Large publicly traded retailers weren’t the only ones clobbered by the tough fall and holiday season. Independent specialty stores also felt the impact of the recession and consumers’ reluctance to spend. The difference is that smaller merchants don’t have the large-store luxury of receiving markdown money from vendors. And so now, when the bills come due, many face another hurdle — how to pay for goods that didn’t sell while pondering their shopping lists for next fall.
That’s the backdrop for many retailers heading to New York for market. Although most stores surveyed by WWDWWDWWD are still planning to make the trip to shop The Collective, Blue, Project and the men’s wear showrooms, they’re significantly cutting back on their open-to-buys for the season, some by as much as 50 percent.
As Ellen Levy, co-owner of Levy’s in Nashville, put it: “Everything has to be cut back, but I’m not worried. There’s no shortage of inventory.”
Nevertheless, retailers realize that, to get customers into stores, they need to find fresh, exciting merchandise to whet their appetites. Although this quest is nothing new, it’s even more important this year since the same tried-and-true basics are not enough to lure shoppers living in the worst economic downturn in a generation.
David Rubenstein of Rubenstein’s in New Orleans said he’s planning to shop the New York market, although he won’t be staying as long as he has in the past.
“But we’ll be there,” he said. “We’ve still got to buy things.”
In Rubenstein’s case, that buying will be scaled back this season. “Our open-to-buy is about 50 percent of what it was last year,” he said. “And we are not adding any resources until we get a better feel for spring.”
In New York, he will be filling holes in his tailored clothing inventory, he said, and looking at sportswear. But for the latter, he’s waiting to see if business turns around in March or April before adding a lot of inventory. He plans go back into the market to freshen the store before Father’s Day.
“We will play it conservatively,” he said.
Rubenstein also plans to trim the dollars spent on luxury-level goods. “Medium-price sold well, but luxury is taking the biggest hit,” he said. He pointed to the more-moderately priced Jack Victor as an example of a suit vendor that has connected with customers. The same holds true for other categories. In furnishings, shirts retailing for $150 to $200 are outperforming those in the $300-to-$400 range. And so, the former will be on his abbreviated shopping list next week.
“With sweaters and jackets, if we sell through, we’ll fill in,” he said.
Still, Rubenstein added he believes “business will level off” soon. “I don’t think it will go down from here,” he said.
Rubenstein, like many other specialty stores, said the tough economic climate is forcing him to turn his focus back to the basics of retailing. “It’s like starting over again, like it’s our first day in business,” he said. “Before, life was easy and we didn’t have to make the tough decisions, but then the bell rang. Now, we really have to look at our overhead. But that’s how people got started.”
Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans in New York City, agreed. “Many of us confused brains with a bull market,” he said. “Now we have to think about expenses, our vendor structure and our personnel costs.”
Christmas sales were “very bad,” he admitted, “and it’s tough to do 2004 revenues with 2008 expenses. But the challenge going ahead is to remain upbeat and really become businessmen and women again. It’s intimidating to be forced to deal with it, but it’s also invigorating.”
For those companies whose balance sheets have remained strong, there are possibilities that will pay dividends after the recession ends. “This is this generation’s opportunity to acquire assets in a distressed environment, and will probably only happen once in our lifetimes. There’s going to be a lot of real estate available, and if an opportunity came along, we would consider [opening another store],” Giddon said. “We’re strong, we have no debt and we’ll be looking. But right now, the consumer is still on strike.”
As a result, his visit to vendors this month will morph into something other than a buying trip. “We’re excited about going to market,” he said. “We want to see who our friends are. We’ve been a good customer for many years and we’re going to see who’s really our partner. When wholesalers say they feel our pain, I wonder if they do. We’re paying them full price and marking things down 50 percent. That doesn’t seem like a partnership to me.”
Giddon said he’ll be “looking for a level playing field. If department stores are getting markdown money, I want it too. We pay with the same money they do.”
He plans to attend The Collective and Project, but without preconceived notions of what he needs to buy. “We’ll be thinking outside the box in all categories,” he said. “I’m going to market with more of an open mind than I ever have. I’m going under the assumption that things will get better and I’ll be looking at the lines with the best chance of making me money. And I’m going to avoid anything that is 80 percent off at Saks.”
Hill Stockton, owner of Norman Stockton in Winston-Salem, N.C., also acknowledged "Christmas wasn’t really very good.”
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye
Did you know: @carlychaikin of "Mr. Robot" has been painting for about a decade? The actress, who plays Darlene on the show, is a self-taught artist who lists Salvador Dalí and Chuck Close as some of her idols. Chaikin told WWD that painting is a form of meditation for her — A much-needed one given the intensity of "Mr. Robot." See a piece Chaikin is working on at WWD.com (📷: @jilliansollazzo) #wwdeye