Five Keys to Success with a Slimmed-Down Inventory

by Jon Mays and Brooks Kitchel

The growing emphasis on ever-leaner retailing means the days of hedging inventory bets with colossal surpluses are gone for good. The costs of inventory mishaps—both in terms of actual bottom-line economics and brand experience for customers—have driven many retailers to significantly reduce their inventories.

Meanwhile, it’s grown increasingly difficult to predict the actions of American consumers, whose intentions are less and less correlated to their actual behaviors since the recession.

While most retailers have cut their inventories accordingly, leading retailers are optimizing their remaining inventory to get the most bang for their buck.

1. Aggressively share inventory across channels

Truly sharing inventory across channels creates the opportunity for tremendous customer experience benefits and can help avoid having to mark down large amounts of leftover merchandise.

From a customer experience perspective, shared inventory increases the likelihood that a customer will be able to purchase a product in a particular size or color, regardless of channel. For small bricks-and-mortar locations, sharing inventory can open up a whole new array of choices for customers. [Read more...]

How One Smart Company Got It All Wrong

Suppose you’re the CEO of a successful, multinational food retailer. You’ve had good luck opening stores in numerous countries, many with cultures much different from that of your home country.

You’ve decided the time is right to roll out a fleet of stores in yet another country, this time one that has a culture quite similar to your own.
You’re confronted with many questions to be answered and decisions you need to make, such as:

Should you conduct consumer research, or just send a team of executives to the target country to examine the situation on the ground?

Will you develop a store format similar to the type of shopping experience in the target country, or a brand new format?

Will you source product for the new stores from a third-party distributor while the format is being fine-tuned, or will you spend vast sums developing your own distribution and production prior to opening a single store? [Read more...]


There’s a lot of bluster coming out of Yadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing (parent of Uniqlo), about how his company is going to be the biggest apparel retailer in the world by 2020 at some $64 billion in sales, six times greater than its current size. He also says pretax profits by then will be 10 times what they are today. He plans to do so through a combination of acquisitions and geographic expansion into China, Southeast Asia, and the U.S. For Uniqlo, this is a necessity, not just an opportunity, given the fact that they are maxed out in Japan, totally ubiquitous, and that they suffered a decline in profits last year.

And, oh yes, they intend to “revolutionalize” how people wear clothes, part of which is to “revolutionize” mass retailing in the U.S. (I’m not sure how they’re defining mass retailing here. I certainly can’t imagine their New York stores stealing customers away from Wal-Mart, regardless of how low their prices are.) [Read more...]

A Case For Euthanasia? The Gap on Life Support

The Robin Report Gap on LIfe SupportI don’t care how much cash the Gap is sitting on or how much they generate on a daily basis. Just as Sears keeps pumping blood (cash), through its veins, Gap is, and has been for a long time, staying alive on “life support.” Essentially, the body (the retail business)is dying, but the nearest and dearest relatives (shareholders and the Board) obviously do not want to pull the proverbial “plug.” They all stand around the dying patient, hoping for some kind of miracle recovery, (metaphorically speaking, but bear with me).

Here’s what a long, slow death looks like. CEO Glenn Murphy was hired to resuscitate the business in 2007 following five years of revenue losses and a disoriented Gap brand that was flailing for relevancy during the reign of CEO Paul Pressler, who was hired in 2002. Pressler had also been charged with reversing the declining business, which had begun to suffer during the last two years of the twenty-year reign of the prince-of-all-merchant-princes, Millard “Mickey” Drexler.

Drexler was responsible for Gap Inc.’s meteoric and now storied sales growth from around $480 million, when he arrived in 1983 as President, to almost $14 billion in 2000, an amazing 2,400 percent increase. Unable to right the ship when it started to sink, Drexler retired in 2002.

So, Mr. Murphy, the former head of Canadian drug chain Shoppers Drug Market Corp., and a Canadian bookstore chain prior to that, is now (sticking with the metaphor) Dr. Murphy, the chief plastic surgeon operating on a patient dying of internal and external hemorrhaging. Since picking up his scalpel in 2007, he’s tried procedure after procedure, seeking one that will work, as the patient continues to hemorrhage, suffering through four years of declining sales.

The Gap brand is the heart of the dying patient, its 1,100 North American stores having lost almost a third of their sales –almost $2 billion – since 2004, more than the $1.6 billion drop in total Gap Inc. sales during the same period. And, as has been said by many retail experts over the past decade, if the Gap brand dies, the entire enterprise comes unglued.

Well, rather than slapping an oxygen mask on the walking dead, would we (the industry) be better off allowing Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction” to take hold, and simply help accelerate the demise of companies that arguably are diminishing in value more than creating it? After all, in an over-stored, over-stuffed world, huge dying businesses such as Sears and the Gap simply lower “all ships” by taking cash away from both the healthier, growing businesses and the emerging entrepreneurial businesses. By the way, during Paul Pressler’s disastrous tenure, Wall Street had in fact nicknamed him “dead man walking.” I have not heard that moniker transferred to Mr. Murphy. Not yet, anyway. [Read more...]

Reverse Globalization: The New Dollars and Sense of Near-Sourcing

Best Practices from Kurt Salmon

Near-sourcing, or producing products closer to where they are ultimately sold, is growing in popularity. As more companies bring production closer to home, they’re putting a new twist on globalization, or in some cases, reversing it altogether. Kurt Salmon retail strategist Vinod Rangarajan discusses this increasingly popular trend and how retailers can make the most of it.

Q: What’s driving the increase in near-sourcing?

A: Several factors, the first being supply chain inflation. The cost of producing products in China has been steadily rising as labor rates increase. So the response of many retailers was to move to other Asian and Southeast Asian nations, like Bangladesh and Thailand. But transportation costs are also rising, spurred by higher oil prices. This drove some U.S.-based retailers to look for locations closer to home, like Central and South America.

Q: But there’s also a customer experience element to near-sourcing, right? [Read more...]

You Talked Back!

Issue Seven’s “From Inflation to Stagflation to Deflation” prompted the following reader responses:

Excellent article, Robin – frightening to read,but so important for all to recognize…To me it seems like the middle class (world-wide) will continue to be the punching bag in this never ending cycle. The banks (I think it is a cabal of 6 now?) wil continue to perpetuate their feast or famine lending and banking practices – currently famine to SMBs and homeowners. What to do?? To start, lift the veil of mystery off the derivative markets – hopefully that will help institute some basic checks/balances on commodity speculators, etc…

Enact “real” banking oversight and regulations – bring back the Glass-Steegal act or something like it! Sorry Jamie Dimon!

You are absolutely correct that the social/consumer marketing tech bubble will not be able to catapult entire economies around the world. China just built a 26 mile bridge connecting a major port and growing city – I have twitter/facebook/Pandora/linkedin on my android phone – what is more important to job growth and trade!! Granted I can know instantly what Kim Kardashian is up to…

Where did the 50% of the QE money end up?? In my opinion debt and lending is the key to unlock the demand side of this awful equation. But that would mean the banks would have to make one or two points less on their margins in the coming quarters – like that would happen! But Dollar General is willing to, hmmmmm…..Thanks for keeping us thinking!

Ray Hewins – Director of Sales – Doneger Creative Services


Robin -

I was wondering if you had ever considered a cross-promotion with either Gillette or Schick? After reading your latest piece, I believe that offering a free pack of razor blades with each subscription would show that you’re really anticipating the needs of your readers. It can be a little messy, but properly securing a rubber hose to your tailpipe is just so damned time-consuming.

Seriously, though – after the continual pummeling from the market and the resulting fluctuations in business, as you point, out there’s a real risk that we — on a national, business, and personal level – become punch drunk and unsure which way to turn.

Although painful, it’s worth being reminded that accepting this as the “new normal” only ensures that it will be.

Bennett S. Gross – President  – Callydus Group

Want to weigh in with your opinion? Email us at Robin@TheRobinReport.

Quotes to Remember


“There’s always a new normal.”



“Those inclined to take an unfriendly view toward us increasingly see us as a paper tiger, because they hold our paper.”



“He who has the gold sets the rules.”


“When the music of a nation becomes fast, wild and discordant, it shows the nation is in confusion. “


  •  No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.
  •  A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
  •  If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.
  •  A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.

THREE CHEERS FOR THE BEAUTY BIZ!“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want – an adorable pancreas?”

Jean Kerr, American author and playwright


“Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”


AND FINALLY, A CAUTIONARY NOTE FROM my brother-in-law John Downey:

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!”


Q&A With Joseph Gromek, CEO of Warnaco

The Robin Report - Joe GromekWarnaco’s (WRC) performance since CEO Joe Gromek arrived in 2003 has been spectacular. He inherited a company that was just coming out of bankruptcy, and had suffered a bottom line loss of almost $900 million in 2001 on sales of $1.6 billion and a loss of almost a billion dollars on sales of $1.4 billion in 2002. Starting with his first year, and every year thereafter, except for a negligible dip in income in 2008 and revenue in 2009, Warnaco enjoyed double digit growth on all key metrics. The company sailed through the Great Recession as though it didn’t happen. Sales now stand at about $2.3 billion, operating margin at 11.4%, and operating income at $262.7 million.

Q. Joe, can you give us some background on the turnaround efforts put in place before the recession, and highlights of how you were able to get through the recession with only minor hiccups and outperform the majority of players in this industry? Was there something about your business that “insulated” Warnaco from the full impact of the recession?

[Read more...]

Tech Bubble II

The Robin Report - Tech Bubble IIIs it “here we go again?” Or, is it “this time is different”? Is it “irrational exuberance”? Or, is it a brilliant investment strategy?

Is this a new bubble that floats? Or, is this a “same old, same old” bubble that explodes, and quite possibly at a time when the fragile and hardly recovering economy can least absorb it.

So, the question is not whether there will be a technology “bubble.” There is one. And, its inflation will accelerate given all the free money sloshing around in pursuit of investment nirvana. The only question is: will the bubble’s seemingly insane valuation, in fact, turn out to be accurately valued with long term sustainable growth, like railroads a century ago? Or, something like that.

I have to chuckle when I recall hearing on a TV talk show that when JP Morgan (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon’s child asked him what a “financial crisis” is, and his response was: “….oh, something that happens about every ten years.” I guess some of those “brainiacs” in Silicon Valley could use the same line.

The Economist magazine had another funny observation. After the dotcom boom of the late 90’s turned into a bust in 2000, they observed bumper stickers in the Valley imploring: “Please God, just one more bubble.”

[Read more...]

Q&A with Jane Elfers, CEO of The Children’s Place

We had the opportunity to talk with Jane Elfers, CEO of The Children’s Place, the number one pure-play children’s specialty apparel retailer. Here’s what she had to say about her first year at the company, the differences between the specialty and department store businesses, and the challenges of selling to some of the most value-conscious customers on the planet: parents of small children.

Q. Jane, you’ve been at the helm of Children’s Place for a year which has been a transitional one for the economy. Can you give us some idea of how the company has been doing through all of this? Do you think the recession is over, and if so, what will the recovery be like? What do you think about 2011 and beyond?

[Read more...]

Easing the Margin Squeeze

Supply Chain Optimization Can Offset Rising Costs

Best Practices from Kurt Salmon

For most of the last two decades, the U.S. retail industry has benefitted from a thriving American consumer economy and a commitment from China to provide low costs. But in the past year, in nearly unprecedented fashion, costs have risen across all components of the retail supply chain. In the past, retailers have protected profits by passing along cost increases to suppliers or, in some cases, even consumers. In the current economy, however, suppliers are less and less willing to take up the slack; and consumers, clearly, are already skittish about spending—even at rock-bottom prices.

[Read more...]

Q&A with Jan Hatzius, Chief U.S. Economist, Goldman Sachs

The Robin Report - Jan HatziusWe talked with the Goldman Sachs Chief U.S. Economist, who is responsible for setting the firm’s U.S. economic and interest rate outlook, about his forecast for economic growth and employment, the likelihood of another economic decline, and the future role of the U.S. in the world economy.

Q. What are your expectations for the economy in the next two years?

A. We expect real GDP growth to be 3.25% in 2011 and 3.8% for 2012, roughly a percentage point above the economy’s underlying trend. It means that some of the excess capacity that built up from 2007 to 2009, especially in the labor market, is starting to be filled in. We estimate consumer spending will grow 3.5% in 2011 and 2012, caused by growth in personal income and employment, which underpins spending. The unemployment rate should come down gradually. It’s at around 9% now, and we have it declining to about 8% by the end of 2012.

Q. So unemployment will drop by only a percentage point in the next year and a half?

[Read more...]