by Karen Alberg Grossman

Prior to his presentation at Project, I was chatting with Jim Murray from A.K. Rikk’s, one of the smartest merchants I know at one of the most beautiful stores in the country. He mentioned that the best compliment he ever received was from a visiting retailer who told him, “I can feel your core values throughout the store.” Since A.K. Rikk’s lives and breathes, hires and fires by those core values (the primary being exceptional customer service: treat your sale customers with the same respect as your full-price shoppers), this was music to his ears.

“When I first started out in this business,” Jim recalls, “I was young, enthusiastic and a bit overconfident. I contacted every great independent merchant I knew of and asked for the secret of what makes a successful specialty store. One told me I had to add fine jewelry, another said to focus on made-to-measure, another insisted the secret was getting into the bridal business. I asked dozens of great merchants, and they each told me something different. I was going crazy trying to figure it out, to determine which of them was right, when it suddenly hit me: The common denominator was not a specific category focus but rather the fact that each retailer had an immediate answer, a part of their business that they nurtured and grew, mostly because it was meaningful to them. I finally got it—the secret is developing a focus that you feel passionately about and hiring people who share that passion. It’s that simple.”

Of course, I don’t for a second believe it’s that simple but I love Jim’s message, especially in today’s era of authenticity and transparency. With so much newly available data out there, of course, you should consider the numbers but then be sure to follow your instincts. Clearly, the retail world is changing at such an accelerated pace that it’s impossible to keep up: by the time you implement the latest widely-touted changes, new data suggest something else. So, focus on what you love (gifts, sneakers, grooming, home accessories, collaborations, pop-ups), and get your associates excited about these categories, either because they genuinely care or because they’re incentivized to get excited. (So much for authenticity.)

This issue of MR features many insightful articles on relevant topics including: the next phase for streetwear, how to do pop-up shops, what’s new in performance fabrics, denim directions, big-picture changes at key brands, business mistakes we all make, can’t miss partying in Chicago and Vegas, 20 retailer tips for 2020 and much more. As always, we appreciate your support of MR magazine and look forward to exchanging ideas at the upcoming summer trade shows. It’s your opinions, concerns and successes that continue to inspire everything we do.

Happy shopping!


  1. We have the words “Authenticity” and “Individuality” boldly printed in front of our Main Street Store.
    They are our favorite virtues! Well-stated, Karen! Once again, you have hit a home run with your letter!

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