>> Tuesday, December 28, 2010
At the Eddie Bauer store in Bellevue Square, the new chief executive of this iconic -- yet floundering -- clothing retailer is a bit miffed with the outdoorsy pictures scattered around the showroom.
There are no people in the photos. Check that. There are no "Eddie Bauer" people, especially men, in the photos.
"Pictures like that are too passive," CEO Neil Fiske said, pointing to a photo with trees, wavy grass and a brick walkway. "A store has to have energy, especially an Eddie Bauer store. While it's a nice shot, it doesn't have that person in action with an everyday love of the outdoors. It needs an Eddie Bauer guy."
"An Eddie Bauer guy is a man of action. A doer. Ruggedly handsome. Our stores need to project him," said Fiske, who turned around Bath & Body Works and is a best-selling author.
Since taking the helm July 9, Fiske has placed all his chips on fixing Eddie Bauer on Eddie Bauer, the outdoorsman from Orcas Island who started the company in downtown Seattle in 1920.
Under Bauer, the company outfitted World War II pilots and made down jackets, sturdy clothing and outdoor gear while becoming a national brand.
While Fiske won't divulge specific details of the turnaround plan, he has told investors the company would emphasize its men's business and outerwear, improve marketing and reduce costs. Customers also will see better displays in the stores.
He added that the company has no place to go but up, and he has found a loyal group of employees who are ready to turn the company around.
Ten times he has read "The Legend of Eddie Bauer," a 96-page coffee table book that profiles the founder, and he marked up his copy with notes on the company. At the corporate headquarters in Bellevue, Fiske placed on the entryway to the executive offices a Bauer quote: "When I worked, I never walked, I ran."
"Eddie Bauer had one standard and that was to be the best, and whatever he did he did it with the best products," said Fiske, who has spent a few thousand dollars on company clothing that he wears nearly every day. "The internal culture and leadership of the brand has to match the brand. If we are going to be an active outdoor lifestyle brand, we better have someone who loves the outdoors and action."Camille McDonald, president of brand development for Bath & Body Works, said her former colleague brought a lot of energy to work and knew how to build up others.
"He gets an enormous amount accomplished. He is a fabulous leader not only because of how smart he is, but he is very intuitive about other people and he knows how to motivate them," McDonald said. "He knows their strengths and he is sensitive to what makes them feel comfortable. He's extremely respectful of other people."
But McDonald, who said she recently bought Eddie Bauer stock because of her belief in Fiske, also said her former colleague has an impish side.