Macy’s can take on Amazon

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How does a traditional department store retailer like Macy’s take on and compete with the tech titan Amazon? It’s not by trying to catch-up to Amazon’s technology, distribution, and logistics. That would be futile. It is, of course, by creating a compelling experience so consumers want to spend time in stores. But that’s obvious; that’s not a strategy, it’s a requirement.

So what is it that department stores can do to gain some grip again with consumers and stakeholders? It’s not what most would find natural, and it would certainly involve a radical change in mindset.

Department stores rely on brands. Brands rely on department stores. Together they can be very good partners, but for the most part they haven’t been. Many brands, including major ones like Coach, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors have gravitated away from and out of the department store channel. That’s entirely due to too much promotional activity driven by the department stores that destroys a brand’s clout and kills its profitability. No consumer covets a brand that’s on sale all the time, and no brand wants to work with a retail partner that loses their money all the time.

So let’s fix that.

Retailers, and especially department stores, would benefit immensely if they focused on building healthy, fast-turning, high margin businesses for the brands they sell. As much as many brands don’t like selling to department stores, they are equally uncertain of working with and selling through Amazon. So use that. Department stores should focus on nurturing brands, not killing them and pushing them away. High-impact retailers should look to turn their consumers AND their brands into raving, raging fans.

Granted this may seem simple, but it’s quite the opposite. One of the hardest things for any legacy business or operator to do is to change mindset. It’s not easy to change teams of buyers at department stores from thinking about how to drive sales regardless of the cost to thinking about how to build high-margin, full-impact businesses that drive raving fans and brands. It’s not easy to convert consumers from “seeking discounts” to “wanting brands”. And it’s not easy to say “let me help you build your business” when you’re used to asking “what margin can you guarantee me”.

Likewise its not easy for wholesale teams and leadership to change their mindset from driving bookings with little regard for what can be consumed to focusing on building upon high-margin net sales that pay the bills and enables investment to grow and innovate. It’s not easy for them to think about their businesses at the consumer level as opposed to the account level. And it’s not easy for wholesalers to strategically plan focused, fast-turning businesses as opposed to jamming in broad assortments of stuff that stunts demand, enables markdowns, and baffles consumers.

Regardless of how difficult all this may be, it is absolutely critical for any retailer or wholesaler looking to keep itself from falling further and further down the slippery slope that’s being created by Amazon. Doing this is absolutely worth the effort. And let’s be clear, wholesale isn’t going away; that’s what doing business with Amazon is. So at the end of the day, the only thing that is truly difficult is continuing to do that which does not work.

Let’s fix this now.

 

Photo by Macy’s Backstage/facebook

 

Make people want your products this holiday season

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The holiday selling season is right around the corner. What happens between now and December 25th can either make or break a brand because this period often represents more than 20% of the entire year’s selling.

Want to know how to be successful as a brand or retail of fashion products? Do this…

MAKE PEOPLE WANT YOU PRODUCTS. It’s your choice, it’s in your control, and you do that by setting your stores and channels up to TURN INVENTORY FAST. The faster you turn, the more consumers WANT your products. Forget about sales and margins–see how fast you can make your doors and channels turn.

Getting the right goods in the right locations at the right time is a brand’s ultimate endgame. Executives and leaders focusing their efforts on marketing and promotions, and not spending 2x that time using data to figure out how much of which products need to be set up and ready to go in every door across your distribution network, are going to suffer greatly. It’s what we mean by the shit hitting the fan.

It’s like this: working out in the gym and eating healthy food is awesome, but it means little if you eat too many calories. It’s also important to fuel your body with the right calories at the right time. You have to have your calories under control if you want to be healthy and active. Likewise, you have to have inventory under control and deliver it in the right amounts to the right locations at the right time.

Doing this means knowing exactly how much and which products are being distributed to what doors through your own retail stores, as well as your wholesale partners. Just because you sold a bunch of goods to a wholesale partner, doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing with it. If product doesn’t stick, it comes back and kicks you in the head. A successful brand makes sure the right amount of the right goods are going to every door and location in its entire network. Do the work.

Getting involved in marketing campaigns and product conversations are fun. Traveling around the country to see how products are displayed is important. I get it. Everybody enjoys doing that. But getting your inventory right is what’s going to make you successful or not. Fast sell-thru’s ensure high gross margins, which mean you are fit, lean, healthy, athletic and highly competitive.

 

 

The 1 trait high-impact people and brands do that others don’t

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There’s a lot of conversation about the things successful people or businesses do that other may not do as well. Just spend some time perusing the business leadership section or self-help books on amazon.com and you’ll find plenty of books about the subject as well. The classic traits are being innovate, authentic, creative, a leader, curious, driven, and so on. Those are all important, but I find one trait rolls all of them into one.

This is a trait I clearly remember being driven into us as a small team helping to build the Tommy Hilfiger brand in the 1990’s from $70 million to $1.5 billion. It’s something I certainly think Steve Jobs did. And if you look at Google, Facebook, and other Earth-shaking brands out there today you’ll see they do this as well. But sadly it’s a missing character from many businesses today. It clearly sets the leaders apart from the followers.

I’ve found that many brands are innovative and create products or campaigns that are interesting. I’ve met many strong leaders and I’ve certainly met a lot of driven people, but the clearest sign to me as to whether or not a person or business will be successful is one simple trait–RESPONSIVENESS. People and businesses that are responsive do really well. Those that don’t, struggle at best and fail more frequently than not.

In the simplest of terms, being responsive means you’re on top of things. You and your teams call people back immediately. Emails and texts are returned instantly. You follow-up vigorously. You seek out ideas, new talent, and opportunities. You make shit happen. Responding is numero uno!

That doesn’t mean you respond to everything from everybody. It would be maddening to filter through all the junk emails and phone solicitations. It was Steve Jobs that said “deciding what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.” But you can’t make that decision if you don’t respond to what’s out there. How would you know what’s possible?

Being responsive means that if an intriguing idea comes your way, you jump on it. If your boss, colleague, friend, or other trusted source tells you to call someone or do something, you do it. Not later. Not tomorrow. Not sometime next week when you catch your breath. Don’t put it on your to-do list. Do it right freaking now. That’s what movers and shakers do. Being responsive is a guarantee you’ll be successful.

More to the point: if you roll up all the classic traits of a successful person or business like being innovative, curious, driven, and creative, none of that can be achieved if you’re not enthusiastically responsive.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being responsive to people, ideas, and change.

 

Consultants vs. Advisors

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There seems to be a negative connotation with consultants in the fashion industry.  Many fashion brands seems to think that they’ve got everything figured out just fine.  Truth is that’s probably a good sign that they don’t.

Thinking you have everything figured out is sort of like talking about an economic bubble. As a rule of thumb, if no one is talking about a bubble, then there’s likely a bubble.  On the other hand, if a lot of people are talking about a bubble, then there probably isn’t.  Like many things in life if you’re aware of something, then you’re likely being proactive and thereby preventing that thing from doing you more harm than necessary.

One of the largest challenges any business has is becoming inward-thinking and internally biased.  Teams get stuck thinking about what they “need to do” as opposed to “what can be done”.  This is why an outside view is often beneficial at times–to gain fresh perspective from an objective party that hasn’t been sucked into the inward-thinking that happens at even the best of companies.  There’s a lot of politics involved in what and how employees are motivated to think and to act.  An outside perspective is a good way to make sure you see all the options available to helping your business and teams succeed.

A strong consultant or advisor is someone or some group that has expertise a company may not have access to or needs to rethink.  Consultants typically come into companies to fix problems that are already broken.  An advisor, on the other hand, is typically an ongoing advocate to help prevent bad things from happening in the first place.  One is reactive. The other is proactive.  It is often the case that a proven consultant becomes a trusted advisor.

Innovative businesses and people always seek broad perspective.  If we only relied upon the insight and knowledge of our direct circle of friends and colleagues,  we’d miss the opportunity to learn and grow from new ideas and perspectives.  Worse yet, because we would never have gained that knowledge, we’d not be able to teach and give that knowledge to others.

 

No cogs allowed

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As more and more companies struggle to find a path towards improved business and engagement with customers, one of the main things they have to consider is getting rid of a cogged system. You know what a cogged system is. It’s when someone does “this” and by nature protects “that”. It’s what almost all people were taught to be a part of. Get a good education, do good work, keep your job. Leaders embrace it. Employees protect it. The problem is it completely stunts the ability to find newness, innovation, synergy, and honestly a motivated team.

An un-cogged system, on the other hand, encourages people to try new ideas, find new talent, make a bunch of mistakes, learn before the competition, and drive people to think and create instead of process and do. It shouldn’t be possible that the only way to make something happen for a brand or business is to get approval from the CEO. Cogs by nature exist to prevent disruption or newness. They are the system of an assembly line. That’s why a clock or time piece remains accurate or other machinery crunches out predictable output. You need new ideas. People want to be artists. Why have cooks when you can assemble chefs?

If you want to innovate and become the future, get rid of your cogged system.

Zig when you think you should zag

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Photo: autoweek.com

I remember years ago when I bought my first real sports car. This was a car that could literally give you neck pain from its acceleration. It was a rocket on wheels, and honestly a lot more car than I knew how to control. Going zero to sixty was a thrill, but the most fun was it’s handling on turns. Unfortunately this was before a lot of electronics made car handling much more manageable for the average driver and the enthusiast like me alike. If you didn’t know how to drive this car, it would get out from under you easily–like an untamed horse.

Here’s what I quickly learned–what you think you should do is sometimes the opposite of what you ought to do. The natural tendency of most drivers going fast into a turn is to apply the brakes just before and into the turn. Don’t do that! I learned that the hard way by finding myself spinning around in circles. I thought it was the car, but it turns out it was me. Braking into a sharp curve from a high rate of speed changes the dynamics of the car. By doing what is normal, braking, you essentially shift the weight of the car forward on the front wheels, take weight off the rear wheels, and voila the back of the car becomes the front of the car–sometime several times in succession! And while this can be a lot of fun, it’s also scary as hell.

What I quickly learned is that you actually do the opposite. When going into a sharp turn, set your speed into the turn so you can ACCELERATE through the turn; brake before, accelerate through. Who the hell would think to do that? Perhaps a physicists or engineer, but certainly not me. Yet by accelerating through the turn, you improve the dynamics of the car by applying downforce on the car’s center of gravity, which lets you zip through the turn with great force and control. You zig when you think you ought to zag.

My description of physics in the above example is elementary at best. I also don’t recommend most people going out and trying this aggressively. There’s a fine line between accelerating too much and too little. If done correctly however, you are faster and safer–unless of course you want to crawl through the turn; in which case there’s no sense having a spiffy little sports car. It takes time and practice to become comfortable zigging when you think you ought to be zagging.

The point is that you need to apply this to many real-life circumstances. When you’re in a hurry, slow down. When you’re angry, breath. It works! Zigging instead of zagging is likewise critical for brands and businesses. If sales are bad, don’t take markdowns. If competition is aggressive, think smaller. When everyone is zigging, zag. And if everyone is zagging, zig!

Brands equal the experience they give

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Brands have a habit of focusing too much on product and not enough on experience. I see this happening a lot with fashion. Fashion brands used to create collections of products and then advertise and market around a lifestyle. That doesn’t work anymore. Consumers want experiences. They want something unique and special that adds value to their life.

Restaurants have learned this. Go to Dig Inn or Sweetgreens and you are part of an experience. A great experience lets you become part of a community. It allows you to interact, make your own choices, be a part of the process, and feel good telling friends and colleagues about your what you’ve done. If it weren’t an experience with good product, people wouldn’t stand in line for half their lunch break to get some quality food.

Brands need to come to the realization that truthfully no one cares about their products. Consumers care about the experience. How do you make it interesting for your consumers to connect with you? How do you make them feel engaged with what you are doing, thinking, creating, and producing? Are they part of the process? Would they stand in line for your products because they are excited to tell friends and colleagues about what they’ve gained from you?

Brands that are focused on product and not creating an experience for their consumers are racing to the bottom with price. Let’s be crystal clear–discounts and promotions are not an experience, and consumers aren’t transactions. Brands have to move beyond creating a lifestyle to creating an experience. Your brand is only as good as the experience you give your fans.