Wal-Mart Shifts Responsibility Among Apparel Executives to Stimulate Sales

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is spreading around responsibility for its apparel business, splitting the job between two executives, as the world’s largest retailer strives to improve sales from clothing lines.

Senior Vice President Lisa Rhodes, who reported to apparel general manager Dottie Mattison, will now run the business with her, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Linda Blakley said in an e-mail yesterday. Rhodes, who handles category merchandising, is responsible for creating product assortments, and Mattison will continue to focus on apparel brands, she said.

Rhodes is taking on more duties after Wal-Mart posted apparel sales that fell short of expectations last quarter, making the business “a work in progress,” U.S. stores chief Eduardo Castro-Wright said last month. Rival Target Corp. benefited from increased clothing purchases in the same period.

“They still can’t get the right balance between trend and basics,” Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of retail consultancy WSL Strategic Retail in New York, said in an e-mail. “They keep swinging back and forth, leaving shoppers confused about what they stand for.”

Rhodes and Mattison will stay in Wal-Mart’s New York design office, reporting to chief merchandising officer John Fleming. Mattison, who previously worked at Gap Inc., replaced Claire Watts as apparel chief in 2007.

Too Upscale?

Watts had introduced more upscale fashion items like skinny jeans to Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart. Mattison’s apparel strategy included less expensive, brightly colored merchandise, which has so far failed to spur sales growth.

“This is the third incarnation for apparel in the last five years,” Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Dreher said in a telephone interview. “Wal-Mart’s apparel merchants have been chasing too much glitter, and management now wants them to instead drive better growth in basics, such as jeans, tees, underwear, and socks.” Dreher, based in New York, rates the shares a buy.

Wal-Mart shares fell 66 cents to $51.06 at 9:52 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Minneapolis-based Target dropped $1.28 to $53.20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Boyle in New York at Mboyle20@bloomberg.net

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