Tough Retail: 7 Ways to Grow Your Consumer Brand

Seismic Changes Are Happening to Retail

Under-employment, stagnant wages, historically high school debt, credit card debt, large healthcare deductibles, staggering urban rent, first homes, weddings and new babies, is there any wonder why Millennials seek value in their discretionary purchases like apparel, accessories, footwear and home?

This is the overhang from a deep recession, the Affordable Care Act and lackluster recovery. It has given rise to the Amazon-effect, outlets, successful discounters like TJX, fast-fashion, rental, consignment and intense comparison shopping. Who can afford to pay full-price?

Practically every retailer and brand is chasing the most cash-strapped generation in decades, because the Millennial generation, ages 15-33 is now the largest population in the US, finally surpassing the much wealthier Baby Boomers and Generation X.

A quote in the Wall Street Journal on May 12, really caught my attention. “Non-discretionary spending on health, insurance, education, and housing has taken an extra 4% out of personal consumption expenditures in 2015 compared with 2000, according to Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. That has reduced the discretionary spending available for traditional retailers by $500 billon, more than the combined annual sales of Walmart Stores and Costco Wholesale combined.” No wonder  we are seriously over-stored.

Traffic is down at brick and mortar retailers, everyone is trying to explain it, but the reasons are actually quite obvious. There are huge headwinds on spending, so consumers are chasing good deals or staying home.

Online retail, even though it represents less than 10% of all purchases is the fastest growing retail channel. This reflects the ease of comparison shopping, selection and simplicity for insanely time-strapped consumers. It isn’t the best way to browse or make impulse purchases. Who goes on Amazon, just to see what’s new?

Survival Strategies in Tough Times for Consumer Brands

What should apparel, footwear, home and consumer discretionary companies do to combat intense spending headwinds? Here are seven ways to grow in tough times:

Offer brand value. Brands with a consistent, clear identity and experience will rise above the clutter and command higher prices than weak concepts and me-too products. Think Apple, Nike, Under Armour, Kate Spade, Madewell and West Elm.

Be strategically focused on core strengths. It’s necessary to test new things, but focus on your sweet spots, invest in your strengths and best brands. Don’t get romanced with low-value, expensive projects and extensions.

Value great design. Creativity and innovation create demand and pricing power. Big marketing efforts without great products to back them up, won’t fool consumers, who value authenticity.

Look for untapped markets or niche opportunities. For instance, the  underserved plus-size markets for women and men, trending activities, hot fitness trends, growing sports, hobbies, etc..

Increase DTC efforts. Many stores will close, decreasing available doors for your apparel, footwear and consumer products. Your direct to consumer efforts online, with company-owned stores, pop-up stores, partnerships, direct mail etc., will help you control your brand message and destiny.

Think beyond Millennials. Brands with cross-generational “lifestyle” appeal will weather the competitive storm better than discretionary fashion brands just targeting Millennials. Baby Boomers have the greatest wealth in the history of the US and are due to inherit even more, even though they also took a hit during the Recession.

Take risks. This is counterintuitive in bad times. Hire experienced and visionary people who can execute a well-balanced strategy of taking creative risks while covering established business.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

 

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

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A “Dear John” Letter to J. Crew

To Mickey Drexler

Dear Mickey,

I write you with a heavy heart. You promised me that things were going to get better between us, but you still seem to be lost. The news around town is your sales are down and your debt rating isn’t great.

For years, I have been faithful to you, buying into your ideas, filling my closet and heart with tees, shirts, pants, dresses and even suits. You were my reliable love, a high-quality guy consistently offering the expected, with enough fashion surprises, that I kept coming back for more. I could always count on you. You made my life easy.

Mark down tee shirts at J Crew.

Markdown tee shirts at J. Crew.

No one could do it better. I never missed a chance to stop by in the mall. I toss most catalogs, but always save J. Crew for my next cup of coffee. Inevitably, I would grab my cell and buy into your fantastic stories once again. You were my Svengali.

When I wrote you months ago, you promised to change, go back to the old Mickey. I think you forgot who you are, the quality, pedigreed guy with colorful new ideas. You were the diamond-in-the-rough, in a sea of mall stores with similarly dismal apparel offerings. You don’t understand the unique place you had in my mind or the mall.

Did you hang with the wrong crowd? Do you think you should play with the fast-fashion girls to be cool? You played their cheap tricks and confused me with your reckless behavior.

As casual apparel got more athletic, you missed putting a J. Crew spin on it. This revolution was about sportiness, comfort and new materials, not the same old fits and fabrics.

Your career team is on a losing streak too, poor fabrics and skimpy fits. They clearly need a new coach.

J Crew career dress.

J. Crew career dress.

Sadly, you are addicted to cropped pants, cashmere cardis and slubby tees. You don’t recognize that even classic girls evolve. Your not thinking clearly. I know you have good genes. Your kid-sister Madewell, is on track to become a star. She has a clear brand direction and a bright future.

I’m sorry to say there is someone else, named Club Monaco. I get contemporary classic fashion-with-a-twist again. I’m willing to pay higher prices for quality in a hipper environment. I’m tired of the dark-paneled woodiness and your chaotic behavior. My current love is handsome, sexy and takes me to new places. He “gets” me.

Club Monaco spring trench.

Club Monaco spring trench.

Maybe someday we will be together again? Good brand management and design is about evolution and reinvention. You need an intervention and to hang with a better crowd. Your loving family hasn’t forgotten the good man you are.

 

You may enjoy these previous posts:

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

Color Trends 2016/2017 Going Green

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on brand experience, business strategy, trends, creative direction, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

 

 

6 Five-Star Specialty Retailers in a Lackluster Field

I was shopping in New York recently and feeling rather uninspired. I usually have an agenda, a new store or retailer, I am particularly excited about. Most large retailers make their own apparel and accessory products, so the watery soup is often spoiled by too many cooks, adding their managerial spice. It’s increasingly hard to find good retail theater, a strong brand identity and exciting, well-designed product, that hasn’t been tainted by levels of bureaucrats.

I challenged myself to come up with 6 “five-star” retailers that are doing an outstanding job, with a consistent brand experience and compelling fashion in a lackluster field:

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

Madewell – is the baby sister of J. Crew. I have been a long-time J. Crew proponent, even though the mothership has stumbled lately. Madewell is coming into its own with American casual classics, based around core denim pieces. You know to expect great jeans, chambray shirts, denim jackets, hip tees and knits, funky socks, rustic leather bags and shoes and slightly bohemian jewelry. The colors are simple and lean to the neutral side. The collection is totally wearable and much better-than-average quality for the price, a winning combination. This high-growth chain has little competition in the mall and will now be sold in Nordstrom as well.

Athleta – I was not a fan of fan of Athleta when Gap purchased it in 2008 for a mere $150 million. At the time their “zen-like” yoga prints and mass-market color sense paled against activewear, fashion pioneer Lululemon. Gap was betting on the powerful athleisure trend in apparel and has put their considerable product development muscle and resources behind the chain. They now have over 100 stores and have shed those expected “new-age” prints for a powerful collection of more urbane, sexy, forward clothing. They get that the athletic trend is worn as much out of the gym, as in, with their deep collection of cosmopolitan casual dresses, knit tops, bottoms and huge assortment of mix and match swimwear. I actually bought a $500 leather jacket at this formerly “perky” yoga chain and have never even done a downward dog.

Club Monaco – is a Canadian-based acquisition, part of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. Certainly not a household word, they only have approximately 140 stores worldwide. Club Monaco offers women’s and men’s collections of modern, urbane classics at affordable luxury prices points. Tasteful, upscale and contemporary, they are especially strong in knit tops, dresses, jackets, skirts and accessories for work and play. The quality of design and materials, far exceeds the price points to make Club Monaco a fairly hidden gem.

Michael Kors – Wandering through Macy’s first floor flagship the other day, I was blown away by the crowd of at least 40 people in the Michael Kors shop. The Coach concession across the hall had 2 visitors. it wasn’t a special event, it was business as usual for this hot-shot, brand-of-the-moment.

Michael Kors is a text-book example of consistent branding. The uber-glam handbags, watches, shoes and “bit of an after note”, clothing are precisely on the same urbane plane. Their stores, website, marketing collateral and product are as in sync as an Argentine tango. Chock it up as a real designer with one eye for everything. Even if you are getting tired of his ubiquitous bags, this brand is fashion branding royalty.

Zara – is fast-fashion at it’s finest. Owned by Spanish parent Inditex, in my book it blows away competitors H&M and Forever 21. They consistently put out easy-to-shop collections of fashion forward apparel and accessories, that defy their puny price points. Taken out of context the styling and quality could be mistaken for some of the best. There is no doubt what to expect at Zara, the best fashion trends in real-time, at really low prices. Zara brand profile as fashion leader, is crystal clear.

Lou & Grey – is a new free-standing store concept brand from parent Ann, Inc. It was born from the success of loungy apparel in their Loft chain. When I stumbled upon the Natick, Ma concept store, I was pleasantly surprised by the small sophisticated, upscale environment and compelling collection of lifestyle casual apparel and earthy accessories. This is the best thing Ann Inc. has done in a while. It is easier to do something new than reinvent history. Ann Taylor and Loft have become sterilized versions of their glory days with poor quality, dull offerings and banal stores. Currently only 7 stores,  Lou & Grey is one to watch.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

A Letter To Mickey Drexler – What Happened To J.Crew?

Dear Mickey,

We need to talk. I thought you were “the one”. I consider myself a classic girl, the type you can bring home to mother, with an individualist fashion sensibility. After a very long loving relationship with J. Crew, I feel we’re drifting apart. You showed me the love, always wanted to please and surprise me. I gave you loads of attention and spent a lot of money on you. Lately our relationship has gotten repetitive, lost its color and doesn’t fulfill my needs. I’m not faithful to you anymore. Let me be specific on where our relationship lost its way:

1. You missed the athleisure trend. No, I don’t do downward dogs, but am very active at 2 gyms. I have blurred the lines between gym clothes and ones “formerly known as casual” in my wardrobe. Lately, I’m tired of shapeless cotton tees, that get little holes at the waist. I’m buying more substantial, expensive, inventive and sexy athletic tops for everyday use. You continue pushing twill cropped pants, when I am buying knit pants that look like jeans and sweats. I’ve never seen a comfortable knit dress in J.Crew.

I had a big crush on Lululemon, but find myself stalking a new love named Athleta. I’m loving athletic inspired outerwear, too. Who would have thought 2 years ago, I would buy a $500 leather/French terry moto jacket from my new crush?

Great outerwear is dominating athleisure apparel.

Great outerwear is dominating athleisure apparel.

You are the master of the casual playlist, taking classic pieces and pairing them in a hipper way. Somehow you missed the macro trend of mixing quality sport-inspired items into one’s everyday wardrobe.

2. You used take me on quality dates. Lately, you seem to be cheaping out, taking me to “fast-fashion ” places. I would rather pay more for a good meal. Why did the fabric qualities go down hill? I’d rather pay $98 at Lululemon for a relationship that will last, than $58 for a quick hook-up.

J. Crew stores lost the sharp focus of Madewell and became cluttered with junk food. Are you distracted by the Zara and Forever 21 effect? They aren’t your competition.

3. I thought you loved tall girls? Many of your clothes don’t fit me. I’m on the tall side (5’9″) and physically fit. Many of your specs are either too short or cut really small. Your customers aren’t all 24, 5′ 4″ and a size 0.

4. You don’t give me the attention you used to. I would never “trash” your catalogs, and always took your calls. The catalogs arouse me, causing emotionally driven online behavior. I would always buy more than needed. I get fewer catalogs now, so you  stopped “playing me” with your enticing images.

A look from J Crew for Spring 2015.

A look from J Crew for Spring 2015.

5.  Something changed. I trusted you to color my world. Some of the colors got very repetitive and harshly un-wearable. Dirty ochre anyone?

Mickey, I will never forget the good times. I’m definitely willing to give us another chance. I think about you often and still drive by your house. I need you to be the reliable source for key items like tees, shirts and sweaters, but mixed with more exciting quality pieces. You have a special place in the mall. You just got in with the wrong crowd.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Blue Color Worker Spring/Summer 2015

Looking at 25″ of snow outside, I’m big-time craving the blue skies of spring and summer 2015. One consolation is that we will be seeing a lot of blue in fashion over the next few months. The “Blue Color Worker” is the backbone of America in deepest navy, Air Force blue, royal, periwinkle, tender baby and blue tint.

The perennial favorite color will be front and center in fashion on everything from handbags, tops, sweaters, dresses, jeans, outerwear, active apparel, accessories, swimwear, shoes, etc. There will be a range of denim washes from light to very dark as well as solid dyed twills.

As MVP of the color spectrum, it can morph sharply nautical, softly sensual or boho seventies. Versatile blue is a power player, the king of casual and an intoxicating pastel.

Pair blues tonally or use navy as a neutral foil against bright primaries, such as navy and citrusy yellow. Navy with tinted pastels are chic and sexy. Combine the spectrum of blues with shades of grey, khaki or optic white.

Blue is the hardest working color family for spring/summer 2015.

Blue is the hardest working color family for spring/summer 2015.

For color seasonal color forecasts, see COLORSCOOP.

 Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Women’s 5 Fall 2014 Fashion Essentials

Stylish women seem effortlessly modern and have a certain je ne sais quoi. What’s the secret? They understand that a great wardrobe is a continuous evolution not a revolution. The fashion-savvy build upon their curated closet seasonally, with a handful of new items that have the power to change everything. Here is my round-up of five essential, trend-right items for Fall 2014, that will simply give you an up-to-the minute look:

Fall 2014 Fashion Must-Haves

Fall 2014 Fashion Must-Haves

1.  The slip-on sneaker. Sneaker style is white-hot. The not-so-humble “slip-on” in modern materials, such as metallics, leather, quilted, perforated, printed or embroidered, has my vote for the casual shoe of the season. Pair them with jeans, skirts, dresses, athletic pants, just about everything, for a comfy update to your fall footwear wardrobe. Think Vans, Steve Madden, Dolce Vita, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Joie, Vince, Prada, Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo and just about all the usual suspects.

2. The clutch bag. There is something so elegant, so fresh , “clutching” a bag when everyone else is schlepping a sack over their shoulder. The clutch is a sure glam-slam.

Clutch bags come in envelope or clasp styles or and the more user-friendly wristlet clutch; either way it is an instant fall 2014 style update. I particularly like them in a pop of color, textural metallic or animal print, paired with neutral clothing. Check out Valentino, Alexander Wang, Marni, Proenza Schouler, Smythson, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Ted Baker, Kate Spade, BCBG and many more.

3. The athletic jean. Jeans are down-trending as women are wearing athletic or “athleisure” looks in and out of the gym. The trend has gone beyond basic yoga pants to spandex blend and nylon pants in 5-pocket jean-styling, cuffed sweats, boyfriend shapes, cargo details, etc.

Pair fitted pants with an oversized sweater, layered tops or sexy top for the gym. Pair baggy sweats, boyfriends or cargos with smaller, close to the body tops. See some of the best at Athleta, Carbon 38, and Net-a-Sporter.

4. The graphic top. “If you see something, say something”. The lowly graphic tee or top has been elevated to fashion status this season. Words have the power to express something about the wearer, simply amuse, suggest or confuse the audience. Text is powerful and playful, a small investment for an instant seasonal update. Look for intarsia sweaters and printed sweats and tees from Madewell, J Crew, Zara, Pam and Gela, Haute Hippie, Free People, Current/Elliott, Alexander McQueen, etc.

5. New outerwear. Outerwear is daily wear and more people see us with our coats on than off. An investment in an updated trench, parka or jacket can change-up your current wardrobe and attitude in an instant.

Look for down-filled, shine, quilted, luxe leathers, pop colors and metallics in puffers, 3/4 styles and cropped moto jackets. I particularly like casual styling in upscale materials. My favorites include Moncler, Burberry, Barbour, SAM., Mackage, Via Spiga and Uniglo.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

 

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