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…]

Ghost Malls: Creative Destruction

ghostmallsIn the horror story of the declining fortunes of the American shopping center, the central character is the “Ghost Mall” – abandoned, forlorn, and lifeless — but looming, casting a post-apocalyptic pall over the American Dream. The website, DeadMalls.com, provides ample evidence that ghost malls are real and that they appear to be a growing insidious blight across America. The eerie photos show boarded-up entrances, broken glass, empty storefronts and hulking monolithic edifices surrounded by desolate unkempt parking lots. Hollywood even used a ghost mall to symbolize menace and hopelessness in last year’s psychological thriller “Gone Girl.”

Frightened yet? Well don’t be. In a country with an astounding 23 square feet of shopping mall space for every man, woman and child – representing almost 70% of the world’s supply — it should come as no surprise that some obsolescence and creative destruction is inevitable…even desirable. [Read more…]

The Power Of John Fairchild

fairchild_newJohn 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…]

Did Tesco Get Hooked on Drugs?

Under-the-table transactions...That’s a strange question, and the answer is even stranger: “yes,” at least figuratively speaking.

It all has to do with vendor allowances and the revenue bump they give retailers. These allowances are intended to incentivize retailers to better promote or better display a manufacturer’s product, and there’s generally a lot of money left over for retailers after that’s done.

For a long time, supermarket insiders have cloaked vendor allowances in secrecy, privately referring to them as the “drug” supermarkets just can’t kick. The metaphorical drugs caused supermarkets to become almost entirely dependent on them for profitability, despite the fact that they fostered grotesque retailer inefficiencies in the long run.

Now a day of reckoning may be at hand, because Tesco has blurted out the dark truth. Tesco, a huge UK supermarket chain, is being battered by newly disclosed accounting irregularities that were used to puff up financial reports by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Tesco stated: “[Irregularities] are principally due to the accelerated recognition of commercial income and delayed accrual of costs. Work is ongoing to establish whether this was due to error or an aggressive accounting policy.” Commercial income, by another name, means vendor allowances. [Read more…]

Vegan Is the New Black

dana_veganWhat’s more mainstream-American-beauty than Christie Brinkley? Christie Brinkley selling her upcoming face and body de-agers on HSN, that’s what. And for an extra dose of apple-pie wholesome, how about a Christie Brinkley beauty counter at Kohl’s?

But here’s what isn’t so by-the-book about Christie Brinkley Authentic Skincare: just like the 60-year-old stunner herself, it’s 100 percent anti-animal cruelty. In fact, it’s vegan. As a decades-long vegetarian and staunch wildlife advocate who spearheads anti-poaching missions in Africa, Brinkley made damn sure her eight-SKU range doesn’t contain a trace of animal anything.

If this were 10 – even five – years ago, Brinkley’s product positioning might have been deemed a gamble. Yes, the line’s core raison d’être is anti-aging; vegan is only one chapter of the story she’s telling. But the fact that Brinkley will be able to riff about why eschewing animal ingredients and testing is important to her — on the massive platform that is HSN – speaks volumes about where the beauty industry is headed these days. [Read more…]

Memo from the Grinch: The Gas Price “Bonus” is an Empty Tank

RL_11-18-14_1Economists, experts, analysts, consultants, a lot of CEOs, casual observers and even my friend and CNBC regular Jan Kniffen believe lower gas prices are going to goose holiday retail sales. In what some call the “gas bonus,” this means that some $40 billion saved on fuel will end up being spent over the holidays in the nation’s retail stores. This is certainly a happy thought. On a CNBC panel the other day, Kniffen was almost giddy about it. And then when you add in a falling unemployment rate, followed by an increase in consumer confidence — at its highest level since 2007 — stock traders are already chilling the bubbly.

Once again, I find myself the naysayer. Let’s start with the gas theory. The Robin Report Chief Strategy Officer Judith Russell looked at the monthly change in gas prices and retail sales for the past eight years. And as indicated in the chart below, there is neither a significant bump up, nor down, in retail sales accompanying rising or falling gas prices. She even looked at regressions with different segments in retail, and found that there simply does not seem to be a correlation, period. In other words, the gas theory is an empty tank.

Having said that, Walmart had a slight increase in third quarter sales of .5%, for the first time since 2012, which they believe was partially due to lower gas prices. So, one may conclude that the entire discount sector will gain from the gas bonus, putting more cash in its lower-income consumers’ pockets. On the other hand, one might conclude, as I did, that Walmart is clawing back its customers whom they lost to the thousands of smaller neighborhood dollar stores during the recession when gas prices were high and low-income shoppers had a shorter ride to those local stores, thus saving fuel costs. In fact, Walmart said in its 3Q conference call that the Walmart Express strategy (smaller footprint convenient neighborhood stores) is beginning to facilitate their clawback of market share from the dollar stores.

Therefore, this hypothesis would suggest that rather than the gas bonus lifting total spending among low-income consumers across the entire discount sector, it’s simply shifting shares around within the sector.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

If consumers do take their fuel savings and decide to spend them, while the discount retail sector may minimally benefit, it’s more likely they will spend more on health care and entertainment, as well as home improvement. And since income growth is flat, they could just as well decide to save the gas “bonus.” In fact, the savings rate has been ticking up.

And there was certainly no additional gas bonus spending among the mid-to-higher income consumer segments. In fact, Macy’s CFO, Karen Hoguet told analysts a week ago, “shoppers are spending more of their disposable dollars on categories we don’t sell, like cars, health care, electronics and home improvement.”

Lastly, the low overall inflation rate, even disinflation in some major merchandise categories, is allowing consumers to get more value for their money, which doesn’t result in an increase in sales, because they’re not buying more stuff per se. Consumers and particularly the growing Millennial cohort are shifting toward a “less is more” mentality, eschewing buying more stuff to seeking more experiential satisfaction out of life, which is why restaurant sales and entertainment spending are strong. And now with a strong dollar, we might see people opt to travel more often. So these dynamics, much of which has to do with a demographic and cultural shift, will also divert any part of the gas bonus that might have made its way into mainstream retailing.

The final word: dream all you want about getting your hands on a piece of the $40 billion gas bonus, but when you wake up on January 1st with a hangover, it won’t be due to the bubbly that the stock traders are currently chilling. It will be due to the fact that the dream was really a nightmare about the passing gas bonus, pun intended).

Doing Business in Brazil

brazilBrazil is more than just football!

Interesting fashion can be found in every corner of the globe and Brazil is no exception. Compared with China, Brazil has had far less attention from global brands. But that’s changing.

As I’m typing away on my flight from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo and reflect on my trip so far, it becomes more and more apparent that the fashion industry here is set to explode in more ways than one. It is primed to be both impacted by global forces as well as make an impact on the world stage with more than just flip-flops and bikinis.

“B” as in BRIC

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world with 200 million people, half of whom are under the age of 30. It is becoming more urbanized as millions of people have transitioned from poverty to the middle class. Brazil has a $54 billion apparel market that’s expected to keep growing, and by 2020, almost half of apparel spending will come from its smaller cities. [Read more…]

For Moroccanoil, Imitation Is the Most Litigious Form of Flattery

DanaWood1In all likelihood, only Novak Djokovic logs more court time than the corporate counsels of beauty brands in possession of a true rarity; an original idea. Breaking ground in a new category of product? Be prepared to spend your days fending off a slew of increasingly shameless copycats.

Flashback to 2006: An obscure “hair oil” – created not by an A-list coiffeur, but by under-the-radar Montreal salon owner Carmen Tal – starts trickling into the public consciousness. It’s derived from the nuts of argan trees, which are indigenous to Morocco, and is laced with hair-soothing fatty acids. Sure, argan oil is good for other stuff, like preventing heart attacks. But who cares about that when it can deliver livelier, lusher locks? [Read more…]

Tiffany Sues Costco! What’s Up?

Brands_in_Danger_FinalIn the land of the brand, the Holy Grail, surely, is building a brand that’s universally known and is in constant mention by consumers.

Or is it?

There’s such a thing as too much familiarity. There are more than a few instances of brand owners losing legal possession of their own brand because they became generic descriptors of the product, sometimes with dire consequences for its erstwhile owner.

Now, in an interesting lawsuit filed in US district court of the Southern District of New York, Tiffany is in legal battle with membership retailer Costco about the appropriation of the Tiffany name by Costco. There’s some reason to believe that while the facts would seem to strongly favor Tiffany & Co, it may not be the victor, at least not in a narrow legal sense.

But first, let’s take a look at how brands can evolve into popular vernacular, to the degree that their ownership is snatched from their creators.

Among a number of examples of brands lost in legal action are thermos, escalator, linoleum, videotape, and yo-yo. In the last instance, the Duncan Toys Co. went bankrupt when it lost control of its trademark. Also in the litany of lost brands is aspirin. That brand was once owned by Bayer, a German company, but it was awarded as war spoil after World War I. So it became a generic term in the US, the UK and France. In other parts of the world, Bayer still defends the use of its Aspirin brand. Curiously, Bayer also lost the right to its Heroin brand under the same circumstances. It hasn’t seen fit to defend it. Yet.

Numerous other brands are teetering perilously close to becoming generic terms, brands such as Scotch Tape, AstroTurf, Jacuzzi, Band-Aid, Frisbee, Hoover, Taser and Rollerblade. [Read more…]

Dov Charney is a Joke: A Dirty Joke and a Business Joke

Dov Charney, Portfolio, November 1, 2008The media at large has publicly exposed enough of the “dirty” part of this “jokester” that I don’t need to pile on more. Although it might be a more titillating read to add more dirt to the pile, I’ll just sign off on his disgusting behavior during his tenure as CEO of American Apparel by saying it’s equally disgusting to me that the board didn’t kick his butt out of there a long time ago. It never ceases to amaze me that too many boards are still weak on proper governance in protecting the shareholders from the egregious, deleterious behavior of miscreant CEO’s. And American Apparel’s board seems to be one of those.

But for the moment, let’s forget about Charney’s sexual proclivities, including allegations of abuse. Many top executives have been caught with their pants down, so to speak, albeit not all as flagrantly as Charney. Many were fired, yet many others have just had their dalliances swept under the rug.

Charney’s real dirty joke is that he is a business joke of the tallest order. [Read more…]

Your Local Fruit Stand is a Bellwether

IMG_0139On the corner of 7th Avenue and 12th Street in Manhattan is a fruit and vegetable cart. Others just like it are scattered across New York City. They tend to be run by hardworking immigrants willing to stand up all day and put up with whatever weather comes their way. I’ve passed this stand thousands of times as I walk to and from work. Last fall, I stopped for the first time noticing that the same blueberries and blackberries that have now become my breakfast staples were cheaper than in the grocery store down the street; the same box and brand, but 25% less.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense since my grocery store pays more in rent than the street vendor does. It wasn’t just that the berries were cheaper; when I actually compared the other fruit and vegetable prices, everything else was too. I started buying avocados, eggplant, onions and melons. Not only was it cheaper, but it was more convenient. Yes the selection was narrow, but it met my needs. The vendor was friendly, and his name was Ali. [Read more…]

CVS: Blowing Smoke? Or Truly Concerned for our Health?

Judy-CVS_FINAL-imageI resent the fact that I can’t walk down a street in New York City without breathing in a potentially lethal amount of second-hand smoke. So imagine my satisfaction when, on February 5, CVS announced it was going to cease selling tobacco products at its 7,600 stores by October 1.

CVS Loses a Loyal Customer

I became a CVS customer about 30 years ago. I found the stores conveniently located, bright, clean, and easy to shop. The product assortment was excellent and well-priced, and the ExtraCare loyalty program, of which I was a charter member, was terrific. I started shopping there for my prescription and over-the-counter medications, health and beauty aids, and vitamins, eventually expanding to cereal, juice, sundries, holiday candy, and school supplies. As the years went on, I did a greater portion of our family shopping there, and each quarter I would receive a generous coupon of “extra bucks” — free money to spend in the store. [Read more…]