue.
Lord & Taylor is now trying to right the ship once more under the direction of new leaders. The parent company, Hudson’s Bay Co., brought in Helena Foulkes as its CEO last year, then hired LeFebvre.
One big change already underway is Lord & Taylor’s partnership with walmart.com to create an online store that offers about 125 fashion brands, including Tommy Bahama, Vince Camuto, La La Anthony, H Halston and Effy.
It is billed as a “premium” shopping destination, and marries Lord & Taylor’s desire to reach a wider audience and Walmart’s hope to attract more affluent customers by offering higher-end fashion brands.
LeFebvre intends to personalize stores to meet the needs of the community.
As an example, she said she visited the Mizner Park store shortly after becoming president. She wanted to buy shorts, but learned they had sold out. That might not have been a big problem in Connecticut at that time of the year, but shorts needed to be available in Boca.
Discontinuing swimwear also was under consideration, but no longer.
Personalizing stores is one of three tenets the company has set out as it aims for a profitable future.
Lord & Taylor also wants to be a “smarter store” that will soon alert customers to which items are “customer favorites” in an effort to help them quickly select the best items for themselves.
It’s also emphasizing innovation. That will include new ways of providing personal shopping and virtual personal shopping online and improving the chain’s website to make it easier for customers to find what they want online.
The company’s base customers are ages 35 to 75, and LeFebvre wants to add younger people to the mix. But she noted that the oldest millennials are now 38 and have families.
“We cater to a female customer who is shopping for her family,” she said.