Women’s Underwear is Difficult

Playtex_graphic-01A Brief History and Consumer Perspective

Women’s underwear, its euphemistic pseudonym ‘intimate apparel,’ or its more sophisticated sister, ‘lingerie,’ is difficult in so many ways. For all of us women consumers, it is a necessity; a purchase that must be made and replenished regularly. And, trust me, as a consumer who has been buying her own underwear for more years than I’d like to count, it is not always an easy, satisfying, fun, or self validating purchase.

Underwear is a category of apparel that gets us down to the bare bones of ourselves. Our bodies. Our comfort. Our sense of self. Our sex appeal. Our underpinning. The foundation for all of our clothes. Women’s underwear has been marketed to us for generations reflecting deep-seated emotions and attitudes about ourselves, our roles, and our history as women. From long before the time women discarded their bras in the late 1960s as a symbol of second-wave feminism, bras have had a history of women’s emancipation and independence. In 1873, writer and activist, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, wrote: “Burn up the corsets! … No, nor do you save the whalebones; you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun…” [Read more...]

The Great Retail Demassification

deadmall2The Death and Diminishment of Malls and Other Big Footprints

We are on the edge of the Great Retail Demassification. Prior to the “great disruptor” (that would be the Internet), and before the marketplace became ridiculously over-stored and over-stuffed, consumers were well served by massive regional malls (currently numbering about 1200), in which retailers located their stores and to which consumers travelled enthusiastically. To steal a line from the movie, “Field of Dreams,” retail growth strategy during the pre-digital era could truly be based on nothing more than “build it and they will come.” And they did. Fast forward: consumers have every retail store in the world resting comfortably in their pockets, just a key-tap away, wherever they are and whenever they choose to shop for exactly what they want. Why, then, would anyone spend the time and money to travel to, and shop through the malls; or for that matter, any large, impersonal, traditional retailer? [Read more...]

Hark the Herald Square Angel

macysIs there any store more associated with the holiday that Christmas has become in America than Macy’s?

After all, how many retailing corporations are the stars of their own legendary motion picture that celebrates the spirit of Christmas? And how many host their own parade that practically signals the start of the holiday shopping season?

So, as Christmas 2013 starts to fade from our consciousness, it seems only appropriate to unwrap a modest ode to Macy’s, specifically for their holiday home merchandising strategy and more generally to the overall management of the store and its position at, or near, the top of the American retailing pyramid.

That we are even doing this is rather remarkable when you think about it. It wasn’t that long ago that many retail observers were pontificating on the end of the great American department store as we knew it. As a business model, the channel was bloated with overhead; geographically-poor locations in declining regional malls; and competitively disadvantaged compared to its big-box discount and superstore brethren. [Read more...]

The British are Coming, The British are Coming

RR_MarigayMarigay McKee’s Revolution?

First of all, along with many industry luminaries, I extend a warm welcome to Marigay McKee to this side of the pond, and especially to New York City: the most intensely competitive city in the most ferociously competitive country on the planet; massively over-stored; stuffed and web-sited; and with the most complex distribution and marketing infrastructure in the world. And I’m sorry to start off with such a negative tidbit, but as people get to know me they understand I tend to remind them of the darker side of things. Usually my observations are followed by: “so good luck!.” And in Ms. McKee’s case, it’s augmented by: “particularly since she is coming from the role of chief merchant of one privately-owned store to president of 41 publicly-owned stores, with a lot of underperforming doors.” [Read more...]

Water Sales Swirl Brands Down the Drain

waterbottleIs water washing full-price mega brands down the drain? Well, maybe so, given that major bottlers have lost consumer credibility to the degree that they can’t market product under their own brand names.

But let’s start at the beginning. As has been postulated in the Robin Report lately, harbingers of the “death of mega brands” are on the horizon. Chief among them is the slippage of Tide laundry detergent at the previously unassailable “high performance, high price” end of the category.

How so? Procter & Gamble is poised to introduce “Tide Simply Clear” detergent. Simply put, it’s a Tide entry into the lower-price end of the market. It’s reminiscent of P&G’s introduction of Charmin Basics and Bounty Basics a few years ago as an off-price version of its high-end paper products.

These price moves are intended to fend off the increasing popularity of off-price products that consumers perceive as performing just as well, or well enough, in product categories that aren’t edible. Increasingly, many consumers now see no reason to pay full price. [Read more...]

A Changing of the Guard: An Interview with Tim Greenhalgh, New Chairman of Fitch

Robert-Hocking_final-imageThe last 20 years have been a time of incredible upheaval in the retail order. So with the recent announcement of a new chairman at retail design agency Fitch, I was curious to hear the perspective of an agency that’s spent four decades designing retail experiences for many of the world’s leading brands.

Tim Greenhalgh’s title is Chairman and Chief Creative Officer. Having someone with a creative background at the top of the organisation says a lot and, as Tim sees it, his role is fundamentally about fueling the culture of creativity within the business. One thing is clear: despite the uncertainty facing consumers and retailers, he’s still incredibly bullish on where the world’s going.

In Tim’s words:

“Figuring out retail isn’t easy; where do you pin the tail on the donkey? There are lots of consultancies but our job is to bring creativity to the business problem of our clients and some of the most interesting brands we meet have creative leadership in the C-suite. [Read more...]

Growth by Foreign Expansion

dm_hebLittle-Known H-E-B Shows the Way

As the post-recession era drags on, the dynamics of retailing are changing, adjusting to the new normal.

As we’ve seen lately in the pages of the Robin Report, some retailers that didn’t fare any too well in the recession are circling the wagons and shedding retail units. Opportunistically, those sites are being picked up by resiient retailers that survived the recession. What we’re seeing is the classic case of the big getting bigger and stronger, and the weak continuing on a downward trajectory. Is it simply survival of the fittest? Or poor strategic planning?

There’s another path to growth that’s increasingly being considered by clever American retailers, namely international expansion. Some retailers have long had a presence beyond America’s borders; McDonalds and Starbucks have led the way. Others are making the leap for the first time or expanding into more countries, including Bloomingdale’s, Urban Outfitters, J. Crew, Ralph Lauren, and Gap.

Yet, one strange anomaly persists in the world of retailing — and stranger still, it concerns the largest and most widespread retailing of all — food retailing, or, to be more precise, conventional supermarkets. [Read more...]

Sex Sells

L Brands Deep Dive

I recently attended L Brands half-day investor meeting, where management presented its long-term strategy. While the absolute priority remains growing the North American business, in fact doubling it, L Brands hopes to sustain significant international growth. Finally, Les Wexner who has a place in the halls of retailing as one of the best specialty retail operators, has succumbed to the lure of international markets. vs_under

What positions L Brand apart from its competitive specialty apparel retail set is that it’s not in the apparel business and it’s not in the fashion business. L Brands competes in lingerie and beauty, two product categories that are staples (non-discretionary relatively low price points; and high emotional content (based on fabulous storytelling) for Victoria’s Secret (“VS”), Pink, La Senza and Bath & Body Works.

To quote Les Wexner’s opening comment “I think our year will be good, perhaps very good, unless Washington completely mucks everything up.” Unfortunately, as each day passes the likelihood of a muck-up is more and more real. That said, Les and his team control the controllables with a tight rein on all points of brand interaction with the consumer and employs a partnership/franchise model with a small number of world-class partners to expand beyond North America. This translates into L Brands retaining control or “owning” assortment, pricing, promotions, store design and real estate approval, while franchise partners make the capital investments, and supply the local real estate and retail selling organization skill sets. [Read more...]

Reaching the Chinese Consumer

China continues to top the AT Kearney Retail Apparel Index, which shows the top 10 emerging countries viable for the retail sector. Strong growths in population and in income make it an increasingly attractive market for western brands looking to expand. Yet reaching the Chinese consumer poses unique challenges.

According to Euromonitor International, Chinese clothing expenditures are projected to nearly double within the next 10 years, from 1.2 trillion in 2012 to 2.2 trillion in 2020. Even in 2011, a year of slower than predicted growth, Chinese real GDP still amounted to 51.1 trillion RMB.

And while the Chinese population is expected to grow 2% by 2020, income growth will continue to outpace population growth — which means more consumers with more buying power. Per capita disposable income is expected to grow 75% between 2012 and 2020, according to projections made by Euromonitor International.

As the population continues to grow, though, it is also shifting towards more urban areas. This stands to benefit western retailers first expanding into larger cities, since urban consumers tend to spend more on discretionary purchases like apparel and textiles. [Read more...]

Michael Gould…A Leader in the Ways of Life

MIke-Gould-FINAL-IMAGEHow often have we read or heard the phrase “…so and so is stepping down,” when announcing or referring to a colleague who is retiring? Michael Gould, CEO of Bloomingdale’s, is officially doing this on February 1st. However, after 22 years of elevating that revered brand to a higher level, building on the brilliant achievements of his legendary predecessor, Marvin Traub, who created a store “like no other store in the world;” in my opinion, Mike is not “stepping down.” He is just continuing to move “up” in life.

In life there are doers and observers. And, there are leaders and followers. Mike Gould is a doer, (still with incredible energy), and a leader, with an exclamation point on leader. So, whatever it is he will be “stepping up” to, he will be “doing” leadership. And, it will be done in his unique way, which is not about titles or rank, or just about leading employees in business. And it certainly isn’t about exercising the power those titles bestowed upon him to direct those under him to follow without question.

Mike’s leadership philosophy has always been about helping each individual find his or her, own unique path in life. Building trust, humility, empathy and thinking of others ahead of himself, are his defining characteristics. Of his CEO role at Bloomingdale’s, he was quoted in a New York Times article as saying: “I’d like to think my legacy will be the ‘people come first’ environment I’ve tried to create. Employees’ personal growth and education has always been the first thing I wanted to talk about because I felt that as long as people knew that Bloomingdale’s was a place where you could grow, they’d know there was no reason to go somewhere else.

At the end of the day, no one remembers anyone’s numbers, no matter how good they were at any moment in time. I hope people will say, ‘He gave me an opportunity to be more than I thought I could be’ — and that they will carry that forward as they manage people in the future.”
I was envious that the New York Times “scooped” that bit of Mike’s philosophy, but I’m certainly not too proud to give them the credit, because it is central to my view of him; it explains why I believe he is moving “up” rather than “stepping down.”

Now he will have the expanse of life to influence, teach and lead many more people “to be more than they thought they could be.” His father was a teacher, and Mike expressed to me that this is something that very much interests him. He does speak often about leadership in conversation, as a guest lecturer and at more formal conference venues. So don’t be surprised if one of his forays into his new life is teaching, perhaps a leadership course at his alma mater, Columbia University where he received his MBA.

What Did He Do in His Day Job

I would be remiss within the mission of The Robin Report not to provide my perspective on how Mike took Bloomingdale’s to a higher level, strategically positioning it for growth into the 21st Century, and what could metaphorically be called the “World War III” of retailing. Marvin Traub did create the “center ring,” so to speak, in pioneering some of the most exciting and entertaining experiences in retailing at the 59th Street store. However, Mike envisioned a more expansive Bloomingdale’s, spreading the excitement and experience into all of their stores, which grew during his tenure from 14 to 37, plus 13 outlet stores. And he was among the “first movers” in expanding internationally, opening

Bloomingdale’s in Dubai.

He also continued the Bloomingdale’s focus on finding emerging designers and new brands to keep “newness” flowing through the store. He was quoted: “That’s the kind of business I wanted to run. We weren’t going to try to replicate anything else; the plan was to do what no one else did.”

His thoughts on creating an exciting shopping experience were captured in a conversation I had with him for The Robin Report. He said, “To me it all revolves around one thing. How is the store this interactive place that creates relationships? How is the store about something more than theater, but a sense of excitement? It’s about, ‘wow I didn’t expect that.’ It’s a place of discovery. Today you can call Daniel or Shun Lee East in New York and they’ll deliver three-star take-out to your office or home. Anyone can deliver. So why come into a store? Why go to a movie theater when you can watch Netflix at home, for almost nothing? Because it’s all about the experience. That to me is what it’s about.”
“Charles Swindoll who said, Life is 10% what’s given you; 90% how you want to deal with it. We’ve got that 90%. The 10%, that’s the yucky weather. But the 90%, which is our attitude, is what we are doing to create an environment that says “Wow! I’ve got to go there!”

So instead of having “big shoes to fill” upon Marvin Traub’s departure, Mike created his own shoes. Likewise, Mike’s very capable and visionary successor in his own right, Tony Spring, will create his own shoes.

Mike likes to refer to a John Gardner article in 1990 about personal renewal, and says: “Life is an endless process. When you get out of college you say: ‘I’ve got my degree, I graduated with a solid GPA, I played intercollegiate sports, I spent a year in Europe. Now I’m going to go work.’ No, you’re not going to go work. You’re going to go learn. Part of what you’re going to learn about here is retail and part of what you’re going to learn is about life and interpersonal skills. It’s everyone’s role at Bloomingdale’s to make sure these kids are learning. And it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep learning.”

So with a new pair of shoes that no one will ever fill, Michael Gould is off to learn more about life.

Suitsupply Has Its Customers’ Needs Covered, Today and Tomorrow

suit-supplyBrand-loyalty bonds made today among young HENRYs will keep the male fashion customer coming back as their careers lead them into Ultra-Affluence

Sometimes, but all too rarely, you happen upon a new retailing concept that grabs you. It is the perfect combination of the right product at the right price for the right customer — delivered with the right shopping experience. That is how international men’s retailer Suitsupply got my attention. With six US stores and seven more slated to open soon to make 46 stores worldwide, Suitsupply sells high-quality, well-designed men’s suits at affordable, even reasonable prices, with off-the-rack suits starting under $500 and made-to-measure up to $2,000.

Besides the great clothes, Suitsupply provides exceptional service, which includes highly-trained sales associates that take the guesswork out of the equation by fitting a customer into the suit that works best for him; and on-site tailors who do basic alterations while you wait — all for the thrill of immediate gratification.

But it’s not just the clothes and shopping experience that sets Suitsupply apart. Suitsupply’s marketing strategy makes it an important retailer; everyone needs to take notice, and not just those in the fashion business. Suitsupply is a retailing concept that is designed to grow and evolve with its core customer base. Suitsupply knows its customer – young, ambitious professional men – and his needs today, but is positioned to meet those needs in the future, as he advances in his profession and his ability to trade up. It’s the affordable front door to a bespoke haberdashery experience that today’s young and less affluent HENRY (high-earners-not-rich-yet) customers will ultimately grow into. [Read more...]

Field Notes on the New Face of Affluence, the Migration of Wealth and Changing Cityscapes

Paco-Final-imageThe most frightening story of 2013 that reverberated across the retail world was the terrorist assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. More than 70 people were killed. One of the key premises that have driven the expansion of shopping malls and the growth of organized retail across the world has been safety. Malls provide a secure, climate-controlled and clean environment, and for both old and new money consumers. In emerging markets like Kenya, it is a leap from the 19th to the 21st Century in one self-contained property. The mall has a suite of interchangeable parts, from brands to food courts, which makes it as close to a global vocabulary as you get. Where it gets different is security.

In Brazil, some mall security services are linked to boxing schools. The guards are well dressed, but have scar tissue around their eyes. In malls in India, your trunk is inspected and the undercarriage examined with a mirror. In Israel and Turkey you pass through a metal detector, like Checkpoint Charlie at the airport. By comparison, North America mall security is window dressing. [Read more...]