Bloomie’s: Bullish and bearish

by Harry Sheff

David Fisher, EVP men’s & kids’, shares his observations on the season.

How’s business so far this season? Business overall is “okay.” The positive standout is tailored clothing. Bloomingdale’s hits a sweet spot when it comes to a well-priced suit that’s not too expensive and not too inexpensive in the $800 to $1,000 range. Burberry, Theory and our private brand are all doing well. Our sportcoat ($600 to $800) and slack business is good, too. Sportswear standouts include updated classic collections like Burberry, Michael Kors, Tahari and private brand. I think these brands are attracting both the contemporary and the new classic guy by focusing on updated classics.

How’s denim business? As in casual sportswear, denim has leveled off. We’ve taken some major hits over the last 18 to 24 months in pure denim. Some brands have definitely not performed and are worsening, while some are rising to the top, but total business is way off from what it was 18 months ago. We haven’t found the one-to-one replacement for denim, and AUR has gone down as I try to replace a $200 pair of jeans with a $150 alternative. There are some colored bottoms and twills that are happening. In spring some washed linens were working, but not enough to offset the drop in pure blue jeans. That was the biggest difficulty that we had this year. It’s stabilizing, but I don’t see a lot of growth yet.

Where is growth in contemporary coming from? I see growth in younger collections like John Varvatos Star USA, Converse and Shades of Grey, which have done very well for us, offseting some of that denim loss. I think instead of buying two pairs of jeans, he’s buying from those collections.

Any other standouts? The accessories business has been on fire probably because consumers feel a pent-up demand to shop again and accessories offer a more affordable pricepoint. The sunglasses business has been terrific, as well as small leather goods and bags. Shoes have also been performing well. Boots are selling from brands like To Boot New York. We’re selling a lot of dress shoes from Hugo Boss and John Varvatos, and Cole Haan is performing for us again.

What’s been difficult? My shirt and tie business has been disappointing all year. Some life has come back in ties and I think that may continue, but customer demand is not the same. There is some life in traditional ties, but most is in contemporary from lines such as Theory, Paul Smith and Duchamp.

What’s the mood for spring? I think everyone is a little less optimistic at this point in fall than they were at the end of spring. Spring was very good relative to plan and to the end of last year. The comps are getting harder as we get into the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2010 because last year we started seeing some good business come out at this time. Everybody is becoming a little more cautious about how to plan spring. There are so many factors that affect the business and will affect it in the 4th quarter. Weather is one of those factors—we have a lot riding on outerwear and cold weather. Also, I think we all have to contend with pre-election jitters and general caution about spending money. Even though I’m hopeful for the balance of the year, I’m not anticipating really big increases for spring. Not negative about it, just less positive.

How does that affect your spring ’11 plans? Every time there’s a downtrend, the upside is that there’s got to be new life at the top. So I hope to find some good alternatives to the casual bottoms business, and expect denim to get back on a high growth track. I think there will be continued price sensitivity, so accessories business should remain strong. We’re building our private label offerings for an aspirational customer who is more middle of the road: he’s not contemporary, not classic, but somewhere in the middle. I have high hopes for that going into next year. The tailored business will continue to grow, although I don’t know if it will be as good as this year. It’s a finicky business and very price sensitive. In sportswear, I feel that there will be some comeback in brands like Theory and Hugo Boss. I think the Burberry London collection, a more contemporary offering, will come back because I’ve been pleased with the spring offerings. We’ll continue to see erosion, not so much in this store—but in America in truly traditional clothing. Traditional will move into more of an updated classics guy like Burberry, Kors and Tahari, so I expect more growth from them.