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 firstname.lastname@example.org.