Karen Alberg Grossman talks to retailers large and small about the challenging state of the menswear business.
The myriad factors that affected consumer confidence this past year (unemployment rates, elections, the fiscal cliff, hurricanes, shootings) have inspired conventional merchants to step up their game. Here, top retail execs talk strategy.
How did men’s business finish in 2012? What were the best and worst items/categories?
Wayne Drummond, SVP, The Bay/Lord & Taylor: Our men’s business in both Canada and Lord & Taylor ended up very strong. Denim was hot across all price ranges. Outerwear, despite a non start to winter, has been exceptional.
At The Bay, we focus a large blend of our outerwear assortment in a Top Five Edit initiative. In this process, our buyers, along with our fashion director, will identify the key trends/styles of the season; we then buy deep into these items and price them at exceptional value every day. We introduced this initiative to Lord & Taylor and are already very pleased with our customers’ reactions.
Doug Ewert, Men’s Wearhouse: The most exciting and significant growth this past year came from modern and slim-fit products in both dress and casual wear. The biggest disappointment was consumer uncertainty caused by the fiscal cliff.
Ken Giddon, Rothmans, New York: We had a strong finish, but we have a brand new store with a lot of compelling reasons to shop there. The hottest line in our store was Mr. Brown by Duckie Brown. It is exclusive to Rothmans at this point and comprises tailored clothing, sportswear and ties in a very slim but wearable silhouette. The biggest disappointment was basic tailored suits. Men do not seem interested in “replacement clothing.”
Greg Eveloff, The Clotherie, Phoenix: After seeing positive signs throughout 2012, December proved to be a challenging month. While it started out with strong sales, by the middle of the month sales were not meeting my expectations; the last 10 days showed an increase. Overall, fall/winter business was respectable.
The hottest items were anything “different” in styles or fabrics. Soft jackets finally took off! My biggest disappointment in sales this season was outerwear… almost non-existent!
David Levy, Levy’s Nashville: Best were casual jackets, made to measure, sportcoats, knit shirts and denim. The biggest disappointments were leather jackets and outerwear.
Fred Derring, DLS: The men’s specialty store business finished rather flat. Most of our stores came out okay, but few achieved the increases they were looking for. The winners at retail: the ID coat, softcoats, younger attitude clothing in major cities, sweaters, and anything with patches.
What are the key challenges you are facing in 2013 and how are you dealing with them?
Ewert: The biggest challenges we face are caused by the macro-economic conditions.
Giddon: We are always challenged by the encroaching wholesale “partner” who is “eating our lunch monster.” We have come to expect and accept that our suppliers are our biggest competitors, mostly on price, but also on depth and breadth of selection. It is a broken business model, and it is going to put stress on the existing system. The way we deal with it is to think outside the box, and search for new partners that we will date, but not marry.
Eveloff: The key challenge I’m facing in 2013 is nothing new…it’s the state of the economy. I have to buy very carefully and try not to overbuy (not easy). I look for special items that are unique whether in style, fabrication, color, etc. I have to continue to promote The Clotherie through advertising, magazine publications, and other sources in order to keep our name out there. We need to continue to remind our clients that The Clotherie not only offers the best in men’s merchandise, but also in service and tailoring.
With so many of your vendors going direct to consumer, what is your strategy to compete?
Drummond: We believe in having the right balance at all times. We’re growing private label business extensively in 2013; however we continue to find new and exciting brands that offer unique elements that differentiate us.
Ewert: The competitive environment and over-distribution of department store brands make private label products very important. Our investment in design talent, starting with Joseph Abboud, will improve our ability to offer our customers distinctive products and great prices.
Eveloff: I am always looking for new vendors; that’s what keeps us fresh and keeps our regular clients returning to seek out new products. I continue to do some private label merchandise; it is a good mix to add to our merchandise.
The best way for me to compete is to continue to shop all the shows and find the products that are new and fresh. I’m always seeking quality and uniqueness; fresh product equates to newness in our clients’ wardrobes.
Levy: We private label key items. We’re seeking new vendors at market: often the smaller firms are the special ones who don’t go direct to our clients. We’re always pushing positive client relationships, getting involved with their wardrobe needs to overcome the impact of direct-to-consumer selling.
What was the best idea you implemented in 2012 and what do you have in the works for 2013?
Drummond: We unveiled our newest men’s floor concept at The Bay in our Vancouver flagship store. It’s already performing beyond our expectations!
Ewert: In 2012 we saw meaningful results from our merchandising and innovative marketing.
Giddon: Opening a bigger and better flagship. We went from 7,000 square feet to 11,000 square feet under the theory of “go big or go home.” It is tough being the small guy, so we operate under the assumption that we have to build a very compelling experience to draw the consumer to us when there are so many options.
Eveloff: One of the best ideas for 2012 was our holiday promotion/charity drive. After Hurricane Sandy we wanted to do something to contribute, so we contacted Clothes for Souls and paired up with them for our holiday drive. Our clients could bring in an old suit or sport jacket and pants and receive $300 off a minimum $800 purchase. All of the clothes would be donated to Clothes for Souls, who would then share them with Hurricane Sandy victims. Our clients were very excited to participate in this drive and we successfully collected several hundred pieces.
Levy: We are carefully managing our inventory levels and pushing more items per transaction sales.
Derring: Several of our stores have created lifestyle events featuring multiple vendors across multiple categories including home accessories and grooming. Certain retailers like Puritan Cape Cod have been successful incorporating a restaurant and day spa into the shopping experience. Davidsons in Roanoke, Va. has turned their entire business around by incorporating a barbershop/spa.
Another idea we’re working on is having our merchants create pop-up versions of their regular store but in different locations. We encourage them to use vendors they don’t ordinarily carry as a test for future direction.
Of your total menswear volume, how much is sold online and how is this affecting in-store business?
Drummond: Our online business is growing at an exponential rate. We are excited about the potential, as it is opening new doors, and allowing us to test big ideas that would otherwise take lots of time and capital to get up and running in stores. We are then able to roll out new ideas more aggressively and with accuracy to our stores, knowing exactly what we can anticipate.
Ewert: We don’t break out online revenue.
Eveloff: Our online business is about 4 percent and has not adversely affected our in-store business at all!
Levy: We don’t currently sell online.
Derring: Not many of our stores are big enough to spend the time or money needed for a competitive online presence. Instead, they are needed in their stores for the buy, the merchandising, the sales, the advertising…
What do you need from your vendors that you’re not getting?
Drummond: We are very proud of our vendor partners, and their passion for our business. Our vendors are a critical component of our vision, and one of the most valuable contributions that they can offer is new ideas: around product, service, merchandising, marketing, replenishment. Our customer is visiting us with the expectation of a great experience…
Ewert: We have terrific vendor partners who give us access to great brands, unique designs, and compelling values.
Giddon: We could use trim clothing that fits overweight guys. We could sell a lot of that. The other thing we really need is a collection of product that is not available on Gilt or My Habit.
Eveloff: What I need from my vendors is more support. They need to understand that the specialty store segment represents much more to their business than just dollars. Specialty store merchants take the time to provide knowledge and expertise regarding the products; they represent each brand they carry in the most positive way.
Levy: We need better follow-up in season, allowing us time to react to best-selling styles and work on a plan to move slow sellers. We also need more technical information sent to us in season. But mostly we need continued innovation, quality and newness.