Supermarket Disruption and Dissolution

RR_Supermarket Disruption and DissolutionA&P’s Long Goodbye

For the second time in less than five years, A&P has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Two Chapter 11s in close sequence like that are sometimes cynically called a “Chapter 22.” But this is no joke. By the time it’s all over, a stalwart retailing name that started in 1859 on the site of what is now the One World Trade Center building in lower Manhattan will be gone forever.

A&P — once the nation’s largest retailer, spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific — already has buyers in place to take over a third of its 300 stores. These buyers include Acme (Albertsons), Ahold and Key Food. Another 25 stores will be closed outright. So roughly half its store fleet, which spreads from Delaware to upstate New York, will be rebranded immediately. A&P operates stores under the A&P, Pathmark, Waldbaums, Food Emporium, Superfresh and Food Basics banners, all of which will be involved in the sale or closure process — and already are. [Read more…]

At Your Service: Two Case Studies

TOP Shop John Lewis combo FinalIn the developed world, retailing remains under siege. As we know, a steady flow of new Internet competitors vie for consumer dollars, frequently undercutting prices of the brick-and-mortar stores. Meanwhile, amidst a sea of sameness with parity products, traditional retailers too frequently compete merely on price. In-store service levels have evaporated in all but the most high-end luxury houses or new entrepreneurial and tech brands, further propelling the “race to the bottom,” an industry trend Robin Lewis coined back in 2012. [Read more…]

There Is No Gap Déjà Vu

gap_RL_RR_7-15-2015More Like A Slow, Sears-Like Descent To The Bottom?

Glenn Murphy exits.  Art Peck takes over.  It matters not who the players are because there has been a revolving door full of them for the past 15 years, all declaring how they would return Gap to its once dominant position as the cool apparel brand for America’s youth.  All of them failed to do so, and there is no reason to believe Art Peck will have any better luck.  Actually, even luck would not be enough to reverse the ultimate fate of this storied brand.

I say this because the brand was driven into ubiquity (the anti-cool for young consumers, and therefore, the beginning of its end) in the late ‘90s and first two years of the Millennium under the watch of then CEO, Millard “Mickey” Drexler.  With a Gap on every corner, so to speak, cool turned to cold and its descent began. Ironically, Drexler would leave the helm of the brand that he guided through two decades of meteoric growth from $480 million in revenues upon his arrival in 1983 as president, to almost $14 billion in 2000, an amazing 2,400 percent increase when he left.  Indeed, his success earned him the moniker of the “prince of all merchant princes.” Unable to right the ship when it started to sink, Drexler retired in 2002. Comp store sales dropped 5 percent in 2000, their first decline since 1989, and then a whopping 13 percent in 2001, with the overall Gap brand down 12 percent. [Read more…]

Small Is the Next Big Story in Retail

Couple standing in front of organic food store smilingBy now, you’ve heard the news that Target is launching new smaller stores under the CityTargets name. Likewise, Walmart continues to introduce smaller-scale stores as it seeks to expand into urban locales. Big-box retailer Best Buy is focused on its “community-oriented retail” concept with a smaller-is-better philosophy. But the downsizing efforts of these big boxes is not the big story that I am talking about. You can make a Target, Walmart or Best Buy store smaller in size, but you can’t make them smaller at heart.

The next big story for retail will be “small,” as in small, independent, local retail businesses. [Read more…]

Disruptors at the Door

blue_apronAnother batch of disrupters is eyeing the retail food industry. And, strange to say, they’re knocking on your door in a cardboard box.

These disrupters are meal kits. The meal-kit business is a fledgling form of retail food distribution that features the direct-to-home delivery of the precise measure of raw ingredients needed to prepare home-cooked meals. Each shipment contains the makings for several meals, generally six or more.

Meal kits are not to be confused with the home delivery of groceries available from providers such as Peapod, Amazon or Fresh Direct. Nor are they deliveries of prepared meals that are ready to heat and eat. Meal kits require that meal components be chopped, mixed, cooked and composed. Each meal kit includes detailed recipes replete with photos of ingredients and step-by-step preparation, making them all but foolproof. [Read more…]

Fiddling with the Roofs

roofs2Remember the old adage that “retail follows the rooftops”?

If you do, then you probably have fond memories of the Eisenhower administration, the post World War II suburban building boom when Sears Roebuck and J.C. Penney ruled the retail roost, and Sam Walton’s 5&10 variety store in Bentonville, Ark.

So much for nostalgia!

For 2015 and beyond, following those rooftops — the population centers retailers crave to be near — will get trickier. Fewer of them are being built, and they are no longer where they once were. Concurrently, premium locations are getting more expensive and some lenders, unsure of what new retail formats will look like, are keeping a lot of cash on the sidelines until they see another shakeout. [Read more…]

GoEnjoy.com

“Personal Commerce” and Preemptive Distribution

There are two strategic concepts that are imperative for any consumer-facing business to achieve success in the 21st century: personalization and preemptive distribution.

goenjoy

As former Apple executive, Ron Johnson’s Genius Bar creation and Apple’s entire retail model exemplified these strategies early on. Now Johnson is leapfrogging his original creation through the launch of goenjoy.com. Essentially, Enjoy sends an expert to deliver a product purchased on their site to each and every consumer upon demand, and within hours. The expert then advises the customer how to integrate and use the product in ways that best fit into their personal lifestyle. And this hour-long consultation is free. Thus, the personalized Genius Bar experience occurs wherever the customer is. [Read more…]

By Design: The Studio Xfinity Experience

xfinity_studioWhen the Department of Commerce began tracking online sales in 1998, e-commerce made up about only 0.2 percent of all retail sales. By 2013, online sales had increased 50-fold. If that’s not enough to rattle brick-and-mortar retailers, note that at the height of the Great Recession in 2008-2009, online sales was the only retail category that kept growing. Today, with every imaginable product just a click away, retailers need to offer more than attractive wares to get shoppers back into the offline store, and the majority haven’t come up with a great solution.

Companies like Apple and Prada solve the problem with stores that invite customers to participate in a brand experience that encourages emotional connections and associations between consumers, the store and their products. These contextual retail environments are not only responsible for showcasing how the product works, they’re also stages for events and larger group experiences. These retail environments transcend the buying experience beyond a basic, primary function to gateways into a community, collective experience. [Read more…]

Retail’s Walking Dead: These Brands Have Been Revived, But Will They Survive?

zombiesThere’s a hit TV show, “The Walking Dead,”  in which a nasty plague wipes out almost the entire human race, then allows some of the decaying departed to get up, roam around, and attempt to eat the few still-living folks, who from then on spend their days and nights in a constant, terrifying quest for survival.

It’s hard not to see the parallels in retail.

Over the past year or so, several defunct retail brands, like Radio Shack, Fortunoff, and others, have been reincarnated. But unlike in the AMC show,  where we don’t know what’s allowing the zombies to keep stumbling forward, we do know what’s allowing these retailers to start moving again: all the cash sloshing around in the coffers of investors who seem to believe these brands still have a future. [Read more…]

Retail Reality Check

retail_realityOn June 4, 2015, The Robin Report and FGI co-hosted a retail symposium focusing on new approaches and technologies that are changing the way retailing is done. The panel moderated by long time industry icon, Paul Charron, with a cross section of seasoned industry veterans representing brand, ecommerce and luxury retail, had a lively discussion. Despite varied points of view and the irrefutable and growing impact of technology on everything we touch, two lasting truisms of retail were underscored: product and service. What has changed is the way retailers and brands address these requisites to meet new consumer expectations and demands; plus developing the new systems that support communications and commerce. [Read more…]

The Elevation of Denim

denimelevationIt is the Go-To for Going Out

Denim has seen its share of evolution in the 140-plus years since Levi Strauss started selling blue jean overalls. In its modern iteration, it may be the item of choice for the smart, stylish dresser. With the rise of “athleisure” in casual apparel, the denim category is becoming elevated, with designers showing it on their runways, and brands offering it in custom fits, new finishes, and looks that are geared for the club as well as the office.

The Rise of Denim in Workwear

Eric Goldstein, owner of Jean Shop, a bespoke denim store in Manhattan, says a big part of his business is for men who want denim for “going out” or for work. “We do a tremendous amount of raw denim, and you can wear that with a leather shirt or jacket on top,” Goldstein says. “Our typical customer is the more articulate man, like the banker who wants to look casual, but cool and clean. Denim is being worn to work everywhere — New York, London, and the financial world. It’s not just for casual Friday anymore. Part of the staple work wardrobe is dark, crisp jeans. Our customers come into our store specifically looking for it.”

Goldstein’s customers reflect data that show denim remains consumers’ top apparel choice for a variety of occasions, from work to going out to dinner to running errands. More than a third of all consumers (36 percent) prefer denim jeans for work, followed by casual and dress pants (27 percent each), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey. Men are significantly more likely than women to prefer denim for work (41 percent versus 32 percent).

WGSN’s junior’s editor, Sarah Owens, says denim has become an acceptable look in the workplace, especially given the premium options now available both in fit, finish, and feel. She says, “It’s quite common now for women to wear a pair of relaxed, boyfriend jeans with a tailored black blazer — creating a high/low aesthetic that has been circulating among Fashion Week street style trends for the past few years.”

Lorna Buford, editor of DenimBlog, says jeans are such a wardrobe staple that consumers will wear denim as a standard work item, unless they have to wear a uniform. “Plus, with the added comfort that jeans now have, it’s a bonus,” she says. Women have the option of pairing them with heels and a dressy jacket or smart sweater, while men just need to think “dark and neat.” AskMen advises male readers to leave their club denim with intricately stitched pockets at home.

The premium denim company DL1961 even has a category named “Office Denim” on its web store to help consumers make the right style choice for their particular job situation. The brand has also added to denim’s comfort factor by introducing lines like “hybrid” “intelligent,” and “DLX” denim that increases movement, retains shape, and even protects from odor-causing bacteria.

“The other direction we see denim headed is a workwear story with raw constructions in rich indigo reworking classic silhouettes in more elongated fits,” Owens says. “This has also been executed in black to give a more contemporary touch to workwear themes.”

On the Streets to on the Go

As favored as denim is for work, it’s preferred even more for shopping or running errands (61 percent), according to Monitor statistics. That’s distantly followed by casual pants (15 percent), athletic pants/shorts (10 percent), shorts (7 percent), and leggings (5 percent).

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Of course, the idea of looking fashion forward when shopping or running around town with the kids was made popular by celebrities. Whether it’s Jessica Alba pushing her baby carriage or Justin Timberlake grabbing a coffee, the look is about the right jeans paired with the right shoes and accessories. That may be why more than four in 10 consumers (41 percent) say they prefer to wear denim jeans when they want to look and feel good in an outfit, followed by casual bottoms (20 percent) and dress pants (17 percent), according to the Monitor data.

Of course, looking good is important when going out to dinner, and denim is also the top apparel choice among both men and women combined (37 percent), the Monitor survey shows. That’s followed by casual pants (26 percent), dress pants (17 percent), dresses (11 percent) and skirts (4 percent) for women, and athletic pants/shorts (2 percent).

“The demand for denim in a more formal or ‘going out’ setting has been increasingly apparent, even before the athleisure trend started to gain momentum,” Owens says.

Buford says she sees both men and women wearing denim in a dressier setting. “I still see people wearing their favorite black or indigo blue skinny jeans with heels and blazers — those are popular for going out.”

Denim Hits the Runways

More denim is also being shown in current designer collections. “The designers really promoted denim on the runways for pre-fall and pre-spring,” says the Doneger Group’s fashion director, Roseanne Morrison. “There’s been a ’70s vibe with the flare leg, the one-piece denim coverall, denim dresses. There’s also been some ’80s styles with the high waist and baggier fit. So it’s a new collection of denim looks that are coming out. We’re also seeing some lighter washes and original indigo without stretch,” she adds.

Owens says the runway has had an influence on the denim category, giving it a wider, dressier appeal. Men and women will continue to see it as more of a “going out” item, she says, “as we enter into the more premium aesthetic that is currently being influenced by current catwalk and trade show trends. From the catwalks, we have been seeing denim take on a more premium aesthetic, with elevated and glossy constructions on more sophisticated pieces such as the tailored denim set at Rag & Bone, Bottega Veneta, and Michael Kors.” Owens continues, “This new renaissance for the denim market gives it a polished identity originally established back in spring/summer 2011 by designers such as Celine and Derek Lam.”

501 Ascending

Levi’s is the originator of denim jeans. At the last National Retail Federation show in New York, James Curleigh, Levi’s global president, said the company is focusing on its core, but “going for more.” “There’s this notion of should you just do what is expected or should you do more?” he said. “Well, guess what? We’re going to do both.”

Levi’s is still the worldwide leader in denim. In fact, it tops the list of favorite brands of denim jeans among Monitor survey respondents at 32 percent. Levi’s is continuing its traditional 501 jean, and last month introduced the 501 CT (Customized & Tapered) line. The 501 CT is offered in a range of authentic denim washes inspired by San Francisco and California style, the home of Levi’s and the original 501 jean.

The brand is also expanding both high and wide. At the high end, it’s offering its $750 Lot 1 custom, made-to-measure jeans. At the same time, its Commuter Series, featuring reflective seaming and U-lock storage on the waistband, is one of its fastest-growing denim platforms. “Icons don’t remain icons forever unless you continue to innovate around them,” Curleigh said in his presentation.

Trend Tracking

At the recent PROJECT menswear show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, many denim brands were on display, including Anonymous Jeans of Los Angeles. This maker featured innovative styles such as a 100 percent cotton skinny fit jean with a sarouel drop -— à la the harem pant. Among the many vendors, buyers could also find denim with waxed and leather-look finishes, as well as jeans in a range of colors.

The evolution toward better finishes and different fits is important, especially as denim is the top apparel item among consumers (28 percent), for times when they want to “be stylish or fashionable,” according to the Monitor data. That’s followed by dress pants (25 percent) and casual pants (17 percent).

Those looks are right on time for today’s customer. “Denim is here to stay,” says Jean Shop’s Goldstein. “And in men’s, the classic 100 percent cotton denim is favored. It’s a product you wear your whole life. You can wear clean and crisp with a jacket and tie, and then three years later use it to paint the house or do some other DIY project. We collect jeans in the store. So people can wear their jeans for years, then trade them in when they buy a new pair. They become vintage. And they all tell a story. And with the new pair, the next story begins.”

Catherine Schetting Salfino
Fashion Retail Reporter

Catherine Schetting Salfino covers fashion and retail. Her work has appeared in the menswear
publications Daily News Record, Women’s Wear Daily, Saks POV, and the Sourcing Journal.

Birth, Life and Death: A Retail Cycle

murraysRob Kaufelt walked into Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early ’90s and noticed a sign saying the store was closing after a 50-year run. The owners were tired, the neighborhood was changing, and the lease was up. Rob came from a family of grocers. He was a deli man who was used to getting up early and, at that moment, was out of work. His latest store had failed. On a whim, Rob made an offer on the business and was shocked when it was accepted. He moved it across the street for cheaper rent and started cutting cheese.

One thing led to another: Cheese classes, catering, wholesaling to restaurants, an e-commerce business, an outpost in Grand Central Terminal, a Murray’s Cheese Bar restaurant, and a deal with Kroger. By the end of 2015, there will be some 250 Murray’s Cheese outposts in Kroger stores across the country. Rob and Murray’s are evangelically getting Americans past Vermont cheddar and Wisconsin flavored Jacks. Whoever Murray was, he probably couldn’t imagine cheese becoming so chic, and his family is likely regretting not keeping at least a piece of the action. Rob, needless to say, is doing very well and has more grown-up toys than any man I know. [Read more…]