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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

Ralph is the Greatest!

ralph_lauren_store_frontOk, I confess, I am in love with Ralph Lauren. Not the man, whom I’ve seen up close only once, but the brand, which I think is by far the greatest and most iconic American brand in the both the retail and apparel space and beyond. Ralph Lauren has created a world in which his brand lives. The brand is referred to as “The World of Ralph Lauren.” This is how the company refers to it, and, this is how we, as consumers, have been educated, by Ralph to think about and experience the brand. The World of Ralph Lauren is a place of elegance and luxury, of classic and rugged American style. The World of Ralph Lauren has its roots in a rich and glamorous American past. In an old world “WASP” lifestyle with touches of the American West; of polo players and yachts; of country houses, of Palm Beach, Nantucket, Southampton and the Maine coast; of old-school Boston and the New York establishment; of the Virginia hunt country and the ski slopes of Colorado, Utah and Idaho.  The World of Ralph Lauren presents very specific images of effortless and timeless style and taste. It is not pure fantasy. The images are rooted in an other-worldly reality that some people have actually lived. Picture the extended Kennedy family tossing a football in Hyannis on a fall afternoon, and then dressing for dinner at Downton Abbey. [Read more...]

Darkness at Dawn

iStock_000012485261SmallThe closer you get to the Equator, the more dawn and dusk become switches rather than transitions. It’s dark, it’s light.

I’ve learned as a global traveler to keep the curtains open at night, my goal to be in bed shortly after sundown and up at first light. Recently, I had a corner room at a hotel with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. The view of Paulista and the rest of São Paulo turned on a little before six; the cell phone towers, the park below and the high-rise buildings looked like uneven stubble on the contours of a Brazilian chin.

I was picked up at 7:00 AM by my colleague, the CEO of a publicly traded shopping mall company, in his Land Rover and we headed across town to the private airport to catch our turbo-propped Sky Master. We were headed for Brasilia. The traffic was heavy, and as we inched our way around a traffic circle, I lowered the window on the passenger’s side to stick my hand out and help get us to the outside lane. The driver gasped and I realized the window was almost two inches thick. Bulletproof. I struggled to get the window back up. The stupid Yankee had comprised the moving security perimeter. It took two security guards at the airport to tease the window back to its original position. [Read more...]

Hindsight is Always 20/20

coachIn April 2011, I read my New Yorker cringing at Reed Krakoff’s comment on his design process at Coach:

“I bang it out,’ he said.‘I know what came before, I know what’s coming next, I know how it will work in the context of the store and the ads. It’s like a code.’…Krakoff picked up a bag from the table, a lilac nylon tote, with silver-studded black patent-leather handles a female face silk-screened on the front. ‘This fills the arty, limited kind of hole,’ he said. ‘I may cancel this bag. But it doesn’t matter. Then I just need something else to fill that hole.’”

Ouch! Such hubris from the executive creative director of the then-$4 billion global accessories brand, and in retrospect an indication that Reed’s attention was really on his eponymous line introduced in 2010. Ariel Levy’s article, Brand-New Bag, oozes Reed’s aesthetic contempt for the women who made him successful. Well, on Friday September 6th, Reed, along with a group of investors, bought the Reed Krakoff brand from Coach finalizing the separation (though Coach has a minority share in Reed Krakoff); a new chapter has already begun at Coach. [Read more...]

Prestige Jewelry: Coming to Your Local Outlet?

Robin_Report_Sep2013_stock2The number of emails in my inbox alerting me about sales is seemingly infinite, and frankly, I’m losing interest.

The funniest was Cache’s “our sale’s on sale.” Really?!?! Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s regularly have fine jewelry on sale and clearance, a practice which undermines one of the category’s perceived competitive advantage, that of stored value. Blue Nile’s founding in 1999 was a harbinger of the category’s deterioration as it provided transparency and comparison shopping across the diamond supply chain. With Amazon having entered the competitive fray, the typically unquestioned pricing practices and thus, the luxury underpinnings of fine jewelry, could be further damaged. [Read more...]

Not Too Big to Fail?

Consumer Insights From MasterCard Advisors

The Emergence of the Small Store Format

Robin_Report_Sep2013_stock6We’ve heard much talk about the waning era of the “big box.” In 2012, we saw many headlines relating to planned store closures by Best Buy, with similar stories for Sears and Office Depot, among others. More recently, of course, J.C. Penney made mega headlines. In all, from the announcements of just five Big Box retailers, anything from 1100 to 1350 big boxes could be shuttered over the next year or so.

Maybe this is not necessarily a bad thing. In some cases, we are seeing some of that big box space being reincarnated as two smaller stores instead of one. And from this, a pattern seems to be emerging, with growing retail buzz around how to make stores smaller, more selective, highly curated – in short, create a better customer experience.

Jonathon Graub, a principal in the Philadelphia office of A&G Realty Partners, specialists in the strategic consolidation and reassignment of store leases, confirms the smaller store trend. He attributes it in part to the lack of availability of large spaces in prime areas and the speed with which a chain can get to market when it enters with a smaller store format. But we must also factor in the continued growth of online commerce – Internet pureplays which desire a brick-and-mortar presence, while current brick-and-mortar chains may find there’s less need for larger spaces as their online businesses expand. [Read more...]

A Secret (Sensual) Garden

tropicalFor more than 40 years, I’ve been making the pilgrimage to the greenhouses on the campus of Wellesley College. Named for the eminent Horticulturist Margaret Ferguson, the 16 interconnected greenhouses contain some 1500 different types of plants. The Brooklyn and Bronx Botanical Gardens may be bigger in size, but they cannot match the solitude and accessibility of this facility. It is as fast and inexpensive a world tour of nature as you can pack into 7200 square feet. As a troubled teenager in Massachusetts, I’d visit the “tropics” on a cold winter afternoon and experience the rich smells of my youth spent living in Asia. It was as close to the sentiments of The Mamas & the Papas in California Dreaming as I could get.

The greenhouses, then and now, contain rare collections of caudiciforms, mangroves, floating aquatics and my favorite, carnivorous plants. The Desert, Tropic, Hydrophytes and Fern greenhouses are distinctly different climate zones where the look, scent, feel and touch are as sensual and distinctive as any environment I’ve ever experienced. Each is a temple to the synergy of contemplation and botany. [Read more...]

Luxury/Designer Brands at Outlets– Brand Erosion or Market Expansion?

1274129166store_details_coachWhile luxury brand managers don’t advertise it (in fact many are reticent to acknowledge their outlet presence at all) outlets are increasingly used as a growth strategy. It’s explicit for Coach, and to a degree, Ralph Lauren, but look for even a mention of outlets at Gucci, Prada or Burberry and you’ll find nary a whisper. Yet the outlet channel, along with ecommerce/mcommerce/fcommerce, is actively expanding, while traditional retail channels (department and specialty stores) are flat or contracting.

New (and stage-2 expanding) outlet complexes are in various stages of development in the US. According to Value Retail News 2012 State of the Outlet Industry Report, 13 new centers are planned for 2013 following eight openings in 2012. These figures don’t include the vibrant outlet growth in Canada, Europe and Asia, attracting such well-known luxury brands as Ferragamo, Valentino, Celine, Etro, Tumi, Michael Kors and Hugo Boss. [Read more...]

A Luxury Market Update

istock_000001526028smallIn early May, I attended the Luxury Roundtable: State of Luxury 2013 in New York, organized and hosted by The Luxury Daily and its editor-in-chief Mickey Alam Khan. It featured speakers from the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Mercedes-Benz, Donna Karan, Graff Diamonds, Michael Kors, Tod’s, The Wall Street Journal, Boston Consulting Group, ePrize and and Ipsos MediaCT. This was a very exclusive and thought provoking forum for very traditional luxury goods companies.

The overall gist of the event was that luxury’s commandments of heritage, quality, controlled distribution, and elevated customer experience are being impacted by changing demographics and new technologies. The Internet has irrevocably changed availability, distribution and control of brand messaging. [Read more...]