LIKE NO OTHER STORE...
THE BLOOMINGDALE'S LEGEND AND THE REVOLUTION IN AMERICAN MARKETING
By Marvin Traub and Tom Teicholz
Times x 428pp x $25
If former Bloomingdale's chairman Marvin Traub has been chastened by his fall from grace, you won't find any hint of it in Like No Other Store... This co-authored memoir, which recounts how Traub transformed Bloomies from a dusty emporium where Park Avenue maids bought uniforms into a mecca for the upper-middle class, is relentlessly self-aggrandizing.
Still, much of the book is entertaining, and some tips on becoming a successful merchant are tucked inside. Traub's career began in 1950, when as a young Harvard business school grad, he supervised the basement bargain tables at Bloomingdale's Manhattan store. On slow days, he reports, he and a colleague would don coats and pose as shoppers, furiously rifling through merchandise to draw a crowd.
Recounting his climb, Traub provides lively anecdotes about how he and a team of buyers combed Europe and Asia for the exotic goods that would establish Bloomies as a world-class store. Antique French bidets were transformed into best-selling planters. And when Traub found that the blue Mao suits he had imported from China ran in the wash, he billed them as "guaranteed to bleed."
Throughout, Traub's name-dropping and self-congratulation keep bubbling through. He gloats that the stretch limo he used to zip around the Paris fashion shows was called the "Traubmobile." He says he "kept a supply of handkerchiefs handy" for employees devastated to learn he was leaving Bloomies. A particularly unsavory chapter is "The Ralph Lauren No One Knows," 25 pages extolling the virtues of designer and conspicuous consumer Lauren. Not till the end of the book does Traub, now a consultant, acknowledge that Lauren is a client. If he didn't have better sense, his publisher should have.
Traub's glory days ended in 1988 with Robert Campeau's hostile takeover of Federated Department Stores, Bloomingdale's owner. The chapters about the acquisition and subsequent bankruptcy are fascinating, in part for Traub's evocation of the tension and uncertainty of that period, but mostly because he's out to settle scores. Among his targets are Federated CEO Allen Questrom, who summarily dismissed him; Michael Gould, who succeeded him; and Blackstone Group Chairman Pete Peterson, who failed to line up a hoped-for Japanese investor to help buy the store.
But Traub is not really complaining. He writes that he's now earning "substantially more than I did in my best years [at] Bloomingdale's." Whether that's still true, given the recent bankruptcy of Conran Stores Inc., for which his consulting firm paid an estimated $20 million to $35 million, is impossible to say. No matter. Clearly, you can't keep this old showman down.LAURA ZINN