Guest editorial: a misguided game plan

by Peter Rose

Fair or unfair, specialty retailers today are living with the reality that the brands we helped build are selling direct-to-consumer. We nurture and grow it; they reciprocate by tapping into the pipeline that feeds us so it also can feed them. In my opinion, this strategy weakens the entire industry, sapping strength like any parasitic diversion of resources. The practice is rampant, it is rife, and it is embarrassingly misguided.

On the other hand, I recently received a heartwarming email from Lisette L, a Montreal-based women’s sportswear brand that we independents helped turn into an industry powerhouse. When they made the decision to sell online a few years back, we didn’t drop them (some stores did), although we felt badly betrayed after helping them attain success. It’s a depressingly common story, of course, so this email marked a wonderful first for me: a vendor acting like a partner, assertively declaring that they’re in this with us, to help us both win. Mind you, all they’re really doing is re-dedicating themselves to what worked for them in the first place. But they’re doing it! And I’m grateful for their decision to shut down their e-commerce site, which was no small sacrifice considering their sizable investment. I’m also relieved to hear someone admit they were wrong, realize their mistake and act to fix it. That takes courage. And vision. I’m proud of them.

The 1974 NAMSB show in New York was my first exposure to the menswear market. The show, mostly independent stores and quality brands, was electric. I loved and still love the camaraderie with these vendors, whether or not I still do business with them. These are business alliances based on years of trust: When that trust is broken, the relationship is at risk. And that’s where we are now, with vendors changing the rules to benefit their side of the table, while having the nerve to ask us to help them make us irrelevant.

It can’t work that way. If the vendors fail, then the machine falls apart. If the retailers fail, the machine falls apart. How can vendors behave as if the game could possibly support a win-lose scenario? If it isn’t win-win, can any of us survive? It’s as likely as me winning the Mega-Millions jackpot!

I still believe that real success requires a network of passionate, professional retail advocates for vendors who protect and nurture those retailers in return. The industry needs to re-establish these kinds of quality relationships. Like Lisette L, they need to show that bolstering the retail sector, in turn, improves the wholesale sector. It’s the way to strengthen us all.

I believe the best way vendors can attain that goal is by reestablishing partnerships with local independent retailers. Help US help YOU. We’re eager for the opportunity, and we surely will support any vendors with the courage to change course and rededicate themselves to doing business the old fashion way. It might be harder, but it’s certainly more rewarding.

Peter Rose is the owner of Chelsea Menswear and Willow Tree Fashions in Wyandotte, MI. He can be reached at peterfisherrose@gmail.com.

3 Replies to “GUEST EDITORIAL: A MISGUIDED GAME PLAN”

  1. “Help us Help You” OK, I’m doin that big time!! Custom Belts in all my better stores I’ve worked with in the past, but now with all their store names heat embossed on the backs of all their belts. Now giving them all literally thousands of possible variations using all high end Italian Calfskins, and Exotics direct from our family exotic farms in Argentina sold direct to each of them, no shows, no salesmen, Direct Sales with huge margins!!
    “Help us Help You” OK, No inventory and every man’s belt size perfect every time, free displays!! Now, for the first time in this classification, every belt sold is now pure profit!!! No markdowns!! Oh yea, MADE IN AMERICA… !!!
    “Help Us Help You” #billlavin
    #custom

  2. Finally, I get the soapbox to explain my personal feelings on manufacturers selling direct to consumers. Like NAFTA, we cannot stop it so we better adjust to the reailty of it. Visionary and big and tall pioneer Paul Daube once told me that private label is critical to the existance of independent menswear stores. I believe your store is your best brand. Selling your own private label brands should accompany your branded merch mix for it’s profitabilty, protection and customer loyalty.
    Do not trust any manufacturer when it comes to giving out customer information, like name and address from drop ships and definitely not an email address. I believe they will use this information to get your customer when they join the parade! Many who say they wont direct sell, will! It’s just a matter of time.
    Some do it right and some do it wrong. A few years ago I had received a letter from Allen Edmonds that essentially eliminated my account with them, as I hadnt met their new minimum “parter” requirement of doing 100 pairs/year( It was in August and I had only purchased 42 pairs at the time. I was offered the ability to remain a “partner” if I could order 48 more pairs). But Johnston and Murphy never sent me such a letter AND additionally when a customer came in with one of their catalogs and wanted an item, J&M would sell me products from their catalog at cost. Cutter and Buck sells online but also offers great discount/margin builders from a huge spreadsheet to many of it’s existing retailers. Nice! But most recently, Enro just dropped all retailers that built the brand recognition and I imagine they will focus on their own website building. I believe Enro is putting stock into the Enro customer just searching the brand online and purchasing the product online ( along with their focus on producing large private label programs). I now sell my Private label dress shirt. ( Also in the private label mix are sport shirts, belts, wallets, and custom clothing).
    There is no doubt that the number of sellable stores for some manufacturers is dwindling, and the direct to consumer movement may be a desperate attempt to maintain or increase profitability….but they are stealing our cheese! What do you want to do about it! The time to act is now!
    I might add that there are still a few manufacturers that are strictly manufacturers and/or in the business of private label branding. Kudos to these companies for their committment to the specialty retailer, but dont give them any customer data. Because like NAFTA, this steaming locomotive may seduce them in the name of greed and profitability and YOUR customer is at risk!
    Thanks for the soapbox!

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