Goody's CEO stops in Cape to hear what customers want

Saturday, November 23, 2002

He says what he found out is that the biggest desire is clothing in a variety of sizes.

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

For the 18 months, Goody's Family Clothing CEO Bob Goodfriend has been traveling around the country visiting stores as part of a bus tour in which he hopes to reconnect with female customers and help patch holes in his tattered company.

So much for an office job.

On Friday afternoon, the bus rolled into the 5-year-old Cape Girardeau store at 308 Siemers, where Goodfriend listened to customers talk about what they need and would like to see in a clothing store.

It's a message he needs to hear. The past year has been a difficult one for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based retailer. Revenue for fiscal year 2002 fell 5 percent to $1.19 billion. Goody's suffered a net loss of $20.2 million.

"Basically, business hasn't been as good as it should be," Goodfriend said after being greeted by a group of cheering customers and employees, who brought signs and noisemakers for the two-hour visit. "You get in a rut sometimes, I think."

When he realized that things weren't right with the store, he hit the road to find out what his female customers wanted. So far, he's visited most of the company's 328 stores in 18 states. He has one state to go, and he plans to visit those stores in Louisiana early next month.

Goodfriend said he targeted women because they control more than 80 percent of disposable income in America. They also pick out clothes for their husbands.

"It's an age-old question," Goodfriend said. "How do you make women happy? You have to listen. I've been listening a ton."

'We needed to hear it'

He says what he found out is that the biggest desire is clothing in a variety of sizes.

"I know it sounds simple, but we needed to hear it," said Goodfriend, whose father started Goody's 50 years ago. "We were gearing most of our clothes to Susie Average. But women want -- and need -- a variety of sizes to choose from. We weren't doing a good job with that."

Women have been telling him they want more plus and petite-sized clothing for women and juniors and wider aisles, which they've added. Such customer feedback has also caused the introduction of an extensive line of men's and women's fragrance gift sets.

They've also added a larger shoe department, maternity wear and a seating area where husbands can wait while their wives shop. For men, they added pants with a waist of up to 44 inches. Next year, he said, Goody's will add a big-and-tall section in stores.

"Just because someone's overweight doesn't mean they want to look like somebody out of a comic book," he said. "So many women are telling me the same thing."

Goodfriend was accompanied by other company executives as he walked around the store for a while, stopping to chat with customers along the way.

"Bob's really in touch with customers," said district manager Vicki Price, who oversees stores in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois. "He's had big turnouts wherever he's gone. People really seem excited to see him and want to tell him how to improve the stores."

Extra large petite

Customer Jo Duff of Cape Girardeau was at the store Friday afternoon during Goodfriend's visit. Her comments were similar to what Goodfriend talked about.

"I wish they had extra large petite," she said. "Petite means short. If I could find extra large petite, I wouldn't have to hem my clothes. I have to shorten the sleeves and the pant legs on most things I buy."

Betty Smith of Patton had a different response.

"I want clothes for people my age," said the Patton, Mo., resident. "Almost all the clothes I see are geared toward college age and young people. I'd really like to see more traditional clothing."

Goodfriend said that the bus tour seems to be helping. Sales for October were up 6.9 percent and November sales were also looking better.

"It's something we're working through," he said. "We're working hard, and we know people are going to notice."

Goody's carries Levi's, Lee, Ivy Crew, Nike, Sag Harbor and Dockers, among other brands.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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