By Lucky Nahum
I grew up the son of a Master Tailor and a seamstress, with the “right” as a child to run with scissors. (I had a custom wardrobe to boot!) Mine is a long family lineage of savvy businessmen, one that I can corroborate as far back as the 1800’s with a family photograph (see above) that served as the cover for the book Jews In Libya.
My intention was never to follow in the family footsteps; on the contrary, I tried as hard as I could to run away from it. But as a wiser man than I once said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”
My resume, lest anyone question my right to kvetch, puts 16 years of high-end menswear retail and many roles on the wholesale side under my (beautiful Bill Lavin) belt. Most recently, I’ve licensed my brand Vluxe to Noble Wholesalers, Inc. and I’m designing the collection.
But why am I writing? A few years in limbo, working on two books I hope to soon complete, gave me ample time to be “an outsider” in an industry I’d grown up in.
My return showed me that like soap operas on TV, very little had changed in my absence. Some stores had closed, others had opened. Clichés like “there’s nothing new in the market” and “retailers and wholesalers are partners and should help each other” are still being used ad nauseam.
I’ve been saying for a long time that the capacity to produce has outweighed the capacity to consume. So it seems obvious to me that it’s a consumer’s market with more shopping options than ever before: brick & mortar of every kind, online shopping of every kind, etc. While double digits gains were once the norm, retailers are now wasting more energy swimming against the tsunami than they would embracing its inevitable presence and using its power to navigate the future. It is here, it is not going away; between it and you, you will lose.
Few of us are in a financial position to fight the giants of online shopping. None of us can beat them on price or inventory or speed to market. Where we might win, however, is on creativity, good taste, marketing and service, so why are we not focusing more efforts on these?
In Rochester, NY where I live, a Von Maur and a Brooks Brothers both opened in the only so-called high-end mall we have. I decided to check them out. Not four steps into Von Maur I came upon their first table of merchandise, which created an immediate sense of being in the wrong place. The table was stacked with Brooks Brothers shirts, the very brand of the store next door (who likely had a much broader and deeper assortment). I asked the sales associate about this logic and, not surprisingly, she had no clue what the brilliant minds above her were thinking.
I’m not here to offend or point a finger or embarrass, and I realize this lack of creativity is largely the result of fear. But in tough economic times, do retailers, do designers, really want to play it totally safe, particularly when everyone else is doing the same? Me? I would stand on a chair and in my loudest voice declare my lack of fear and explain why my product is different from the rest. It’s time for retailers to let their stores reflect the confidence they have in themselves. Let your store declare your well-earned role as fashion guru, the role your customer bestows upon you day in and day out.
There’s much work ahead of us as I write, trade shows to prepare for, orders to ship. But while we look forward to seeing our friends and partners at the shows, let’s put our heads together to brainstorm about creating a winning season, and a prosperous future for our entire industry.