Karen Alberg Grossman
by Karen Alberg Grossman

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Portrait of Karen for MR Magazine
Portrait of Karen for MR Magazine

Reflecting the negative mood of the country after an acrimonious election, I’m sensing an insidious divisiveness in the menswear industry. It’s making me sad, and it’s making business tougher than it needs to be.

A specialty retailer friend called me the other day to complain. (I welcome these calls: it’s how I learn what’s going on.) He’d had a run-in with his landlord, his lease is up, his rent is about to skyrocket to some ridiculous number, and his business is not doing well enough to cover it. Why is his business so off? Partly because several of his key vendors are now selling online to his specific customers at considerably lower prices! And partly because a new section is opening in the shopping center across the street from him featuring single brand stores, the same brands he launched in his city and nurtured for years. When he called the president of one of these brands to see if they might collaborate in the center, he was told they’re not opening there. He soon learned that they are in fact opening with one of his competitors! He called again; he’s still waiting to hear back.

No one can blame vendors for selling direct or opening stores or choosing their partners; it’s the deception that’s problematic. “We need to put something together where integrity still matters,” my friend the idealist proposes. “Specialty stores need to figure out how to work with manufacturers instead of against them.”

My next phone call was from a vendor friend, a truly lovely Italian guy who reps a few upscale lines out of Italy and has recently created his own collection. A fixture in the better menswear market with a solid reputation and a good track record, this friend had just returned from a selling trip to the West Coast and could not understand why retailers (both department and specialty stores) were barely giving his new collection a glance. “They were polite and respectful but showed no interest in looking at something new. I realize they’re busy and that most of their open to buy is tied up with the big brands, but we have a real problem going on at retail these days: where is the curiosity to examine something new, the courage to shake their reliance on name brands for their legitimacy?”

Which brings me to a suggestion as we immerse ourselves in the fall ‘17 buying season: shop the trade shows with eyes wide open! (Why not bring a young sales associate along with you to view the market from a fresh perspective?) Never has there been more innovative and beautiful menswear out there, from modern tailored clothing to performance sportswear to sumptuous sweaters to pants with stretch that truly fit to non-silk ties that complement casual wardrobes to amazing outerwear that’s both lightweight and warm to dress shirts with stretch collars that are actually comfortable. Bring in a few new concepts, a few new brands, and play them up on your selling floors, on your websites, on social media. Let’s lift ourselves out of our negative mindsets and make menswear fun again!

I hope to see many of you in Vegas and as always, I welcome your comments (and complaints)!






  1. Great article and right on target! Our business is actually substantially up, because we have a clean distribution and are not selling directly online. We are getting more great stores on board that are open minded and look for high quality product at a fair price, without having to be afraid that we will be their competition and use them as a piece of advertising. Also our existing customer base is coming to the conclusion that a partnership with a vendor such as us will benefit them and are expanding their business with us. Some stores are already numb by what is going on in the market and do not shop outside the brands they are used to. Big mistake!

  2. Out of our struggle to keep the “Special” in Specialty we have to have common understanding that competition is healthy but to that greater evil, competitors need to understand the playing field. If vendors, who want to keep harmonious relationships, without alienation from direct to consumer commerce, there should be an offering that allows for exclusivity for US. I’ve had many conversations with vendors, designers and agents and asked them to champion the idea that an offering from them, would only be for us, The Retailer. How difficult could that be? Simply put, lets all get along and lets all be profitable.

  3. Mixing Politics with Business is a Recipe for Disaster in fashion. The Data is very clear- Blacks Hispanic and Non-whites spend five- ten times more on Clothes. Conservative Vendors who over looked non-whites are paying a big price.
    EveryBody is Star, Is Our Motto..

  4. Great article Karen! Most of our sales are direct to consumer/online and because our margins are so high on those sales we actually use that to subsidize, so to speak, our wholesale accounts. Our stores help us build our brand and advertise for us, which is why we give them a break. We keep wholesale margins thin, allowing our stores to mark up 2.5 to three times and still undercut us online for that same item. With this system, we get eyes on our product and great advertising while the stores are able to sell our goods at very competitive prices. If the customer decides to buy online with us instead of in store, they will pay up to 10% more, which is where we make up for our thin wholesale margins. This avoids competition with our wholesale accounts and it’s working.

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