I’m sure you remember me as the malcontent who only writes you when complaining about your publication, or our industry, or perhaps the entire world. While no one enjoys being portrayed as a curmudgeon, I probably deserve that title, given my generally dour outlook based on 53 years in retailing and some of the regrettable changes that have taken place in our industry during that time.
Let me start out with something positive, such as Small Business Saturday which was created by American Express six years ago and has become a major and an extremely positive event for independent retailers like me. It really works, and it took a large and very powerful financial company like American Express to pull it off. They seem to have made a difference, and I’m very, very grateful.
The trouble is, it’s only one day, and for the rest of the year consumers go back to their old habits of supporting national chains, big box stores and online behemoths like Amazon, eBay and all the websites of all the gargantuan national retailers.
And that’s just the way it is, lamentably. Witness the closing of the 136-year old Straus Men’s Clothing in Fargo, ND and the teetering existence of most of the rest of us. But why is it that magazines such as MR ignore the growing demise of independents and constantly choose to regale us with stories about highly successful menswear stores in exclusive, high traffic locations that virtually ensure some degree of success. My hat is off to those people, admittedly I envy them, but few independents are fortunate enough to have stores in locations where there is a ton of foot traffic and super high-income demographics.
Then we have the issues of internet selling, and a very good case can be made against those who haven’t tried it but complain about it all the same. But here’s another case: What if you try it and it just doesn’t work because consumers are really looking at only the websites of huge companies that have invested tons of money in their online presence. What then? Granted, if you can’t beat them join them, but if you join them and nothing happens what is one to do?
And then there’s this: What about all those vendors (and the woods are full of them) who open their own websites and brazenly sell to our customers? How did that ever happen and why isn’t the industry outraged about it, and why hasn’t MR written about it? If we, by way of example, spend years developing the Allen Edmonds customer and they, in turn, then bombard out clientele with emails calling them to their website for exclusive discounts, how are we supposed to combat that sort of thing? Unfortunately we currently have about seven or eight of our most “trusted” suppliers doing exactly that.
And, here’s another of my pet peeves. How do UPS and FedEx get to dominate the small package delivery service in this country and engage in the most obvious price-fixing imaginable? I mean, every January both companies raise their rates identically, in lock step, and there’s no competition and no recourse, and the FTC doesn’t say “Boo.” Worse yet, when fuel prices spiked, both added a “fuel surcharge” to their published rates. But now that fuel priced have tanked, we still have to pay a fuel surcharge to them. How is that possible?
Shipping charges are becoming a major problem for retailers. They creep up a little more each year and we simply can’t pass them on to our customers. Curiously, the Amazons of the world continue to woo consumers with free shipping. Surely I’m missing something here.
I realize that these are not very glamorous issues – certainly not as much fun as covering a John Varvatos opening, but these are real concerns that ought to trouble anyone in the clothing industry, don’t you think?
Sorry for venting, but these things are currently on my mind.
All the best,
Gilbert Rose, president, The Chelsea Group LLC
Please share with us your insight into current business affairs, we love hearing from you! Read Karen’s response to Mr. Rose’s letter here.