By  on December 6, 2004

NEW YORK — The rules of retailing are changing.

As the big get bigger, the pace of consolidation has quickened, which leaves retailers vying for better market positions, and consumer loyalty to traditional retail channels is waning. On the operations side, poor inventory management, once fixed by steep markdowns, may break a retailer.

There are strategies retailers can engage in to grow their business in this climate, said industry executives who took part in a roundtable hosted by Berns Communications Group, a business communications firm specializing in retail and fashion.

The panel, moderated by WWD, included Susan Sokol, president of Vera Wang; Laura Pomerantz, principal at PBS Realty Advisors, a commercial real estate boutique with a focus on retail and fashion; Rick Darling, president of Li & Fung USA, specializing in global sourcing and supply chain management; Gilbert Harrison, chairman of investment bank Financo Inc.; Robert Skinner, president and chief operating officer of Kellwood Co., and Scott Bernstein, principal of SB Capital Group, a Schottenstein Stores Corp. affiliate that provides a wide range of services to retailers.

The panelists discussed how to maximize the supply chain, diversify a brand, reach new channels, leverage retail real estate and identify new growth partners.

Darling tackled the importance of maximizing the supply chain. Companies are looking at the best factories to produce goods “without concern about the best country,” he said.

This phase in the evolution of supply chain management centers on improvements to the entire chain, from product development and sourcing to information technology, as well as social responsibility and compliance.

“And that is a huge fundamental shift in the way people view, not only sourcing, but their entire supply chain,” Darling said.

Other shifts likely will stem from the end of apparel and textile quotas on Jan. 1. “The lifting of quotas [on China] is an issue, but the real issue is the value that is unlocked when you start to look at the best place to make a particular product,” he said. “It’s the ability to look at fabric, for example, from more than one country and saying, ‘That’s the best place to get the fabric,’ and then looking elsewhere and saying, ‘That’s the best place to get the trim.’”

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