Overfranchising: When Category-Killers Just Can’t Stop Cannibalizing

overfranchisingMaybe you’re Maybelline.

And maybe, because you’re Maybelline, you produce one of the most beloved mascaras of all time. Yes, Great Lash is one for the ages, a perennial box-office champ for the last 44 years. In this era of here-today, gone-tomorrow product launches, that preppy pink and green tube of makeup magic is in a class by itself.

In the prestige arena, Lancôme has enjoyed a similarly mammoth success story. Though its Définicils High Definition Mascara is 20 years younger than Great Lash, urban legend has it that one is sold – somewhere, globally, from Boston to Beijing — every three minutes.

Clearly, these two brands have carved-out massive slices of the brutally competitive mascara pie, proffering products women the world over genuinely adore. [Read more…]

An App For Hugging? Never, Ever at Mitchells

mitchellThere should be a Master’s degree in customer engagement (MCE) obtainable from Harvard or any of the other top-tiered universities. It should be as revered and valued as an MBA, including comparable compensation.  And every retail associate or associate wannabe, for both online and off, should be required to obtain that degree. Why? Because it is the most critically important job in retail, even more important than all the hotshot jobs in the C-suite. I use the word engagement, rather than service, because readers’ eyes tend to glaze over upon reading about customer service, a term they have become desensitized to because of its redundant over-use. Plus it has become a “paying-lip-service” term for too many retailers.

In fact, the MCE curriculum could be copied right out of Jack Mitchell’s revised and updated book: “Hug Your Customers,” published by Hachette Books, on sale today. For readers who are not aware of Mitchells Family of Stores, they are a group of five upscale designer and luxury goods stores (Mitchells, Richards, Marshs and two Wilkes Bashford stores) that have total annual revenues north of $125 million and growing. While there are a few other retailers with notably high levels of customer engagement (Nordstrom for sure), Mitchells is legendary for their over-the-top personalized connectivity with each and every customer, starting from day one in 1958 when they were founded. [Read more…]

The Case of the Missing $32 Billion

Missin-32billionMultilevel/Pyramid Marketing Schemes Lure Unsuspecting Consumers through FTC Loophole

Don’t look now, but dozens of companies, starting with Amway back in 1979, and more recently Herbalife, the supplements company being challenged as operating a pyramid scheme by activist investor Bill Ackman, have been diverting billions in sales every year away from traditional retailers across the health, beauty and general merchandise industries.

Multilevel marketing, or MLM, is a simple model that enriches those who start it at the expense of those who join later. The premise is simple, and there are few barriers to entry. A multilevel marketer pulls together a line of products, puts a brand name on it, and develops an enticing sales spiel which has, as its primary attraction, the ability, for those who make a bulk investment in these products, to profit from commissions earned when friends, neighbors, and family members become distributors, make a similar bulk investment, and recruit other friends or family members to do the same. They all will get a commission on those and all subsequent purchases that those friends and their recruits make. Everyone back up the line to the original seller gets part of the commission as well. The process creates an exponential geometric growth pattern which, in theory, would eventually encompass all potential prospects and leave later entrants no one to recruit. [Read more…]

Why Kale Will Save Retail…

kale_new …And Other Lessons From European Retail’s Foodie Heroes

As many of us remember, the 2014 Chanel Fall/Winter show was a foodie dream for those who love fashion. A monumental moment celebrating the merging of fashion and food, Lagerfeld transformed the Grande Palais into the chicest of supermarkets, with over 100,000 products, ranging from Coco Flakes to Chateau Gabrielle wine.

An ode to the most fashionable trend of the moment? Or perhaps the more literal…food is fashion is food.

The fashion world’s biggest names have embraced food in a big way. NY-based Related Companies revolutionized the concept of retail dining with its 2002 launch of the NYC Time Warner Center, a fashion mecca on the West Side, anchored by Whole Foods and chef superstars. Les grands magasins of Europe have elevated food to a level of epicurean artistry with open kitchens showcasing the top chefs at work alongside thousands of food products from around the world. [Read more…]

Old McDonald’s and Its Youngest Customers

mcdonaldsWhile everyone is trying to figure out how to fix the troubled fast food chain, they are missing one very important ingredient…and it ain’t pickles.

My nephew David’s first word was “fries.” He learned it at McDonald’s. Two generations later, McDonald’s is the one getting fried.

The most ubiquitous export brands in America – Boeing, Levi and Walmart not withstanding– and the greatest ambassador of American culture to the rest of the world, McDonald’s is facing perhaps its biggest challenge since it was trying to figure out how to cut a sesame-seed bun into three slices. [Read more…]

Youth Retailers Rebounding in 2015…or Not?

youth_2015_driscollWhat’s happening in the tumultuous youth market? The way youth retailers are faring reflects the typically fickle trend-sensitive nature of this market. Based on recent earnings reports, I think Aeropostale could derail this year. While their international opportunity is real and growing, they could shutter half their stores … and they wouldn’t be missed. Express? I think the outlets will help. American Eagle is the furthest along to success.

My vision for two years from today is that Abercrombie will be half its size in the U.S. and Aeropostale may be potentially shuttered in the U.S. with international franchises still generating profits. American Eagle glides into profitability and Urban improves, and then encounters the typical fashion trends risks that have been a part if its uneven history. [Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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

[Read more…]

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…]