by Karen Alberg Grossman

As a retail observer who’s not physically “in the trenches,” I’ve been grappling with how much advice I can comfortably provide to generate hope. With so many businesses struggling, can I honestly suggest to retailers that they not markdown goods for holiday selling? I’d love to, since I’ve observed that what’s driving sales in most upscale stores today is not a specific item or brand or discount but rather the loyalty of core customers who are shopping to help out the local merchants they’ve come to trust and appreciate. And I agree in theory with Boston retailer Gary Drinkwater who suggests that specialty stores not diminish their brand with Black Friday promotions: “If we’re all relying on Black Friday to stay alive, then are we really merchants or just subservient to a mentality that has hurt the real merchants?”

The issue, however, is this: those real merchants like Drinkwater who have nurtured distinctive assortments of interesting brands with relatively limited distribution are perhaps in a position to hold price. Those with labels widely available at all pricepoints in all channels probably need to note what their competition is doing.

Does excessive price-promoting hurt brand credibility? Of course! So, my suggestion as we go into January and February buying for fall 2021 is to re-think your mix. Drop the bottom 25 percent and look at new and emerging brands. Consider private label. For menswear-only stores, why not add a women’s section from one or two of your strongest men’s brands? Have you thought about adding home accessories and/or gifts? If so, handcrafted is a buzzword. Bottom line: does your store have a distinctive point of view or is it merely a collection of recognizable labels?

A final observation: what a terrific job several merchants are doing with simple videos sent to their mailing lists or posted on social media. Yes, professional ones (like this series from Michael Duru) are always great but even home-made versions (like this series from Khakis of Carmel) create a bond with customers and showcase great product. Here’s to great product, inventive marketing, and hope! 

P.S. – For our January/February “Comeback issue” of MR, we’d love to hear about some of the ways your store or brand is preparing for a 2021 comeback. Let us know at Karen.Alberg@wainscotmedia.com or Stephen.Garner@wainscotmedia.com. We need your inspiration!


  1. Everyone’s survival here is deeply personal with only one important achieved outcome, “Survival” 🙏 ♥️

  2. Dear Karen, thank you again for superlative advise. 2020 taught all a tough time of learning, persevering, optimism, improving and reigniting. As a brand, I continue to sustainably develop accessories in limited editions along with custom creations for private label allowing each shoppe to shine and showcase their own extraordinary difference. Always addressing womens scarves and gifting ideas, not only for Holiday season, but everyday is someones birthday! Eager to witness 2021 become a great year, while we shed our lounge wear and Get Dressed again. With such rarity of men wearing ties, seeing a gentleman dressing with one, makes one wonder Who is That! Keep the wonder alive! You’ve earned it, you’re important, and you’re worth it..

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