I've got a lot of friends in this business
and we all talk about work. However
as competitors, what happens on your
spreadsheet stays on your spreadsheet.
We do discuss peers, superiors, culture,
and the industry. Based on what I've
heard, it's safe to say that fashion and
retail are broken. For many reasons a
generation of seasoned experts fled on
to greener pastures. Leaving behind a
vast wasteland of mediocrity and an
industry that is struggling to survive.
The question is, what went wrong?
I can't remember the last time I met anybody
who was willing to take a calculated risk.
Don't get me wrong, I've met (and worked
with) leaders more than ready to dive deep
into ego driven disasters. Whether ignorance
or arrogance drove their foolhardy decisions
doesn't matter. The wreckage (and innocent
people) left behind post their exit via golden
parachute does. Somehow everything has
oddly gotten out of control within a context
of too much control. Rather than it being all
about style, it's all about data and little to no
risk. How could we all simply lose our way?
When I first started out in this business,
merchants truly ruled the roost. Don't
equate my usage of the term "merchant"
with the bean counters who now hold
said roles in most organizations. In days
of yore, Merchants had the experience,
passion, conviction, and guts to drive a
business forward. That rather magical
combination meant that sometimes they
won big, and other times they quickly
had to liquidate their mistakes. As their
partner, my job was to help them sell
the good, the bad, and even the ugly.
Down and out
A sale used to be a true markdown. While
there was certainly strategy involved, the
primary purpose was to move out the old
in order to bring in more of the new. The
merchants of yore were natural gamblers
playing their cards as quickly and deftly
as possible. Today whatever the glorified
accountants buy is structured to be marked
down. Their focus is on making a profit
at the end (clearance) rather than selling
great product at the beginning (full price).
Hence the sea of mediocrity we are forced
to shop. Honestly, who buys that stuff?
In the end it's all about what we pay, not
where we buy it. Somewhere along the
way we lost all sense of ALLURE. One
used to shop as an escape, a way to buy
a dream. If the occasional deal offered
itself up, all the better. However the real
reason for being loyal to a retail brand
was that they consistently made you feel
(and look) better. Can your honestly name
one store that you absolutely couldn't live
without? In my youth I could yet sadly,
all have gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Today our mantra is simply grab and go.
I spend my day trying to build brands.
However I often wonder if it's possible
to create loyalty based on a concept
that is not linked with reality. I'm proud
of the goods that we design and sell.
They're perfect for our brand, business,
and customers. However we rarely get
to show or promote the beautiful stuff.
Instead my team must attempt to create
compelling messages out of a heap of
basics. That makes price the motivator.
And if somebody can give me the same
or comparable item for less, I'm theirs!
Where do you shop? What brands do you
love? I'm hoping you will tell me where
and what. Somewhere somebody is doing
it right. I've got my favorites, all small and
unique. Sue Fisher King is a lovely shop
in San Francisco. While I rarely am able to
physically shop there, I'm a loyal customer.
That's because I trust her taste and know
they'll always have something "just right".
Price is never the motivator but I always
peruse sale. I'm buying her vision, verve,
panache... THAT'S WHAT I WANT!