Journey of the Chosen Ones – JNCO Jeans Are Coming Back

JNCOOr if you don’t like that original acronym, JNCO (Jean Company), it also now stands for “Judge None, Choose One.” I’m not sure I get either one of those lines, but, then again, I’m way beyond the age of which the owners of JNCO care whether I understand them or not. Furthermore, as I’ve said before, I’m not even an amateur fashionista, so all I can do is ask questions.

What I do know is that JNCO brand ultra-baggy jeans, reaching up to 50-inch leg openings at the height of its popularity in the 1990s, is making a comeback this fall. Along with new styles and designs for cargo pants, T-shirts, plaids and “joggers,” which are a cross between jeans and jogging pants, JNCO (still headquartered in LA) will re-launch its “heritage” brand of baggy jeans. So the first question I must ask is what does that mean for skinny jeans? While they are not creating 50 inch leg openings, its re-launched signature jeans will feature openings of 20-23 inches. [Read more…]

The Power Of John Fairchild

fairchildJohn Burr Fairchild, who turned a family owned bread and butter garment center trade publication, Women’s Wear Daily, into a fashion powerhouse, passed away last week at 87 years of age.

John completely understood the business of publishing. His father, Lewis Fairchild, drummed circulation, advertising and administration into him. His father had no need to school John in journalism; he had spawned an editorial genius.

Rarely has a man’s talents and interests been so perfectly synchronized with John’s innate journalistic abilities, his love for fashion and those who practiced it, as well as his incredible fashion instincts, all married to pitch perfect taste. He was, without question, simply the best fashion editor there ever was in the time, of his time, and maybe for all time. No one even came close during his reign at Women’s Wear Daily and W. And no one has come close since. Legendary Vogue Editor, Diana Vreeland, walked in the same rarified atmosphere, but lacked all of those other skills that John possessed combined with the right vehicle to exploit them.

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12 Symptoms of a Dying Retailer

12symptomsWe all know when a retailer is in trouble financially. If public, their quarterly results invite critical comments by analysts. Their financial disclosures begin to make reference to problems with loan covenants. Their underlying liquidity and solvency comes under fire from suppliers and factors alike. Often these symptoms are noted too late for any effective remediation to take place. The deathwatch is on.

But are there warning signs that can be spotted before it’s too late?

I would suggest that, in fact, there are 12 symptoms of a dying retailer:

  1. Reductions in selling space. Stores that close off selling space abruptly are often signaling a crisis in lost productivity. Beware the department store that suddenly shutters its upper or lower floors.
  2. Reductions in inventory. Stores that begin to exhibit chronic stock outages, either empty shelves or lack of continuity in colors and sizes of ongoing merchandise, are often signaling a liquidity problem. A mass merchant, big box specialist or grocery chain that can’t adequately stock its shelves is sliding down a slippery slope that can be hard to escape.
  3. Unexplained elimination of classifications. This sometimes foretells a retailer that is beginning to lose its way. A healthy retailer finds ways to make difficult merchandise categories viable rather than eliminate them. The decision most department stores made in the 1990s to trim consumer electronics and housewares in favor of apparel and accessories — because those categories didn’t have enough margin or exhibit enough turnover — was a bad decision that is now coming home to roost.
  4. Reduction/elimination of amenities and services. A retailer that stops offering free or inexpensive gift wrap, and adequate boxes and bags for customer purchases, is also exhibiting worrisome behavior. Reductions in selling hours that don’t conform to competitors’ policies is another red flag.
  5. Wholesale changes in return policies. Returns are a never-ending challenge for all retailers. Appropriate changes that reign in aberrant customer behavior, without undue effect on customers at large, are a sign of a healthy retailer. But when changes take place that are completely inconsistent with past company policies and competitive practices, it is often a sign of inner turmoil.
  6. Deterioration in merchandise quality. Taking quality features and benefits out of merchandise and services is always an all-too-available stratagem for retailers looking to improve their gross margins. But it is almost always a fool’s errand. Customers notice when apparel doesn’t fit or wear well; when features and benefits have been withdrawn or made available at higher prices than in the past; and when packaging begins to look cheap and cheesy. Merchants under pressure, without adequate leadership, will often see this as path of least resistance. Once set in motion, however, this course usually becomes irreversible. Customers rarely give retailers who exhibit this behavior a second chance.
  7. Reduction in marketing spending. Stores that are having trouble paying their bills often begin to reduce their marketing spend disproportionately. Cheaper paper and fewer pages in newspaper inserts, less attention to quality of artwork, smaller media distribution, and failure to repeat historically successful fashion and promotional events are all harbingers of trouble. Hand in hand with this is the imposition of unreasonable and unwarranted demands on vendor partners for increases in advertising allowances.
  8. Loss of price competitiveness. All retailers are sensitive to competitive price issues. When a retailer suddenly begins to be less focused on this they are definitely heading for trouble. Failure to set prices properly, and then adjust prices, as necessary, is a symptom of a loss of integrity in customers’ eyes.
  9. Reductions in customer service. Unwarranted reductions in selling expenses by understaffing departments; cutting back sales support; providing fewer cash wraps, check out stations, and pick-up desks; and cutting back on customer service are all early warnings that something is going awry. If you are a customer and can’t get a sales representative to talk to you in a store or on the phone, you need to take your business elsewhere. If you are a vendor and you can’t reasonably correspond with your retail client, then you, too, need to think about taking your business elsewhere.
  10. Reductions in lighting. Does a store start to look dark and dim? Has the store actually begun to turn its lighting down by removing bulbs, or is it merely failing to replace the bulbs that have burned out? Hand in hand with this is inappropriate heating and air conditioning.
  11. Deterioration in housekeeping. Stores require constant attention to housekeeping. This includes everything from neat, properly presented merchandise to clean selling floors, wrap stands, and rest rooms. Dirty, disheveled stores are accidents waiting to happen.
  12. Deterioration in physical plant. Stores whose buildings and property are in disrepair are signaling larger troubles. Leaking roofs, unlit external signs, poorly maintained parking lots, entrances and docks are all signs of an organization that is coming off its rails.

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Bloomingdale’s Next Chapter

Tony_SpringAn Interview With Tony Spring, CEO, Bloomingdale’s

Robin Lewis: Tony, tell our readers a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What got you interested in the retail business, and how did your career path lead you to your current role as CEO of Bloomingdale’s?

Tony Spring: I grew up in the New York area. My father was a lawyer and my mother worked at CBS as a secretary. There was a mix of passions in our family. The message in the house was always: find something that you love to do and do it well. I was always doing something, some kind of job, whether working in my father’s law office, delivering papers, or working in a fast food restaurant. I went to the Cornell School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. I had a passion for the customer, and what hospitality meant, and how to take care of the customer. I graduated from college in 1987 and had opportunities to work for a couple of hotel chains, including Marriott, but then Bloomingdale’s came to campus to recruit. One thing that really made me want to work at Bloomingdale’s was the people, and to this day they are a key part of my love of the business. They were very competitive, but cared about you as a person. In my belly I felt “wow,” these people want to do something very special.” Campeau bought Federated one year after I joined, then there was an LBO, then cost cutting. A year and a half later I came into Central in the home goods area as a buyer of cookware and cutlery. [Read more…]

What Can Luxury Brands like Louis Vuitton Learn from Lego?

legoImportant Lessons, It Turns Out

Fast Company just published an interesting story about Lego and its Future Lab, titled “How Lego Became the Apple of Toys.” Before the recession, Lego was in serious trouble. Fast Company sets the stage:

“About a decade ago, it looked like Lego might not have much of a future at all. In 2003, the company — based in a tiny Danish village called Billund and owned by the same family that founded it before World War II — was on the verge of bankruptcy, with problems lurking within like tree rot. Faced with growing competition from video games and the Internet, and plagued by an internal fear that Lego was perceived as old-fashioned, the company had been making a series of errors.”

What Lego Did Wrong & How Lego Made It Right

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Luxury A 2014 Recap and 2015 Outlook

luxrecapIt isn’t only consumer product goods companies targeted at the middle class that fared poorly in 2014. Regardless of what the confidence readings or the employment indicators say, shoppers around the world have exercised restraint for a number of years and have not returned to their free-spending ways of the late 90s and early 2000s.

Blame it on exogenous factors ranging from the Crimean crisis and the sanctions imposed on wealthy Russians; the tightening of anticorruption measures in China, creating a reluctance among the Chinese to be seen as ostentatious spenders; or the street demonstrations in Hong Kong. There are also real macro financial factors as well, including Japan entering a recession in Q4 2014; weakening trends in Europe as the year progressed; and the continued consumer malaise in the US. When the numbers are finally tallied, 2014 will have been a year of very modest (if any) growth in the global personal luxury goods sector. [Read more…]

The Store: Palaces of Consumption or Temples of Doom?

iStock_000023345639For almost 20 years the death knell has been rung for brick-and-mortar retailers with such regularity that, by now, one might expect stores would be a thing of the past. Of course, many of the loudest voices of doom have come from the growing and dynamic world of e-commerce. The difficulties of troubled retailers like Best Buy, Sears, JC Penney, recently high-flying Abercrombie & Fitch, and now, RadioShack, are all cited as evidence of the long predicted “retail death spiral.” So are stores really temples of doom?

Retail Resilience

The impressive growth of many other retailers such as H&M, Zara, Ikea, and, of course, Apple, seems to tell a different story. And there is the trend of formerly pure-play e-commerce retailers like Warby Parker, Bonobos, Indochino, Boohoo.com, and BaubleBar, which are all now experimenting with brick-and-mortar retail. Google, inspired by Apple’s $10 billion, 400 store success, is also said to be close to launching a retail concept. This type of interactive store would, of course, allow customers to engage with Google devices, like Google Glass, smartwatches, phones and tablets. But perhaps more importantly, the store would also allow Goggle to forge the vital link between hardware and software, creating an appealing integrated ecosystem – a key element of Apple’s success – which was realized at retail. And the most striking example of the vitality of the physical retail channel is the elephant in the room: e-commerce behemoth Amazon is bound to open brick-and-mortar stores sooner than we think. [Read more…]

Tory Burch. Doing Almost Everything Right

tory_burch_2About a dozen years ago, sitting in her blue and white David Hicks and Billy Baldwin design-inspired kitchen in her 6000-square-foot Pierre Hotel co-op overlooking Central Park, Tory Burch set about to create an affordable clothing line that she and her friends would like to wear. By this time, Tory Burch was already something of a socialite and had appeared in the pages of Vogue and on the cover of Town & Country. Not entirely to the manor born, but close enough, Tory, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, had worked in the fashion industry, not in design, but in advertising and public relations. Perhaps this is where she learned about marketing and branding, or perhaps she just has very good instincts.

The first Tory Burch boutique opened in 2004 on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan’s Nolita, now a fashionable retail stretch, but a somewhat more pioneering location at the time. With a $2 million dollar investment from then-husband Chris Burch and additional funds from friends and family, the store launched with multiple categories of clothing and accessories. In 2005, Oprah Winfrey discovered a Tory Burch tunic and pronounced it the next big thing. With Oprah’s endorsement, a unique fashion point of view that struck a chord with a certain crowd in Manhattan in its early days and some good exposure on Gossip Girl, fashion history was made. [Read more…]

Suit Supply to the Rescue!

suit_supplyI hate clothes shopping. In eighth grade my father wanted to buy me a suit. We went to a men’s shop on University Place in Greenwich Village.  We picked out a wool three-piece herringbone that was a dark ochre with traces of so many embedded colors. I liked it. The salesman handed me off to Mr. Miller, a short, bald and pudgy man with a heavy Eastern European accent and a yellow tape measure dangling around his neck.  Stepping up onto the platform surrounded by three mirrors, Mr. Miller gathered the cuff material around my ankles and put in his pins. Couple of weeks later we were back. I put the suit on in the changing room, stepped up onto the platform and from three angles I saw how the baggy-fitting pants were overflowing onto my shoe tops like the Ganges in monsoon season; the huge water-catching cuffs deep enough to have guppies swimming in there.  I was a deer in the headlights about this pant/shoe debacle. But I didn’t know what to say, being only 14, getting fitted for a suit for the first time.  I looked at my father for some help; none was forthcoming.  Then I looked at Mr. Miller in the mirrors — all three Mr. Millers — and noticed that Mr. Miller’s pants were exactly like mine; baggy, billowing, ridiculous.  Mr. Miller and I both looked like circus immigrants getting off the train on a dank night in Prague. My introduction to suits, fittings, and this “a man’s world” club was less than stellar. [Read more…]

Is IKEA the Most Influential Retailer of the Past 25 Years?

shutterstock_202577677Let me cut to the chase. Yes.

Because say what you want about Walmart SuperCenters, H&M, Uniqlo, Restoration Hardware or even Amazon, none of them— not one—would exist in their present form if Ikea hadn’t come along to totally change the rules of retailing.

Ok, you’re saying, Shoulberg, you’ve been downing too many of those Swedish meatballs and have clearly lost your retail smarts. That may be true, but I stand by my Ikea statement.

And I’ve got the proof to back it up. But first, a quick refresher course on this Nordic retail operation that doesn’t easily fall into conventional models. Started in Sweden in 1943 by a 17-year-old named Ingvar Kamprad, named after a typical Scandinavian mash-up of his name and the farm and town where he grew up (take that, Macy’s and Walmart), the company opened its first American store in 1985 in the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, area. [Read more…]

Where Has All the Luxury Gone?

Coach StoreWe in the industry have been bandying about the term “luxury” pretty freely of late, but there is growing realization that if a product or brand is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive, it’s not really a “luxury” product. And the minute you add the term “affordable,” it becomes an oxymoron.

As the ever-widening income inequality gap illustrates, the rich are still getting richer. According to Pew Research, the top 1% of households in the US, or those making $400K or more annually, earn 23% of the total income in the country, and control 35% of the net worth. Both figures have been steadily growing for more than a decade.

One ever-present behavior in the spending habits of the superrich of any generation is opting for the special over the mundane. Makers of high-end jewelry and electronics, cars, exotic vacation hotels, and other products and services target this group of discerning consumers for a reason: They value, and are willing to pay a steep premium for, that which is appreciated by and accessible to only an elite few.

Milton Pedraza, CEO of The Luxury Institute, a research firm that tracks and advises the global luxury goods market, says that consumers consistently define luxury as the best of design, quality, craftsmanship, and service. Brands that always deliver against these attributes, including Audemars Piguet, Chanel, and Buccellati, also tend to have a compelling brand heritage story. [Read more…]

Around the World with Paco Underhill

cooking_oilWhat We Can Learn From Emerging Markets

Merchants have a temptation to move up-market. We suspect this is a reflection of their desire to seek higher margins. While we can applaud the successes of luxury categories at the upper tier of the market, it is at the other end of the spectrum where we find insightful examples of merchant innovation. For many of the world’s consumer product goods companies, future earnings and sales growth are anchored in their ability to not only move up, but also to more effectively cover the down-market. But we may be missing some very special lessons in this traditional marketing strategy. We can learn from what’s hidden in plain sight in emerging economies by recognizing the transformation of our ideas and the ingenuity of adapting our concepts to local solutions. There is also a new wave of clever entrepreneurs who are retooling conventional retail and marketing in novel grassroots ways.

Sumba: Rethinking Trust and the Pragmatics of Third-World Recycling

The Indonesian Island of Sumba has the peculiar distinction of being the world’s southeastern-most home of the horse. Its equine culture is unique to the archipelago, and adventurous tourists invade the island for its horse festivals that involve ritual battles on horseback. Its welcoming villages are dominated by tall prehistoric megaliths, not unlike Easter Island. But in Sumba, these giant icons are made all the more startling by the vibrant human life that continues on the island, in contrast to the abandoned statues of Easter Island. Sumba has a few resorts that tend to be patronized by glitterati looking for places where the tabloids can’t find them. It is, in its way, paradise lost and found. [Read more…]