Guest editorial: stop complaining

The way most business is done today is certainly much different than when my dad was a specialty retailer and Karen Alberg’s was a department store exec. In those days, almost every dad on my block in Queens owned a store, worked in a garment factory or showroom, or was a multi-line rep.

When I started working in retail publishing, the top 100 or so clothing retailers in the U.S. were pretty much all department stores or discount chains. Every city had several. And there were thousands of successful “mom & pop” men’s specialty stores throughout the land. ­That’s all changed but one thing has not. Everyone still wears clothing and has to buy it somewhere.

It’s been tough to see the demise of so many great stores over a mere few decades, but that doesn’t mean retail is dying, just that it’s changing. Many of my successful retail friends who are still around have figured out ways to profit from the changes. Most independent specialty merchants have gravitated to the luxury part of the business where high service breeds customer loyalty. Some have partnered with brands to open stores that may not require the buying skill they used to but make money and friends just the same.

Malls are struggling as the number of big-box tenants decline. But the upshot has been an exceptional number of spaces at attractive rents for young entrepreneurs to make an entry into the business. And, unlike my father who used to travel from his lower Manhattan store to the New York docks selling U.S.-made jeans to foreign sailors, today’s entrepreneurs are savvy in digital promotion, social media and online retailing as tools for generating sales and loyalty. However, they still buy great merchandise and sell it to fashion hungry consumers. Manufacturers have increasingly become retailers as well (with varying levels of success) but, in doing so, they create jobs and outlets that continue to expand consumer choices.

There’s no way to overestimate the impact of Amazon on, mostly, the moderate part of the business. But, rather than complain about it, larger vendors are finding ways to work with Amazon to create more sales and happy customers.

In addition, niche players have, through a combination of unique products, online selling, brick-and-mortar, retail partnerships, and social media, found new and productive ways to build a sustainable brand, either as a vendor or a retailer. ­ese new business models and others will form the basis of trends that should drive the next 30 years of menswear.

The result is one that some of us old-timers might not like but bodes well for the future. Men’s retailing will survive, just as music and electronics businesses have, despite the demise of Crazy Eddie, Circuit City, Blockbuster and the local record store. But menswear has a couple of big advantages. No one needs video cassettes or records anymore, but clothing is a staple and always will be. As Barney Pressman so eloquently put it, “Th­ey’ll always need clothes.”

26 Replies to “GUEST EDITORIAL: STOP COMPLAINING”

  1. 2020 marks my 50th. year in the menswear industry so I have seen it all (lol). Stu is so correct in his comments about the business. I would add that that the industry was too slow to recognize lifestyle changes that affect our apparel needs and choices. We live in a world where casual is the dominating force in apparel purchases and many stores did not understand or accept in a timely manner.

    1. You are, as usual, correct, Paul. Thanks for the comment. Nice to be part of the conversation again.

      1. I think for me the turning point of our industry’s downtrend, was when, if you were blind folded and placed in any department store, better specialty store, and any discount store, and your blind fold was removed, there was no way to know or recognize what actual store you were really in. “They all looked exactly the same and all carried the same exact merchandise and at all different price points. That’s when the first domino fell.. A retailer’s worse enemy is fear and being too safe. Although in these times, the positive energy here, is that the stores that live on the many other great stores talents, are like the low hanging fruit and eventually just drop to the ground and fade away.

        1. Agree mostly, Bill. Those ugly years, around the turn of this century, signaled the end of department stores as the place to find new and unique products. From there, it was only a matter of time. However, it spurred the growth of stores like Target, with a unique set of brands, and Costco, with surprises at great prices around every corner. Unfortunately, many specialty stores became prisoners of brands like Zegna, which drove traffic, but really didn’t have their backs, and tried building their own stores down the block. I think those brands are still finding out how difficult retailing really is, even with higher profit margins.

          1. So true Stu, we all lived this nightmare and to this day I never really understood it. I think for myself after so many years of setting the bar for maintaining the highest quality in dress belts and watching some designer brands putting out there inferior quality materials and bleeding their customers for more profits hiding behind their massive global advertising. I’m not kidding Stu, I was a buyer many years ago for an iconic awesome better specialty store in New Jersey called Schlesinger’s. If any of my brands I was carrying sold any of the moderate department stores around me, I drop those lines immediately. What was awesome about doing this was it always inspired me to find more unique creative newness to connect with and introduce to my customer base that always came to my department for the newest most unique highest quality best designs on the planet. So actually these sell out companies that got so greedy actually made me a better smarter buyer. For that I am forever thankful 😎

  2. Stu has the right attitude (stop complaining) and is right in his implied Darwinian challenge: survival is all about adaptation. The one area where I diverge from my friend (Stu) of 30+ years is in his view that men will always need clothes. To survive and thrive, men’s merchants (both wholesale and retail) must transcend the “need” paradigm and elevate to creating “wants.” If all we do is address needs, we will slip into a downward spiral of servicing a replacement business. This business will invariably turn on price; and this is a tough battle to wage and even tougher to win long term. Rather, we must be in the business of creating wants. If I have learned one thing in my 30 years in apparel, it is that the customer will always respond to newness. Give them what they want! This unending creative process and delighting the customer with newness is what makes our business fun. I am sure my friend Stu will agree :)

    Respectfully,
    Paul Rosengard

  3. BRAVO !!!!!!!!! STU WE NEED U BACK !!!! WE JUST NEED TO-RE -EVENT YOURSELVES EACH SEASON AS WE JOURNEY TO THE MARKET AND IN MY OPINION TRADE UP ALWAYS , LUXURY. BRICK AND MORTAR WILL ALWAYS BE WITH US AND CUSTOMERS WANT TO TOUCH AND FEEL AND BE SERVICED ,SO KEEP YOUR OPTIONS AND EYES OPEN ,WE LOVE THE ESSENCE OF DISCOVERY .YOUR CUSTOMER WILL ALSO !!!!!

  4. Stu,
    Retail is Detail always was and will always be that way.
    Know who your customer are and their needs.
    It maybe hard but it is fair..
    Years ago there were stores on every corner it’s no different today it simply online.
    Unique Merchandise Mix
    Customer Service wins all the time..
    Thanks for Sharing
    Gio & Grace

  5. Hey Stu, Thanks for getting off the couch and addressing so eloquently the future of our business and ideas on how we can all sustain our potential growth. Our clients need nothing but we can appeal to their sensibilities by pushing the envelope and creating must haves that appeal to their “need” to be aesthetically awake. Always great to hear your views and know you are missed.

  6. Trying to compete with brick and mortar is almost impossible on price!!!!! To compete you must give SERVICE, LUXURY ITEMS AND AS FRED DERRING SAYS “TOUCH AND FEEL” are very important to a customer. Independent retailers win hands down with good tailors, service people and something that brick and mortar can’t give. Personal recognition. “Hi Fred how’s the family and your new grandchild? ” A customer likes to hear that the garment looks great on you, not how much you paid at AMAZON. Independent retailers must make sure that a customer walks out of the store feeling better than when they came in.

    1. Gary, I believe you are right. However, the issue for specialty retailers will be how to get young buyers to take the first step across the threshold of your store. Great networking and, yes, social media are good ways to stay relevant and financially healthy. Unfortunately, younger men did not have the advantages we did of growing up in a world where personal service was the norm, not the exception.

      1. The other issue with younger customers is that they are not as interested in fashion. they are more interested in tech and experiences than fashion per say other than streetwear . I think the athleisure trend is here to stay because it represents a lifestyle shift more than a fashion trend.

        1. I remember back in the day a brilliant designer took advantage of the times, and saw a creative opportunity to break through. He created sport coats with no inside linings in many fabrics and colors for the youth of the day, and made them affordable for the many customers who could not afford the expensive sport coats of that time. His collection caught fire and I was selling his sport coats to hundreds of customers for a few years. The many young customers who always wanted to dress up but could not afford too. His name was Willie Smith..!! Best part about this story, Louis Roth, the most expensive sport coats of that time, began offering some of their sport coats with no inside linings..!! ♥️

          1. I remember Willie Smith well I was the fashion director at may merchandising in the mid 1970s and the unconstructed look that he did I think is very important for to day because rather than a tailored piece per se it really becomes a function of sportswear with lapels

  7. complete different market than years ago. Higher end goods for a specialty store still good but mid price very hard to compete. Many years ago my company had 2000 accounts for tailored clothing ,those days are gone.
    Peter

  8. Stu:
    Great comments by all, even better reading something again from you. Best to you for the New Year!!

    Al Moretti

  9. I believe that to compete with Amazon is a race to the bottom….how do we make it a little cheaper so we can maintain our margins…when the brand becomes competition we need to move on. We have not built our 69 year old business on labels or brands, but on service and caring for our customers. We have become stronger in the process. Our biggest challenge is finding someone interested in carrying that formula into the next generation. If there is anyone out there reading this and has an interest our door is open.

    1. Hey Scott, fast food, cheap food will always be, but your gourmet store menu is what keeps your customer coming. There are a ton of places that offer corned beef and pastrami on rye bread Sangwidges, and yes, I meant Sangwidges, but my wife and I travel one hour to Canters in LA cause like your store, it’s all worth it..!! Bon-Appa-Attire.!! ♥️😎

      1. Scott, you are right. Trying to compete with the world’s largest online retailer is a losing proposition. The answer, I agree, is to be the Not Amazon, high touch retailer in your local area. The shortage of wonderful specialty stores works to the advantage of those who remain. There will always be customers who are willing to pay for the personal service and expertise you offer. The challenge is to make sure you are reaching the critical mass of those shoppers with your message. Existing customer referrals, social media and digital communication are all effective ways to make that happen. Good luck.

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