Editor’s letter: Merchandising by big idea

Rather than by category or brand, try merchandising by “big idea.” The trick: finding the big idea.

Karen Alberg GrossmanIn a recent conversation with Mitch Lechner from PVH, I asked whether dress shirts are best merchandised by color, size or brand. “None of the above,” he replied, to my surprise. “The most impactful way to showcase dress shirts is ‘merchandising by big idea.’ At any given time, the big idea could be a hot brand or a fashion color or a fit story. The key is to create theater on the selling floor, thereby engaging and exciting your customers.”

While not a totally new concept, this struck me as particularly relevant this season when there are so many great ideas out there, but so few that we’ve managed to maximize. The modern fit story (slimmer suits, tapered shirts, skinny ties), five-pocket pants, softcoats, brown shoes, leather and fabric bags, interesting bracelets, tie bars, boutonnières, pocket squares, whimsical socks, fun sneakers and colored casual bottoms are just a few of the cool menswear trends familiar to industry insiders, but still undiscovered by average American men, most of whom are still running around in boring golf shirts and khakis.

Three suggestions when deciding which trends to “distort” on your selling floors and in your marketing: 1) You don’t have to follow the crowd. There are definite regional differences in men’s fashion; one store’s hot item is another’s markdown. (Softcoats and five pocket pants were on both best-seller and worst-seller lists in our recent retail survey, page 20); 2) Don’t give up too soon: if you believe in something, keep pushing it. As Greg Eveloff from The Clotherie told us, “We’ve been showing softcoats for three years now and finally, guys are starting to get it; and 3) If you want to sell it, wear it! As retail consultant Danny Paul put it, “Men are not strategic buyers. They don’t plan out their apparel purchases: they buy out of need or on impulse.”

If store owners can in fact inspire impulse purchasing by what they wear themselves, you should know what a few of them are buying:

  • Andrew Mitchell, Mitchells Stores: Believe it or not, my most recent purchase was Vivek Nagrani’s men’s peds! (I can’t stand when men wear full socks with loafers/drivers in the summer.) Next purchase: fun pocket squares.
  • Greg Eveloff, The Clotherie: Recent purchases: a purple linen jacket from Jack Victor and coral cotton pants from Mason’s (not to be worn together!) Next: To Boot espadrilles.
  • Dick Hite, Norton Ditto: A solid off-white silk and wool sportcoat.
  • Tom Michael, Larrimor’s: A beautiful Canali spring sportcoat in pearl gray. Next: brown shoes to wear with my blue and gray suits.
  • Michael Malouf, Malouf’s: A wool/silk/linen navy Zegna sportcoat! Next: Gravati shoes.
  • Steve Pruitt, Blacks Retail: Knit shirts from Original Vintage Style. Next: a suit or soft sportcoat.
  • Danny Paul: A travel blazer and jeans.
  • Dick Pattison, Taylor Richards & Conger: A made-to-measure vested Zegna suit in the Milano model (and a second without the vest). Next: brown dress shoes.
  • Bruce Julian: Gorgeous light gray super 140s flat-front pants. Next: a navy chalkstripe linen suit.
  • Jim Giddon, Rothmans: A Mr. Brown by Duckie Brown slim-fit suit. Next: Like any good independent retailer, I’ll buy whatever’s left on the floor that didn’t sell. Hope it fits.

Karen signature

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