To Everything There Is a Season; Now Is the Time for Goodbye

Two years before he launched his own warehouse club, Sam Walton turned to me during an NMRI cocktail party in San Diego and asked what I thought of the locally based Price Club.

Ed Finkelstein’s minions threatened to throw me out of an R. H. Macy annual meeting for daring to take pictures of the chief executive.

Two years before J.C. Penney began its turnaround by hiring Allen Questrom, the first outsider ever named CEO of the then 99-year-old company, I editorialized about the need for a fresh approach, that Penney should hire an outsider. I wrote, “I nominate Allen Questrom.”

Over the last three decades I’ve encountered many of the best and most famous merchants. I’ve observed their executive skills up close and, equally if not more importantly, how their visions translated into realities at store level. It’s been a trip of unparalleled experiences.

It comes to an end, in its current incarnation, with this issue. After 32 years tracking the retail industry, almost exclusively for Chain Store Age, I am leaving the business of publishing a magazine, a Web site and four e-newsletters, along with organizing annual conferences, including our signature SPECS event.

I started at Lebhar-Friedman in March 1977 as a field editor for Nation’s Restaurant News. I’d left my newspaper bureau chief job four months earlier. I intended to stay long enough to land another spot on a “legitimate” newspaper.

But the business world seduced me, as did my ascension to editor, and then publisher, of Chain Store Age General Merchandise Trends (1978-1987) and then Chain Store Age Executive, now known simply as Chain Store Age (1988-2009).

Retailing and publishing have undergone vast sea changes during those 32 years. They’re both going through another period of transformation. I’ve seen many iconic retail nameplates disappear—from Woolworth to Circuit City. But I’ve also witnessed the growth and success of such game-changing companies like The Home Depot, Whole Foods Market, Zappos, Kohl’s, and of course, Wal-Mart. I look forward to seeing how these chains will continue to innovate as they move forward.

Yes, these are difficult times for merchants. But when I look out at the retail landscape, I see many exciting things happening, new concepts taking hold and new leaders emerging. At the same time, many retailers are taking giant leaps as they reach out for new ways to connect with customers in a digital age. All of these developments, from new formats to new communication platforms, are crucial to the future of the retail industry, and I guarantee you that Chain Store Age will continue to keep readers informed and updated on the latest retail happenings, both in print and online.

It has been Chain Store Age’s task to chronicle the achievements and disappointments of the retail industry. Under my stewardship we initiated sweeping consumer and trade research studies, partnered with leading consulting companies on special reports (emulated by other publishing enterprises), and created niche conference programs to complement SPECS, still the best event for executives involved in store planning, construction and facilities.

I am most proud of the many associates who worked with me. It is my selfish, prideful hope that in some small measure the efforts under my leadership have benefited you, your company and the retail industry. I am humbled by the support and acceptance I have received over the years and welcome any dialogue you might want to continue at my new e-mail address, mforseter@gmail.com.