Regional department store Belk on Tuesday announced a senior leadership shakeup, with President and Chief Merchandising Officer Nir Patel replacing Lisa Harper as CEO.
Harper, who began her retail career working at her local Belk and has had the top spot since 2016, is now executive board chair, according to a company press release.
Don Hendricks will be promoted from chief operating officer to president, replacing Patel in that role. Chris Kolbe, most recently at Kohl's overseeing that retailer's private and exclusive brands, replaces Patel as chief merchant.
The pandemic most likely influenced that move, and interfered with other plans as well, including a turnaround strategized in 2019. "We quickly adapted to the challenges the pandemic threw at us this past year," Patel said in a statement.
That included downsizing its workforce. After instituting furloughs as stores were forced closed due to the pandemic, Belk last year laid off an unspecified number of mostly corporate employees.
But the decline of the department store model has been a challenge for Belk since well before the disease outbreak. It's had to contend with ebbing clothing sales growth, the rise of off-price retail and the decline of the middle class. Last summer, Nike, one of the few brands selling lots of apparel during the pandemic, struck Belk from its list of wholesale accounts, according to Susquehanna Financial Group.
The 130-year-old Southern retailer has some advantages, including the benefit of running many stores in smaller strip centers and away from declining shopping malls. The company runs nearly 300 stores in 16 Southeastern states, per its release.