Archive for April, 2015

Happy “Take your Child to Work” Day

RetailWire panelists had a chance today to discuss the annual “Take Your Child to Work” Day event, and to reflect on how exposure to their own parents’ work lives helped shape them professionally. Here’s my recollection:

My dad (and my grandfather before him) owned a specialty department store, so I had many exposures to the family business while growing up. (And my retail roots go back five generations.) Superficially, the chance to work all over the store as a teenager and college student caused a spark that led to my own retail career. Nothing was more gratifying at that early age than “making a sale” while dealing with customers face-to-face in the men’s department…something of a lost art today.

But the biggest life lesson was to observe a great role model (my dad) in a professional setting outside of the bounds of daily family life. The mutual respect between his employees and him made a lifelong impact. I hope everybody who has had a similar opportunity with their mother or father (including today’s “tagalongs”) has the same kind of experience.


Five rules for new vendors pitching themselves

I recommend a RetailWire discussion this week about five steps (not excerpted here) that vendors should follow when trying to be added to a company’s roster, or when pitching a new product. They were all terrific, but I added one of my own:

From my long-ago experience at Kohl’s, I found that some vendors pitching to be added to the “matrix” (which can be a tough task in many stores) failed to take the most elemental step: They hadn’t shopped any stores and were therefore unprepared to discuss how their brand or product might fill a meaningful void in the assortment. This step seems obvious, but I saw it happen over and over again. (And I’m often talking about New York-based vendors who apparently didn’t bother with the 15-minute drive from Midtown to The Meadowlands.)

I think the five steps outlined in the article are vital — and should precede any discussion about cost pricing, even with a tough negotiator like Walmart — but there is no substitute for a store visit first, to understand how your product will resonate with customers and meet their needs.

Target’s “Lilly Pulitzer” sellout: Hit or miss?

RetailWire panelists agreed (for the most part) that the bad PR generated by the quick sellout of Lilly Pulitzer goods this week at Target outweighed the benefit. Yes, Target can use a “cheap chic” win, but not at the expense of alienating customers already fed up with weak execution. Here’s my brief take on the situation:

This is the biggest hit (and miss) since the Missoni introduction a few years ago. Yes, it’s good for Target’s brand cachet that they are forming successful alliances with wanted brands. But their feet must be held to the fire as far as poor execution and customer service. In what way is this fundamentally different from the problems that plaged Target when it couldn’t keep shelves full in Canada, or when its website crashed after its Amazon alliance ended?

Has the “lifestyle center” made the regional mall obsolete?

RetailWire panelists recently discussed an article arguing that “lifestyle centers” have displaced the traditional fully-enclosed regional mall. “Not so fast,” I argue in the following post:

There is a “lifestyle center” in my neighborhood in suburban Milwaukee called “Bayshore Town Center.” It replaced an outdated combination of strip and indoor mall (with elements from the 50’s and 70’s), and has thrived ever since reopening in 2006. Two of its three original anchors (Bon Ton and Kohl’s) are still in place, while Sears closed last year and is awaiting redevelopment. Apparently the outdoor storefronts (in Bayshore’s faux “downtown”) are more successful than the locations inside the mall, even during winter weather.

Clearly the “socialization” aspect of lifestyle centers is important — complete with dining options, movie theatres, etc. — and it’s also an advantage not to be locked into giant mall anchor department stores as that segment continues to shrink. But the giant regional mall isn’t dead yet, as long as developers keep the tenant mix and entertainment options fresh.

Target: An about-face on its grocery strategy?

Brian Cornell has made plenty of changes since joining Target, and his latest is a renewed focus on grocery categories that can position the store away from more “basic” food stores. I express some skepticism on this recent RetailWire post:

All of the categories mentioned by Mr. Cornell (snacks, coffee, craft beer, and so forth) represent a reversal of the “commodity” approach favored by Greg Steinhafel and his team. While a niche approach to the grocery business is more consistent with the Target brand, it may not drive enough volume to justify the massive capital investment and space reallocation devoted to food over the past five years or so. The question is whether a modified “Trader Joe’s” approach will compel Target’s customers to do most of their grocery shopping somewhere else.

Aldi: The future looks bright, but…

Aldi is one of the fastest-growing food retailers in the country, with vast areas yet to be developed. I comment below (from a recent RetailWire discussion) about some of Aldi’s innate strengths:

Aldi has some key competitive advantages that should continue to propel its growth. First, its assortments are tightly edited and competitively priced. And its real estate strategy can “travel” far from the lower-income neighborhoods where it began to build its name, to more affluent shopping areas with plenty of development opportunities for small-footprint stores.

Perhaps the biggest threat on the horizon is Walmart, especially if it decides to speed up the rollout of its own small-format stores. But both stores have an innate advantage over other competitors in terms of a low-cost operating model.

Ignore Millennials? Good luck with that!

RetailWire recently held an online panel discussion around the provocative findings of the “Forrester Report.” It’s premise is that marketers and retailers should focus on Boomers, not Millennials, because the older consumer has the spending power. I disagree:

The Forrester report creates a false choice between Millennials and Boomers. Unless your business model is targeted to a specific age and lifestyle demographic, you ignore either one at your own risk.

Yes, Boomers today have more disposable income than their children, after decades in the workforce and building up home equity. But statistics also suggest inadequate savings among this age group as they head into retirement age and as their lifestyle becomes constrained by fixed income.

Meanwhile, the sheer numbers of Millennials will overtake the Boomer generation in 2015. There is a vast difference between younger members of this age group (working their way through college, renting, not awash in disposable income) and the Millennials in their early-to-mid 30’s who have been in the workforce for a decade. As this population matures, has children and buys homes, its impact on spending patterns will be profound.