Tuesday, March 22, 2016

over the outlet

Retail confession: I have a love/hate relationship with outlets.  Who doesn't love a bargain, though?  And many times, a brand's outlet store is your "last chance" to buy that one piece from last season that you passed up and simply can't get out of your head.  Other than any price savings or last-ditch-effort to procure something you didn't buy and you've been kicking yourself for months over, the hate comes flooding down.  Outlets are typically staffed with associates who lack product knowledge and brand heritage, let alone any initiative to actually help you find something, keep the store tidy and organized, or prevent the place from mimicking more of a garage sale and less of an actual place of business.
With that being said, I'm pleasantly surprised with J.Crew's Mercantile concept.  Imagine taking a typical J.Crew store, staffing it with the expected happy-go-lucky and uber trendy/preppy college crowd, merchandising the store beautifully with props from Martha's Vineyard to Montauk - but the surprising twist - all the merchandise is from the "factory outlet", cleverly disguised as the "Mercantile" - and the prices match, to boot! 
CEO Mickey Drexler is absolutely brilliant.  The economy is slowly allowing a bit of extra spending money, but customers are a little wiser with their money and much more budget conscious, for all spending abilities.  Instead of hoping customers will trek to the outskirts of town on a wild goose chase for a bargain, why not bring a beautiful store to the customers' neighborhoods, construct it just like the full service / full price boutiques they know and love, but supply it with more inexpensive wears, while treating them like their higher-end siblings.
I visited my first J.Crew Mercantile in Charlotte.  It was organized, well stocked, staffed with energetic associates eager to assist, and was beautifully merchandised.  I left inspired, excited, and with a few unexpected purchases. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

arm yourself with awareness

Over the last few weeks, I've been approached by three different retail situations.  I'd like to discuss them all.

First, I was with a friend a few weeks ago at a department store in Florida.  I wanted to show her my favorite coffee counter and pick up a few goodies.  While we were there, we decided to the home goods and furniture, as she was in the market for a new bed.  As luck would be in our favor, there was a collection of brand new mattresses and box springs that were drastically reduced due to a sourcing issue with the manufacturer.  So of course, we had to test out the beds and ultimately bought one.  In the process, the very kind and knowledgeable salesman shared with us a very interesting comment.  He said that business had usually been pretty slow in his department, and there are even employees who work in the store on other floors who didn't even know they sold furniture, let alone beds and mattresses.

Secondly, I was at a more luxurious department store also in Florida, but another city.  I absolutely love skincare and fragrances, so I'm always excited and interested to scope out these departments in various cities.  I like to see what's new, how the stores promote the brands and category, and see what best practices the salespeople implement.  While visiting one of my favorite brands, I recognized the associate.  I had known her through retail for at least a decade, so we had some established rapport.  I was genuinely shopping for myself, but also listening to her interaction with a customer.  After the customer left, she approached me and we began talking about the brand, new products, business, and the like.  She asked my opinion about a new product, and we began sharing tips and tricks of the beauty industry. She also felt comfortable enough to share with me that she was beyond hungry for product knowledge and training, but that her Account Executive was virtually nonexistent. 

Thirdly, while I was shopping at my favorite mall, I stopped in an Italian designer's boutique to take a look around.  I was quickly and warmly greeted by a sales associate, offered a beverage, and encouraged to look around.  So far so good, and impressive, to be honest.  After a few minutes, we started talking about business and insights.  The gentleman shared with me how business was a little tricky, especially since most of their target demographic "only comes to the big department store" and doesn't come out into the mall. 

All three of these problems can be solved with increased and refocused awareness.

In any sales position, it doesn't matter what product or service you're selling.  What does matter are the relationships that you establish and maintain, the manner you sell those products and services, and how you represent yourself and the company.  If you were building a house, you'd need to know what tools are in the toolbox before you begin construction.  This same principle works for retail - know what goods and services are on offer, know what decisions you can or cannot make, and understand  your job description.  

For the mattress example above, it would be so simple to build into your team's schedule a daily, weekly, or even biweekly "walk about" throughout your store.  Encourage your associates to walk around other departments, see what products are new or on special feature, and remind themselves what it's like to view the store as a client.  Then, when you overhear a client talking about a specific need or product they may be seeking, employees can quickly and accurately provide suggestions or guidance. One-stop-shopping and maximized sales at it's finest.

For the beauty counter example, I partly blame the Account Executive.  All too often, companies are so focused on maximizing profitability and minimizing expenses that they disconnect the human aspect of business and distance themselves from success. If this employee's AE had visited in person even one time, it would have been obvious that they were in need of additional training and resources and had the aptitude to take the information and run towards success.  Merely analyzing numbers virtually only tells a part of the retail reality.  Furthermore, employees can always take the initiative on their own time and think creatively.  With some much information easily accessible online, just an hour or two per week at the company's website would offer so much product knowledge, company history and heritage, and insight into inspiration and creative development. 

For the luxury Italian brand, there are always ways to increase traffic to your store.  A hypothetical scenario: if I worked in a Goyard boutique on Mount Street, and there was also a small Goyard section inside Harrod's on Brompton Street, I would go out of my way to make a relationship with the people in Harrod's.  As an employee of the brand in the boutique, you always want people to go to the boutique first. So to be more attractive, I'd introduce myself to the employees at the counter and the management of the store.  Chances are, the boutique employees get more training, more insight, and more attention than employees of leased spaces inside department stores.  When you approach the relationship with honesty and a team spirit, the customer gets more support and the brand sees even more success.  If the department store's buyers bought a shirt in two colors, but the client mentions they want it in an alternate color, how will the department store employees know whether or not the shirt was available in other colors?  If they had a relationship with the actual boutique, this information may be easily shared.  Or, if the department store employee had a relationship with their store's managers or buyers, they could easily see if the requested product was available to their inventory.  Also, if I was working at the smaller boutique, I'd go out of my way to introduce myself to all the concierges at the luxury hotels, local magazine editors, and other luxury industry insiders.  The more networking and brand awareness, the better.  And in luxury, a personal connection is exactly the invitation needed to realize even more opportunity and success.

Long story short: arm yourself with awareness.  Shopping should be simple: customers should find the right products in the right places at the right times with the right signs and at the right prices.  Plain and simple.  Right?

Monday, March 14, 2016

luxury leads the way

One of my favorite aspects of the luxury industry is the innovation.  From new fabrics and construction, to the must-have colors and crazes, creativity is celebrating nowhere more than in the luxury industry.  As a client, part of the allure is exclusivity and nowness, a combination of being both new and cutting edge.  It's the perfect combination of being edgy and edited, excited without being too eccentric.  As a businessman, the hardest part of the industry is being exclusive without being too exclusionary or out of reach. 

One of the easiest ways for luxury houses to reach all demographics is through accessories and beauty products. Your budget might not allow for Christian Louboutin's latest heels, but you may indulge yourself with their latest nail polish.  You might not spring for a $30,000 Hermes bag, but a bottle of perfume or cologne might be much more accessible.  From sandals to sunglasses, it's often these entry level categories that often fund the fashion houses, followed by more substantial footwear, ready-to-wear, fine jewelry, and ultimately couture.  The more labor intensive, the more exotic the materials, the more expensive the final cost. 

Styles and trends often trickle down from the luxury segment to the mass produced segment.  One trend I've noticed lately is the widespread use of oud.  Dating back to biblical times, the wise men were truly wise, bringing frankincense and myrrh as a gift.  The trend of gifting fragrance continues today.  The most exclusive, expensive ingredient for fragrance is Oud, the heartwood of the Aquilaria trees in southeast Asia.  Oud is particularly prized in the Middle East, known for scenting homes, wardrobes, and clothing.  The ingredient itself is known for being particularly long lasting, very delicate, and very specific in aroma.  Because of this, and the limited quantity produced, the price of raw oud is many times the price of gold. Additionally, the price is only climbing, as the availability of the wild resources of oud are simply disappearing and depleting.  Since 1995, the primary source for oud, Aquilaria malaccenis, has been designated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has potentially threatened, although many countries are excluded from the listing.  Just like fine wines and balsamic vinegar, the value and age go hand and hand.  It's warm, earthy, gentle, sometimes smoky, and almost like smelling fresh wind in the desert on a warm summer's night.  


My favorite fragrances with oud hands down are Tom Ford's private blends.  Mr. Ford describes it himself as rare, exotic, and distinctive.  Just like the fragrances often burned in the temples of Buhtan, this fabulous fragrance contains exotic rose wood and caradmom that give way tot he smoky blend of rare oud wood, sandalwood, and vetiver, and are finished with tonka bean and amber for even more warmth and sensuality.  You'll find other versions featuring Oud + Tobacco and Oud + Fleur as well, along with soaps, beard conditioning oils, shower gels, and moisturizers.  For more details, phone Yvonne at Tom Ford's Chicago Boutique on +1.312-605-5041 or Tonya at Nashville's Tom Ford Beauty inside Nordstrom at +1.615.850.6700.  

 Oud isn't just a trend for luxury fragrances.  On a recent trip to Target, I even noticed an "oud" like deodorant from very accessible Axe. The brand describes it as "A subtle, woody scent with juicy mandarin, fresh black pepper and sensual vanilla. A premium quality, long-lasting fragrance."  While I seriously doubt the inclusion of actual Oud in the formula, it's very interesting to see such a distinct fragrance in a mass produced environment.

What other trends and concepts are you loving that transcend demographics and price points?