ATLANTA -- Harry Blazer, founder of Harry's Farmers Market here, relinquished his duties as president and chief executive officer last week.
Blazer, the company's controlling shareholder, will continue as board chairman, Harry's said in a statement.
While it searches for a permanent successor to Blazer, Harry's has named Michael de Boom acting CEO. He was executive vice president of manufacturing and distribution. He reports to the board.
Harry's said the board will hire an executive recruiting firm and begin an immediate search for a new president and CEO -- both outside and inside the company.
Blazer's decision to step down from the top post follows a series of setbacks the company has had in recent years. Harry's has suffered through two years of losses, declining same-store sales and a financial restructuring that put expansion plans on hold for most of 1994.
"It is hard to make this decision, especially given my love for the business, customers, vendors and employees," Blazer said in a statement. "I will continue to do my best, as chairman of the board, to help Harry's Farmers Market realize its potential."
De Boom, a former director of manufacturing at H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, joined Harry's in July.
Harry's officials could not be reached for further comment.
Last year the chain, which operates four megastores and two Harry's in a Hurry convenience stores, had a loss of $1.6 million on sales of $143.8 million, with same-store sales down 7.6%. In the first quarter ended May 3, Harry's had a loss of $836,000 on sales of $34.9 million. Same-store sales fell 1.9%.
In April the company dropped plans to test its Harry's in a Hurry concept in selected Wal-Mart stores. Instead, it said it would refocus its resources on perfecting the stand-alone Harry's in a Hurry model, improving internal operations and expanding its megastore format.
Lee Wilder, a securities analyst with Interstate/Johnson Lane here, said Blazer's relinquishment of the day-to-day operations signals an evolution of the six-store company founded in 1988 from an entrepreneurial start-up to a "more complex, $100 million operation."
Harry's "has outgrown its entrepreneurial mode," she said. "They're looking for someone with experience in running a complex organization."
According to Wilder, de Boom is "clearly a candidate" for the permanent president and CEO slot because of his past experience with H-E-B, "a very successful, well-run company."
Wilder also said she does not expect to see any major directional changes or new developments, including expansion, at the company until the executive search is completed. "All physical expansion and other changes should go on the back burner while [Harry's] waits to see who will be running the ship."
This would include putting on hold previously disclosed plans to open megastores in Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., next year.
However, one change Wilder said she "wouldn't be surprised" to see under de Boom's direction is a slight refinement of Harry's merchandising concept through a broadening of its selection to more closely resemble H-E-B's central market format.