Posts Tagged 'Wall Street Journal'

Holiday 2011: Anyone out there with a crystal ball?

In a cycle of negative economic news, RetailWire panelists recently took their turn forecasting 4th quarter sales. Here’s my perspective:

There are a lot of mixed messages about what kind of holiday shopping season lies ahead. Today’s Wall Street Journal paints a bleak picture of forecasted sales, but the numbers this year don’t bear it out. Most observers would agree that BTS shopping was more robust than expected, especially in the specialty apparel segment.

So the best predictor ought to be each store’s own cautiously optimistic forecasting that was probably done many months ago. Holiday 2009 is an anomaly, because 2008 sales fell off a cliff and most retailers were understandably leery of too much inventory. At the same time, inventory management tools are doing a better job getting the right goods into the right stores…perhaps even more important to successful sales and margins than the “macro” inventory number.


Do store visits reveal retail’s winners and losers?

From a recent RetailWire discussion where panelists commented on a WSJ article about what can be learned from store visits:

I enjoyed the article in the Wall Street Journal but — let’s admit it — this kind of anecdotal evidence based on a small sample is not very scientific. I shopped one particular mall in the Milwaukee area on Black Friday and again on Christmas Eve (with other visits in between) and noted last Friday whether department and specialty stores had pockets of inventory. I didn’t see a glut of sweaters anywhere…I saw one specialty apparel chain with too many peacoats…I saw a few stores that took a deeper position on flannel plaid shirts instead of having a more balanced inventory. But to assume that I know who the winners and losers will be is flattering myself. So take those “expert opinions” with a grain of salt until you see what the December comps look like, along with quarter-ending margins and guidance about 1st quarter 2011.

Whole Foods’ CEO opens mouth, inserts foot

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, recently wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece about health care reform. (He’s against it, and thinks the solution is to buy the sort of healthier food sold by his store.) Retail Wire panelists were invited to weigh in on the question of whether this should cost Mr. Mackey his job. My opinion:

I don’t think John Mackey should resign as CEO of Whole Foods because I believe he has the right to express his opinion in print, even though I disagree with him. I also believe that shareholders ought to be focused on Whole Foods’ recent performance (not bad) and share price (close to its 52-week high) in determining whether its CEO keeps his job or not.

All that aside, there is clearly an issue when the CEO of a public company spouts off and behaves as if he is still running a private concern, without accountability to his board and shareholders. Mr. Mackey also has a responsibility to keep his mouth shut when he risks alienating his core customer with his political views. I have staunchly defended the Whole Foods acquisition of Wild Oats on Retail Wire, and I do believe it’s a well-run company…but Mr. Mackey may want to lower his profile in the future and stick to running his business.

The Buckle: A specialty retailer thriving in today’s economy

You may have read James Stewart’s column last week in the Wall Street Journal about The Buckle, the denim-focused specialty retailer based in Kearney, Nebraska. It’s a good argument in favor of developing customer loyalty without overemphasizing price. A few key points in Stewart’s column jumped out at me when I commented for Retail Wire:

1. Merchandise mix: The store carries an assortment of “relevant” denim brands within its moderate pricing position. This plays well to a mainstream consumer outside the big cities, perhaps, that is still looking for more style and label selection than at her local mass-market chain store.

2. Expansion: To Ryan’s point, The Buckle has been cautious to walk before running and to be opportunistic. Why pursue the ego satisfaction of a mall in the New York area (with its attendant costs and competition) when you can exploit your niche more carefully?

3. Service: This may be The Buckle’s key tool in developing customer loyalty. The discussion in yesterday’s Retail Wire debated whether loyal customers are simply price-driven…The Buckle surely provides a strong counter-argument.