Sunday, May 22, 2011
Specialty Insider contributing columnist Robin Lewis writes in the new issue about what changes at the biggest retailer in the business might mean for some of the smaller ones, the independent specialty stores:
After two years of declining domestic same store sales, Walmart is finally getting it. However, it might be too late. What they finally ‘got’ is a small-store strategy, that they now understand they must accelerate. But, it isn’t just about smallness.
The really big idea is what I rail about constantly. It’s really about preemptive distribution: If a retailer wants to win a consumer away from a competitor, it’s imperative that they provide the consumer with convenient and instantaneous access (including the physical store). They must get to the consumer first, faster and more often than the hundreds of equally compelling competitors.
But the big question for Walmart: Are they too late? Is bigness too ingrained in their strategic mind to be able to execute a small strategy? More importantly, do they really understand the necessity of a preemptive distribution strategy, which, along with small neighborhood stores, also includes a superior integration of all online and offline distribution platforms as well as the use of information and logistics technologies to ‘localize’ product mix (which is a must for small store success)?
Anyway, Walmart better put the pedal to the metal on its small store and preemptive distribution initiatives. If not, they risk preemption (no pun intended) by more of their competitors who are also getting it.
But Walmart is not the only big guy thinking small. Other big box retailers who have been in the pursuit of small: Home Depot launched its ‘lite’ urban store in the ‘90’s; Best Buy is opening 150 small Best Buy Mobile stores, focusing on smartphones; Staples is planning on accelerating the rollout of a 4,000-square-foot model; Target has a small suburban and urban neighborhood model; Office Depot is re-positioning itself with a 5,000-square-foot store and touting itself as a convenience retailer; and, of course CVS and Walgreen’s are now fighting for every corner of every block in America.
Also, as predicted in my co-authored book with Michael Dart, The New Rules of Retail, the major department stores will also launch small, off-mall, neighborhood stores, such as JC Penney did a few years ago and will likely accelerate as the recovery continues. Further, we predict the department stores will eventually rollout branded specialty chains such as INC, Arizona, Stafford and so forth.
For more on what it means for the independent specialty store, check out the new issue of Specialty Insider, available to subscribers, at major trade shows and online at specialtyinsider.com.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Specialty Insider contributing columnist Emanuel Weintraub has some fascinating thoughts about the hidden value your company's employees hold.
Even though you may say your company has an open door policy, one question is almost always asked at most businesses: Why don’t your employees come in through that door and tell you what they are really thinking?
The answer is pretty simple: Because it takes courage to tell the boss why his concepts and policies aren’t working as well as they should be. In the telling, that person may be stepping on powerful toes. In this uncertain period of time they may not want to stick their necks out.
But the people in your company can help you more than you think. There are tools out there to help you unlock the power of your employees. Many companies offer such services, including ours, which we call our J.P.Q. (Job Profile Questionnaire) survey. These enable employees to “give it up” in a confidential way that never identifies individual responses.
The concept of these surveys is to provide your employees an opportunity to suggest ideas for improvement of the company without making you -- their boss – mad. This can be a delicate situation because, maybe, they are challenging long-held ideas, some of which are not serving the company well in terms of marketing, sales, cost control and profitability.
Our survey itself has been used by a wide variety of companies in the fashion business, including Wacoal, Triboro, Weatherproof, Oxford Industries, Jones Apparel Group, Gerber Childrenswear, Polo Jeans and Rashti, among others.
These surveys can address a number of different areas:
•Streamlining organization and reporting relationships
•Growing market share
•Elimination of non-value adding activities
Once the survey responses are in, the organization table as seen through the eyes of the employees can be charted. Mostly this shows up as different from the company organization chart and explains why key elements sometimes fall through the cracks. Sometimes we get unexpected side comments: Recently we heard about the need for a user-friendly merchandise calendar, as well as the use of webinars to cut the cost of travel.
Weintraub can be reached at Emanuel Weintraub Associates (Consult@emanuelweintraub.com), his consulting company specializing in business strategy, profit improvements, marketing, organizational analysis and other areas for companies in the apparel and fashion industries. Or check out the latest issue of Specialty Insider at major shows, to subscribers and at specialtyinsider.com
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Well, that day has come.
Smart phones, iPads and other wireless devices are redefining the way we live, work and play. For small businesses, this seismic shift in technology has opened the door to improved operational efficiencies and higher profits.
For specialty retailers in particular, mobile apps and related software – particularly mobile web browsers that make shopping a breeze – can lead to higher sales, stronger margins and more compelling marketing capabilities. The execution includes mobile apps designed for the back end of your business as well as the front end – including point of sale and traditional e-commerce.
If you are skeptical about leveraging the power of m-commerce, consider this: According to a recent study by ABI Research, global consumers will spend about $119 billion on goods and services on their mobile phones by 2015. Currently, mobile shopping sales in the U.S. stand at about $3 billion and are rising at about a 25 percent growth rate, according to several industry sources. In 2010, eBay said its mobile gross merchandise volume was over $800 million in the U.S. alone.
For more on how you can take advantage of m-commerce, check out the new issue of Specialty Insider, available at spring markets and shows, to subscribers and online at specialtyinsider.com.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
For those last-minute buying decisions, Specialty Insider checked in with Oona McSweeney, vice president of retail and special markets for Stylesight, the online fashion and trend resource that is an excellent resource for finding out what’s next in fashion.
This report is part of Specialty Insider’s new On Trend series, regular reports on what to look for in apparel trends for the coming season.
Specialty Insider: What’s the big picture for fall?
Oona McSweeney: As fashion weeks across the globe wind down, several must-have looks for women next fall have emerged early. Chic and polished looks inspired by the best of 70s fashion will surface early: Think Faye Dunaway and Lauren Hutton, Halston and Yves Saint Laurent.
SI: What should retailers be looking for in bottoms?
OM: The flare-leg pant continues to trend up as a key fashion item in both casual and tailored versions in all women’s markets. The ideal layering partner, flared pants look best paired with a silky or sheer tailored blouse with subtle details like bow ties or shirred yokes.
SI: How about when it comes to sportswear?
OM: For tailored separates and suits, tweedy woolen fabrics in warm shades edge out plaids. A languid, long-over-long silhouette inspired by the Luxe Grunge trend features maxis or flares layered under long coats and knits. Real and faux fur evolves from last season’s craze in youthful interpretations mixing color, patchwork and longer lengths with abandon.
For more on what Oona and Stylesight have to say about fall fashions, check out the new issue of Specialty Insider, available now to subscribers, at major trade shows and online at specialtyinsider.com.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Here is an excerpt, discussing the first of these studies:
Just like the first fragile signs of spring, consumers are signaling they are ready to emerge from a deep freeze as well. This past holiday season was the strongest since 2004 and consumer confidence hit a three-year high in February. Economists predict that consumers will spend a greater percentage of their tax refund on discretionary purchases as jobless rates continue to drop.
As consumers open their wallets to spend (albeit cautiously), retailers will find themselves in a new position. For the first time in years, they can move from a position of defense to one of offense. The mindshare that was devoted to day-to-day survival can now be allocated to near and long term-growth strategies.
While this shift is certainly a welcome one, it can be overwhelming to consider the myriad of options that retailers have to consider. Technology? Supply chain management? More fashion product? Mobile commerce? Social Networking? Loyalty Programs?
After years of operating on stripped down budgets, we are all keenly aware of the value of capital investments. Perhaps the best ways to evaluate and choose new areas in which to invest is to study industry leaders.
The first is about Walmart and its new virtual make-up kiosks. An IBM kiosk with a built-in camera allows Walmart shoppers to upload their images and then scan the barcodes of cosmetics products to see how the products will look on their individual skin tone.
In an age of fast fashion and short attention spans, initiatives that can both engage a consumer and do so in a personal way are the holy grail of retail. In addition to driving sales, Walmart’s initiative packs a ROI punch as well. Virtual try-on means that stores no longer need to toss samples or returned merchandise.
What's the lesson learned? You don’t have to be a billion dollar retailer or have to buy expensive technology to give your customers a personal and engaging experience. In fact, the personal touch is one of the great advantages of specialty retail.
Evaluate your selling space from a consumer’s point of view. Do you have comfortable and inviting areas for consumers to try before they buy? How about stocking accessories near the changing rooms so customers can see a customized finished look?
Read about the other three case studies in the new issue of Specialty Insider, available to subscribers, at major shows and online at specialtyinsider.com. For more information on Tobe, go to tobereport.com.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
As economic conditions continue to show signs of improvement – both consumer confidence and jobs added have increased in recent months – concerns remain as businesses have not made enough investments and expansions to drive a full recovery.
In the specialty retail segment, this translates into cautious spending in tertiary markets. However, many of the primary markets are seeing increases in foot traffic and higher sales as well as gross margins that are stronger than in the same period last year – despite higher fuel prices due to turmoil in the Middle East.
As a result, financial experts are looking at the upcoming summer months for improvements in consumer spending in the specialty retail market as well as continued loosening of the credit markets.
So the question is: How is your business positioned to handle these changing economic conditions, and what financial and business tools can you deploy to thrive in this market?
Here's the first of five financial tools featured in the latest issue of Specialty Insider:
When it comes to commercial banking services, try shopping local and think about opportunities to refinance. And if you do, partnering with a local bank or credit union may be worthwhile. Credit unions in particular have increased their business banking services in recent years to serve neighborhood businesses just like yours.
The benefits to banking local are numerous, and include better service and more flexible terms. The best part is working face to face with lenders. One good place to start the conversation on which bank or credit union to choose is at your local chamber of commerce mixer or breakfast. There, you can troll for references and recommendations of commercial lending partners.
For the other four tools you'll need to help your specialty retailing business, check out the new issue of Specialty Insider, available now to subscribers, at major spring markets and online at specialtyinsider.com.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Joel Carmen was driving a taxi in Toronto when his life was altered – literally. It was 1975 when the recent university grad picked up Peter Jackman during a shift, and learned that the expert tailor was interested in opening a store. Carmen knew nothing about the apparel or retail business, but plenty about blue jeans; after all, they made up his entire wardrobe. So with a few thousand dollars savings, and an expert tailor by his side, Carmen gave up his cab, and set up Over the Rainbow in the artsy Yorkville neighborhood.
“We started with just a few pairs of women’s jeans and a focus on customer service,” recalls Carmen, of the tiny shop’s launch on Bloor Street. “If they didn’t fit, we’d alter them to make them fit. We became famous for being able to alter jeans, and doing anything necessary for our customers to make a pair of jeans work.”
Thirty-six years, and 4,800 square-feet later, little has changed at Over the Rainbow, where fit and shopping experience remain the retailer’s top priority. Although Jackman, the original tailor has long since moved on, Carmen lets nothing come between his customers and their blue jeans, providing extensive alteration services on every item he sells.
Over the Rainbow is known around Toronto for its customization: Taking in and letting out waists, tapering, adding maternity panels, shortening legs and reconstructing original hems and even replacing a tough button fly with an easy to manipulate zipper.
Read more about Over the Rainbow and lots more about fashion retailing in the brand new issue of Specialty Insider, available now to subscribers, at major shows and markets and online at specialtyinsider.com.