Having been through a few cycles of ups and downs in his 56 years in the business, menswear rep John McCoy is well equipped to share his crystal ball view of the men’s business.
Q: How are things going at the moment?
A: Well, aside from the fact that I can’t pay the rent and I furloughed my team, things are fine. I estimate that retail is running on average down 50 percent from last year for the stores that have opened. And this depends on whether the numbers I get from merchants are real or hopeful estimates.
Q: What’s selling right now?
A: Suits are not, except for some made-to-measure. Obviously, there are few places to wear them these days. So it’s all about casual: polos, T-shirts, Bermuda shorts, track pants, five-pocket pants, khakis. Unfortunately, these items can’t make up lost volume in tailored, and many consumers remain cautious with their discretionary spending.
Q: Can you predict fall 2020?
A: Realistically, business will be challenging: if retailers haven’t paid spring invoices, vendors will be hard-pressed to ship fall. Factors are risk-averse in normal times and that caution has been super-sized since the pandemic. So, vendors and retailers need to be creative in order to get fall shipped. During pre-pandemic times, vendors could carry certain merchants based on history and friendship. Now, with the world upside down, financial risk is not an option in the struggle to survive.
Q: How likely is a turnaround?
A: Until there’s a vaccine, we’re all treading water. And even with a vaccine, it’s going to take time to get 330 million Americans vaccinated. We’re in a depressed economy at best with 40 million people collecting unemployment So, I think it’s at least two years before we can start to return to pre-pandemic normal. We’re in a situation unlike anything before in our history: the reality is day-to-day problem-solving that requires smarts, agility, and patience.
Q: How many stores do you think we’ll lose?
A: When things were good 15 to 20 years ago, retail expanded to the point where the golden goose is now cooked. In fact, we’ve been overstored for years, with large department store chains adding hundreds of doors — full-line and off-price. So, we’ll probably have a contraction of at least 30 to 40 percent of currently existing doors. Look at Barneys’ sad demise, leveraged out of business. Look at Madison Avenue in New York from 57th to 72nd Street–more than 40 vacancies; it’s a depressing scene. Look at Lord & Taylor, Stage Stores, J. Crew, and Neiman Marcus filing Chapter 11 and JCPenney’s closing nearly 200 stores. There are rumors of other giants bringing in bankruptcy specialists to resolve their over-stored issues. There will be closings and bankruptcies of specialty men’s stores as well. And many vendors will disappear as a result of fewer stores to sell. It’s simple supply and demand.
Q: Can you share your strategy going forward for the brands you represent?
A: Currently, we’re able to fill the immediate needs of our clients. In July, we’ll begin shipping fall but the year as a whole will be down dramatically. Fortunately, we represent some great companies: Gran Sasso, Gardeur, Masons, Blauer, Mauro Blasi, Belvest, and Echizenya, our directional Japanese pant collection. Our suppliers are financially strong and are moving rapidly to address the needs of our customers. They are committed to serving specialty stores with in-stock assortments, and quick response made-to-measure. They’re also committed to not competing with our retail partners by not selling direct-to-consumer. All in all, I’m very proud of our association, friendships, and cooperation with our suppliers.
Q: What are your hopes for our industry?
A: I still remember the definition of merchandising that I learned as a student at FIT (then a one-room log cabin schoolhouse): “Merchandising is having the right product, in the right place, at the right time, at the right price.” As merchants, I know we’ll figure this out, deal with the challenges, work through it together, and come out okay on the other side. So that’s my prediction and my greatest hope. For despite the current tumult, I still really love this business.