by Karen Alberg Grossman

Management One’s Nico Cabral kicked off last Thursday’s panel discussion with four positive messages: 1) As bad as things have been, landlords are newly flexible meaning there’s now room for rent negotiations. 2) After about 30,000 store closings this year, there’s less competition and more opportunity to gain market share. 3) There’s a $900 billion COVID-19 Emergency package coming our way! And 4) Tired of staying in, people are yearning to get out and shop in real stores with real people! All that said, Cabral warns of a tough winter ahead.

Paul Erickson, Management One’s director of sales, made a strong case for narrower assortments, noting that studies have proven reduced choices relieve shopping anxiety. “The pandemic has proven that less is more: many stores are doing the same business with a fraction of the inventory.” He goes on to echo Cabral’s optimism: 1 )The GDP in 2021 is projected to increase 4-6.5 percent; and 2) personal savings are at an all-time high, meaning there’s $1.5 trillion in cash sitting on the sidelines. He goes on to suggest that retailers plan conservatively in January and February, aggressively mark down seasonal product to focus on a fast turn.

Brian Trunzo, head of brands at Informa Fashion Markets, spoke about Gorpcore, a style of fashion characterized by functional outdoor wear such as fleece jackets, parkas, Gore-tex jackets and pants, and other utilitarian items. The movement also incorporates mindfulness, wellness, and spending time in the great outdoors. That said, Trunzo predicts a move back to more polished dressing. “It’s unlikely to be a full return to professional business dressing but, bored with sweatpants, guys will try more interesting fits in denim and updated preppy looks in streetwear, an ironic shift from bold graphics. I believe younger brands are key. I also believe that optimism coming from the vaccine will mean more colorful fashion and a focus on American exceptionalism.” (He reminded listeners of Informa’s 100 square foot MAGIC Pop-Up in Orlando, Feb 9-11, 2021. The intimate event will feature a couple hundred brands across women’s trend and young contemporary apparel, footwear, and accessories – which will also be joined by select menswear brands.)

Stacy Pecor from Olive and Bette’s, a four-store women’s fashion boutique in Manhattan, spoke about how she saved her business during the lockdown by closing stores and connecting with her customers. “With all four stores closed, we did live selling on Facebook and Instagram, followed by virtual appointments. We found selling on social media worked better for us than e-commerce: we’ve been able to add on to each sale so the average digital transaction was $800. Granted, we’re doing a fraction of last year’s volume but without payroll and rent, we’re making much more money.” After recently signing a three-year lease in Greenwich, CT, Pecor notes, “I never wanted to move outside the city but we have to go where our customers are, and many are right here…”

Finally, Ron Thurston, vice president of stores at Intermix (owned by Gap, Inc.) gave us top reasons to love working in retail:

**We create joy!

**We don’t give up when the going gets tough; we hang on via passion.

**We share our knowledge generously.

**We are part of a vast retail community.

**Every day is different.

**We thrive on an entrepreneurial spirit as we are mostly self-taught.

**We create friendships that last decades.

**For many of us (70-80 percent), retailing is an “accidental” career.  So pay it forward, share your passion, and make your accidental career the best you might have chosen.