By  on August 11, 2014

No one is raving about the retail business, only parts of it.

Luxury, off-price and online are the best sectors, while regular stores, moderate and lower-priced merchandise are generally flat, according to a group of retail chief executive officers speaking separately on Bloomberg Radio’s “Titans of Retail” show Friday, making for a sobering synopsis.

“In the U.S., the best category is luxury. The highest demographic customers are really shopping in full force,” said Richard Baker, chairman and ceo of Hudson’s Bay Co. The moderate sector is “rather flat, not negative,” he added, in his conversation with show hosts Kathleen Hays and Vonnie Quinn and guest host Kenneth C. Natori, vice president of The Natori Co.

Baker was followed by Tony Spring, Bloomingdale’s chairman and ceo, who said, “We continue to see good business growth across the country. Clearly there are pockets where business is a little softer.”

“Business is good, not great. It’s OK,” Bill Dillard III, vice president of Dillard’s, said later. Told Dillard’s stock is up 25 percent year-to-date, closing at $121.80 on Friday, Dillard said, “We’re not setting the world on fire. We’re grinding it out and making some money....Great products, a good assortment, great service — those things will never go out of vogue.”

“We think there’s a massive opportunity to bring brands online and extend those brands into any channel the customer wants,” said Dave Gilboa, cofounder and co-ceo of Warby Parker, who was inspired to start the company in college when he lost his $700 glasses. Warby, which has raised $115 million, is investing in technology and stores.

Karen Katz, president and ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group, noted that the company had been quick to respond to the challenge of developing e-commerce and that it accounts for more than 23 percent of revenues. “We believe we’ve actually figured out how to sell luxury online to the affluent consumer,” she said.

The investments necessary to develop a strong e-commerce business played a role in the company’s decision last year to sell itself to Ares Management LLC and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for $6 billion, rather than testing the waters of an initial public offering. She said among the criteria considered were a new owners’ understanding of “what it is to serve affluent customers” and a willingness to invest capital for renovations and the e-commerce business.

Starting as an e-commerce pure-play, Bonobos has recently modified its business model to go omnichannel since customers “want to touch and feel clothes,” said Andy Dunn, ceo and cofounder of Bonobos, the men’s pants company that has ventured into men’s tailored clothing, furnishings and through the AYR brand, women’s wear. A recent round of financing, which generated $55 million, will allow Bonobos to “triple or quadruple” the number of its guide shops in the next few years from 10 currently. The shops have taught the company that “customers don’t have to walk out of a store with the product in their hands,” Dunn said.

RELATED STORY: Tony Spring Outlines Bloomingdale's Future >>

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