For supercolossal Neiman: movie tie

Neiman-Marcus specialty stores - the same folks who bring their clientele such goodies as cream-colored, combed-cotton shirts for only $100 each - have a new owner. But don't expect the prices of Neiman-Marcus's thoroughbred products to change much. And the Stanley Marcus philosophy of paying attention to a customer's every need should remain intact.

That's because Richard Smith, chairman of General Cinema Corporation, isn't planning any major changes to the successful formula, a company spokesman says. General Cinema, of Newton, Mass., last week gained operating control of Neiman-Marcus and several other fancy retail properties, which had been under the umbrella of Los Angeles-based Carter Hawley Hale.

Though it might seem strange for a big theater chain to think it can run an upscale retail operation, several observers say there is good reason to be optimistic about the new combination.

``Specialty retailing is the kind of business where General Cinema can apply its management skills: marketing and distribution,'' according to Janine Dusossoit, a company spokeswoman.

In addition, ``General Cinema has become very familiar with the structure of the specialty store business by now,'' says Emanuel Goldman, an analyst with Montgomery Securities in San Francisco.

Mr. Goldman points out that Mr. Smith has already led his company to become not only the nation's largest cinema chain, with 1,254 screens, but also the country's largest Pepsi-Cola bottler, with distribution outlets in the Midwest and Southeast.

Despite that success, Smith has for some time been on the lookout for a third business to help smooth out periodic earnings weakness in the theater business, which has felt pinched by video rentals.

It was General Cinema's quest for a third business that led it two years ago to play the role of ``white squire'' in protecting Carter Hawley Hale, the nation's sixth-largest department store chain, from a hostile takeover. A $300 million-plus investment left General Cinema with 38 percent of Carter Hawley stock, thereby saving Carter Hawley from the unfriendly overtures of The Limited, a Columbus, Ohio, retailer.

In return for its investment, General Cinema also received a close-up look at the jewel of Carter Hawley's business: its 185-outlet specialty store operation, made up of 22 Neiman-Marcus stores, 162 Contempo Casuals outlets, and a Bergdorf Goodman store.

Then last month The Limited - allied with the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation - redoubled its takeover efforts to acquire Carter Hawley. General Cinema found itself in a position to ask for the specialty stores from Carter Hawley in exchange for takeover protection.

If approved by stockholders in the spring, the restructuring of Carter Hawley will split the company in two, leaving it with 115 department stores. General Cinema will get the plum: Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf, and Contempo.

The three groups are estimated to be roughly twice as profitable as the department stores Carter Hawley will retain; those include such names as Broadway, Emporium Capwell, Thalhimers, and Weinstocks. The Neiman, Contempo, and Bergdorf stores will have pulled in pretax income of $116 million on sales of $1.1 billion in 1986, according to an analyst.

These highly profitable stores would make up the ``third leg'' of General Cinema's empire. Analysts say this is why General Cinema resisted the temptation to make a fat profit by selling its 12.2 million shares of Carter Hawley for $60 a share to The Limited.

The final deal will leave two companies: a much smaller Carter Hawley and a yet-to-be-named company with General Cinema as the major stockholder (with a 44 percent voting stake and 52 percent of the equity).

``General Cinema needed the stores - they didn't need the cash,'' says Goldman of Montgomery Securities. ``The theater and soft-drink businesses were throwing off much more cash than they knew what to do with. It's a nice position to be in.''

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