Editor’s Letter: Searching for Inspiration

There’s too much talk of broken business models, too little of creating new ones.

Karen Alberg GrossmanAs I write, the government is still shut down, wasting countless taxpayer dollars, while concerned retailers have already flooded their selling floors with markdowns. Just when many merchants appeared to have worked their way back up from the financial downfall of ’08, we’re once again facing some precarious economic indicators.

That said, there are so many great ideas percolating in the fashion universe that those seeking inspiration don’t have to look far. Although the traditional business model of wholesaler selling to retailer selling to consumer seems less viable than it once was, many astute merchants are making it work. Their secret is far from profound: find a point of differentiation and emphasize that; create an environment that makes people feel relaxed, happy, entertained or intrigued, and then service them to the max!

In my recent travels, I discovered some great examples of this. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, A.K. Rikks (profiled in our July issue) has created the most gorgeous new store I’ve seen in years: a fabulous assortment of contemporary product housed in a luxurious (but not intimidating) 28,000 sq. ft. environment with 5,000 sq. ft. of beautiful event space in a park-like setting. “Our goal is to ‘wow’ people,” says president Jim Murray. And he does, with magnificent wall coverings, flooring, 13 outrageous chandeliers, incredible sculptures, antique display pieces and custom cabinets, works of art in themselves that beautifully showcase the broad assortment of upscale men’s and women’s fashion. In downtown Lansing, David Kositchek (an Uptown/Downtown winner in 2011) has created the perfect environment to sell business clothing. With suits and sportcoats making up a good 40 percent of the mix and six full-time tailors (I spoke with them and watched them work: these are true professionals), Kositchek’s stocks 800 suits, 500 sportcoats, 2,000 ties, a whole floor of big and tall, a grooming salon, a leased Johnston & Murphy shoe department and fabulous fashion events. In upstate New York, Mr. Shop in Syracuse has raised the bar with a new in-store MTM/custom shop, a fantastic footwear area and some young creative sellers.

Among the most exciting newer vertical retailers, watch out for Suit Supply! This Dutch-based company opened their first New York store in 2011; soon after, The Wall Street Journal did a blind product testing and ranked the Suit Supply suits (about $600 at the time) comparable to Armani ($3,625 at the time). At their recent Madison Avenue store opening, I chatted with founder Fokke de Jong, who said, “We have seven stores now and we’re adding five more over the next few months. We enter new markets based on our online presence and we take our time, making sure we have the right people in place…”

In this issue, please note our special heritage section, featuring those brands smart enough to promote their history and culture. More so than women, men tend to value a sense of tradition; retailers aggressively promoting the right heritage brands will continue to reap the rewards.

Also in this issue, MR‘s first ever Person of the Year: Emanuel Chirico of PVH, an extraordinary blend of leadership, transparency, integrity, financial savvy, generosity and humility. I learned a lot from interviewing this very special CEO of an $8-plus billion company and I know MR readers will too. Congratulations Manny on this well-deserved recognition: you make us proud to be part of this wonderful industry.

Related stories: Read more about Karen’s tour of Michigan retailers and her trip to Syracuse.

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