Karen Alberg Grossman
by Karen Alberg Grossman

Editor's Letter

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

“It’s the new generation of fashion/retail execs who will ultimately create a brighter future,” declared YMA Retailer of the Year and Macy’s CMO Tim Baxter at the most recent YMA FSF Geoffrey Beene Scholarship Awards dinner. “They’re the ones who look at our business through an unfiltered lens.” He went on observe that established retailers today could use an attitude change: less “No, because…” and more “Wow! How?”

Baxter expanded on this thought in a conversation we had the next day. “Retailers often say no to a new idea because it’s the easy answer. But we as an industry are in desperate need of innovation, and with innovation comes risk. Since risk is a necessary component of change, established retailers need to support new ideas, using our experience to ask the right questions. My team has heard me say it a million times: Wow! must be followed by How?

“Case in point: Macy’s has been focused on activewear. In a meeting, a young exec suggested that we add Fitbits to the mix. My immediate reaction was no for numerous reasons: margin pressures, presentation requirements, past experience in electronics and other concerns. But we reconsidered and ultimately figured out how to make it work: we put Fitbits in numerous doors and they proved to be extraordinarily successful.”

Baxter believes the store of the future should be about experiences. “This could mean something as simple as adding Starbucks to more locations or featuring Nike Training Clubs where certified trainers host fitness programs, free to our shoppers. Or it could be a major event like the ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’ dance party we hosted at Herald Square at 6:00 a.m.; the morning started with a yoga class and evolved into dancing. Thousands of millennials were drawn to the store; you would have thought it was a nightclub.”

Also at the YMA dinner, Wholesaler of the Year honoree and Peerless USA president Ron Wurtzburger shared advice that he learned from his grandfather and mentor Ben Goldman, founder of Eagle Clothes. “He taught me basic principles for success in business: work hard, learn all aspects of the job, treasure your customers and be honest with them, make deals that are fair to both sides, support worthy charities with both money and time, and always help people when they’re down.” (Editor’s note: He also recommends a firm handshake.)

Wurtzburger then shared two anecdotes. “It was my first job working at my father’s store. A customer came in and requested a brown striped suit in a 44 long. I quickly checked the racks, didn’t see one, and told the customer we didn’t have it. Needless to say, my dad fired me… and that’s when I learned how not to sell!

“Some time later, I was working at my grandfather’s clothing factory and got a call from a retailer for a single black mohair suit. I lied and told him we just ran out, then called him back the next day and informed him I managed to find one. I did the same type of thing for the next four months; retailers would come to the factory asking to meet the wonderful kid who miraculously managed to find them the product they needed, even when it was out of stock.”

For more insights on creative selling, risk taking, and innovating in an era of disruption, check out our “Menswear Movers” feature. Wishing all of our readers an improved selling season based on creativity, risk-taking and innovation. We look forward to sharing ideas and inspiration in Vegas!