Fashion’s Shifting Paradigm | A Farewell to Lazy Merchants, Irrelevant Offerings & Bloated Markups

live beyond your means

Sorry Antonio– this image is too good, I had to borrow it.  The irony is incredible– “Live Beyond Your Means” on the window of a store that went under.  Says a lot about the retail climate we’re experiencing.

There’s a lot of reactionary “strategy” in motion right now by apparel retailers & wholesalers who are desperately trying to stop the bleeding.  Slash prices, cut inventory levels, homogenize the product, reduce the workforce, cut expenses, close stores– but what’s the long term answer?  The industry is facing unprecedented times– but this didn’t happen overnight, and we only have ourselves to blame.  The industry is finally paying the price for years of over-saturating the retail landscape with too many stores, an excess of irrelevant “me too” brands & products, and in many cases– undeservedly fat markups.  

“The consumer is so well-informed today, they don’t want to be told how to buy and they feel conned and manipulated by big flagship stores, and by the disproportionate margins the brands are making,” Inacio Ribeiro said. “However, the consumer will welcome suggestions, and that is the way forward.”

Fashion’s reliance on ever-lower prices failed last fall, as sale signs shouting 60, 70 and 80 percent off attested. Value is making a comeback across the price spectrum.  –WWD

In short– we got fat, lazy & greedy, as the consumer became more sophisticated and savvy.  Now they are deciding with lethal force who will survive and who will die– and quite honestly, a lot of us deserve to die.

fashion shift 

But where there is a market in turmoil, there is also great opportunity.  It’s crucial now more than ever to aggressively engage the consumer with compelling brand stories that offer relevant, quality products with an honest, attractive price/value relationship.  Oh, and great service too.  We seem to have somehow forgotten about that altogether.  Someone somewhere decided that the customer wasn’t going to pay us for service and we all bought into it.  Service is a huge component of customer experience that is harder to repair than it is to establish from day one and maintain.  It’s a culture– not a moment or a motto.  I get better service at the Chik-Fil-A drive thru than I do at just about any clothing store that I’ve shopped in lately.  Obviously it’s not hard, it just has to be a priority– get it on your radar.  

So just to recap–

The consumer values compelling brands (great story/point of view/or personality they resonate with) that offer relevant, quality products with a strong price/value relationship, delivered with great, personalized service.  This isn’t a new story here, a lot of us just took our eye of the ball.

“Shoppers who for years have subsidized mediocre collections and chains via credit-fueled purchases are reasserting themselves and forcing brands to produce goods that meet the demands of their lifestyles. Simply selling the same old, same old for 20 percent less will not be enough.”  –WWD

fashion shift

I’ve recently been introduced to J. Hilburn, a Dallas-based custom clothier that lives-out these principles better than anyone out there.  From the very first time I spoke to partners Hil Davis and Veeral Rathod, it was obvious that these guys are both passionate and extremely thoughtful in creating an incredibly attractive template for the new retail paradigm.  They started out by offering custom made-to-measure dress shirts starting at $79-$149 (made from fine Monti fabrics, professionally measured by personal appointment when and where it best serves you) and they are currently expanding the product range to include knits, sweaters, trousers, furnishings, etc.  

I was so impressed, that I had to be a part of it.  As J. Hilburn continues to grow, we are singularly focused on being the leader in menswear style, quality & value– delivered every step of the way with unrivaled personal service.  

“The consumer is responding to great product, but it has to represent good intrinsic value,” said Tom Murry of Calvin Klein.  –WWD

Not to be a broken record– in times like these, there are huge opportunities for a focused, honest brand to succeed by consistently delivering on the fundamentals– deliver great products in a way that consistently exceeds all the customer’s expectations, while anticipating and creating their future needs and desires.  

“We have to get back to creating innovative product, concepts and merchandising ideas to stimulate and energize the customer,” said Andrew Rosen, president and co-founder of Theory. “You just can’t get away with making clothes and expecting them to sell. You have to be good at what you do. Clothing is not just a status symbol anymore. There has to be a sense of relevancy to it.”  –WWD

Truer words have not been spoken.  It’s a different world we live in now– with a whole new set of rules, values and expectations.  Trying to manage through this and seeing it as a temporary setback or hiccup would be a huge mistake.  Someone has not just moved the cheese– they’ve eaten it.

24 thoughts on “Fashion’s Shifting Paradigm | A Farewell to Lazy Merchants, Irrelevant Offerings & Bloated Markups

  1. Pingback: Fashion’s Shifting Paradigm | A Farewell to Lazy Merchants, Irrelevant Offerings & Bloated Markups

  2. Don’t sweat it, I only wish I could have shot the photo so that you didn’t get the reflection of street on the glass. Great post and congrats on landing the new gig!

  3. True stuff, things will get better. Hard work and clear vision will prevail, if it’s mixed with smarts and good taste of course…

  4. Is the problem the way goods are sold and serviced or is it the product itself?

    In a walk through Macy’s, in either the men’s or women’s department, there is a suffocating amount of stuff.

    Even in Nordstroms, the men’s department is full of tables of $200 jeans and $100 t-shirts. Bloated mark-ups, indeed!

    We have sprawl inside, with too much retail, and too many cheap goods that have flooded us.

    I don’t know if any guiding hand will dig us out. There are great small boutiques and fascinating clothing lines produced in small amounts by young, creative people.

    But it seems that only the cruel hand of the economy will thin out the crowds.

    And I somehow doubt that only good quality will survive. We thrive on variety and on a constant sensation of the new and that is not going away.

  5. I completely agree. I live in LA, and the shops here have not gotten the message that 90′s style we are too cool service doesn’t work. Also I think with the hard times clerks and salespeople need to be trained to greet every customer and offer help. I have had several recent experiences at small retailers as well as a well-respected large chain (it starts with B) in at least two occasions I would have made a purchase if the salesperson would have even bothered to help me at all.
    This is especially true as it seems that I can get whatever I want in multiple stores. No one seems to have anything unusual or exclusive. I am going to give a shout out to Mohawk General Store for having a really great service and environment and great lines.

  6. This article speaks the words right out of my mouth. Coming from a design background deeply rooted in Mega brand excess and merchant abuses I am so happy to hear that it’s time for a more intelligent market to emerge. Service doesn’t have to cost a fortune but rather be apart of a brands consciousness and integrity , being agile and light is the only way to be in this new emerging economy . I hope they will see that less is more. Huge design teams were only relevent because they were producing more and more to feed the greedy deep pockets of share holders who clamored to see their turnaround only to find themselves with shrinking stocks,and overweight companies bleeding from every side..not pretty…
    Now , it’s time for those who learned and watched and remained close to the costumer not loosing sight of what the consumer was trying to tell you all along..
    And……..
    all this had to be in order for this to arise…..

  7. In a word, “value”. What do we consider value, what values do we hold close in our lives, and do the goods and services we want and need provide us with value? Connecting with our customers and being relentless about providing them the value and service they deserve needs to our number one priority. The retailer is merely in the way of focusing on the only person that matters, the consumer. To quote the great Peter Drucker:

    What is our business?

    Who is our customer?

    What does our customer consider value?

  8. JP, Great piece. I have that WWD article printed out and in my bag. It is one of the most thoughtful and well constructed reviews of this well needed retail implosion I have yet read.

    You have done an excellent job capturing the highlights and driving home the vitally obvious but too-often ignored need for customer service. Retail, especially fashion and luxury retail is about relationships and that is something that too many clerk kids have little experience with.

    During my years in retail, from Sir Terence’s Conran’s-Habitat to Ralph’s Polo/Ralph Lauren, nothing obsessed me more that the stunning lack of basic customer service. Even the act of putting down the phone an acknowledging a customer was beyond some people.

    Great read. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel…just going to link this.

  9. You might like a blog called Retail Anarchy

    http://retailanarchy.com/

    The site and its primary author was recently featured in an NPR story entitled _Level Of Consumerism Is Out Of Control_

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102900902

    Another concept I’d add to your entry is that of the devastating affect of free wheeling credit and its contribution to brand dilution. I think of it as “brand inflation”. Previously, living within some semblance of one’s means meant consumers stuck to price point categories appropriate to their lifestyles. With an abundance of credit, they were able to transcend the latter fueling production demands further upstream to even include retail saturation infrastructure.

    Low cost credit has had indelible effects on consumer expectations as well. It’ll take a considerable period of time to reset those.

  10. Although extremely difficult for everyone, the tough economy has been like a wild fire, taking out the excess and leaving behind only what is strong enough to grow. I am rooting for a return to small, local business – and hoping articles like this one inspire others as well.

  11. All you say is true but I would not hold out J. Hilburn as an example of fresh creativity. Gee whiz, another company whose top end is called “Black Label” ? Give me a break. Here’s some free advice for your new venture: Come up with something different than what hundreds of brands have already done. It doesn’t get any more boring that “Black Label” – a now well worn cliche – a retread, a has been. Wake up and smell the future rather than following the leaders and you will be more successful.

    • Charlie,

      I welcome your opinion– but you’re shooting a bit from the hip, partner… and your reasoning is extremely incomplete. Throwing the entire company under the bus for the use of a brand hierarchy system that is widely recognized & understood by the consumer is a little rough, don’t you think? Get to know the total brand proposition, then judge.

      Best,

      JP

      • Sir – I’m not throwing the how brand “under the bus” because the company uses the term “black label” to describe it’s top end product. I’m merely pointing out the ‘follow the leader’ branding proposition which is clearly stale.

        I do not agree with your assertion that, because “brand hierarchy” system is “widely recognized a& understood by the consumer” it’s, ipso facto, a good idea to utilize a other brands re-treads. By your logic, you are equating the customer’s understanding of “black label” as equal to their understanding of ‘S’, ‘M’, ‘L’, ‘XL.”

        By pure logic and simple analysis you would these are very different situations. Furthermore, by your logic, all brands should utilize ‘Black Label’ to signify their top line product. Interestingly, this would be contrary to the examples you have quoted above from WWD and others who have pointed out that generic product and ‘sameness’ have had a major negative impact on the industry.

        Of course you are free to use the totally non-creative, derivative term ‘Black Label’ in your marketing/sales efforts, but I would argue that a truly creative company would come up with their own terminology to describe product to set themselves apart from the herd. That was you original point, no?

    • Charlie,

      It seems you know just enough to get yourself in trouble, but not enough to lead you to daylight. It’s true that brands use “Blue Label”, “Black Label”, “Purple Label”, etc. to denote product hierarchy– the customer understands that, but don’t get hung up on it. In fact, there are not woven labels in the neck of J. Hilburn custom shirts, so it is not an external branding tool that is being re-hashed– it is merely a way to identify quality and pricepoint. In regard to the rest of your points on my logic– you’re clumsily over-generalizing and putting misconstrued words in my mouth, which I do not appreciate.

      Take care of yourself. We are done.

      JP

  12. The bloated brand mark-ups and stratospheric brand premiums will be fully addressed by the online e-commerce companies will address in the long run. Stores like Amazon.com, Blue Nile, and others will give consumers a choice to purchase the same goods as brand names but without the brand name retail mark-ups.

    There is one company in particular that directly addresses the outrageous premiums charged by brand name jewelers such as Cartier, Bulgari, Gucci, and others. This company is called Cascade Star and through its retail website, it offers high-end haute couture designer diamond jewelry with the same material quality, craftsmanship, and customer service as the brand name jewelry but without the brand name mark-up or premiums. A 18K diamond tennis bracelet that would retail for $7,000 in a Tiffany’s store can be found for less than $2,500 at CascadeStar.com

    Cascade Star and other e-commerce retailers that deliver tremendous value to consumers will be the future of retailing and will keep the bricks & mortar stores honest as far as delivering value is concerned.

    • Mmmm, Tiffany or Cascade Star — I’m not convinced the later is going to pull loads of people away from a mega brand like Tiffany. By the way, you have written your post in a way that makes me think you have a personal interest in Cascade Star.

  13. Hi Charlie,

    You mentioned that people have to live within their means and are re-discovering the value proposition. That alone should pull them away from the Tiffany’s brand. It is questionable whether they will gravitate towards other online retailers such as Blue Nile or Cascade Star. Only time will tell. But the indicators are strong – since the beginning of this year, the Blue Nile stock has doubled from $18 to more than $40 even though it reported lower revenues in the last quarter and the CEO refused to provide guidance. I think the market is saying that consumers are shifting their purchases from the brand names to the online retailers for the same reasons mentioned above.

    • Hi Sara – Why won’t you discose that you are, in fact, doing PR for Cascade Star? I find it highly unethical that you are using this and other forums to pretend that you are just a regular person giving commentary. In fact you have a strong bias as you are getting paid by a third party to tout their company. Shame on you for trying to be sneaky in the internet age.

      You released a “press release” about Cascade Star under your name on http://www.freepressreleases.co.uk on March 3. You pop up on loads of other forums with the exact same posts as the one year.

      Even when I suggested you come clean in my previous post you responded without doing so. Your transparent touting is embarrassing and your views are now seriously compromised. Your point of view means nothing because you are getting paid for it.

      This conversation is over.

  14. I last worked retail for Brooks Brothers in 198-ish. I look back and realize my best customers were people I had relationships with. I got to know them. I liked them. They bought from me.

    Today I work in aviation insurance. I have relationships with my customers. I know them and I like them.

    Mt father once told me he could never sell. I said I didn’t sell as much as I solved problems and worked at developing a realtionship with that client. My father smiled and said, “That’s what we did in Vietnam.” As a special forces team captain my old man established realtionships with the villages around his camp. His team taught locals how to grow strawberries – - which the ville sold to the Army. How to farm carp – - which the ville sold to the Army – - how to make clay ceiling tiles — which they sold to the Army – - and whenever the NVA came snooping around (which they did in a big way once), the ville alerted my Dad and he avoided a massacre of huge proportions.

    Would the Army try building relationships in Iraq today things may look different. But I hope my point makes sense. It’s bloody all about relationships especially when I can buy the same product from a number of retailers –I’m gonna go buy from the individual I like.

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