Financo Remains Bullish on Stores

The store still reigns, even though mobile technology and online sales dominated the retail dialogue last year.

The store still reigns.

This story first appeared in the January 14, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s what Financo Inc. intends to convey at its annual forum today at the Harmonie Club, 4 East 60th Street, even though mobile technology and online sales dominated the retail dialogue last year.

“Stores remain the showcase for brands,” said Colin Welch, Financo’s president and chief operating officer. “People aren’t talking enough about the future of stores, which are critical to the lifestyle positioning that many brands seek to achieve.”

Financo forums have a history of taking some interesting turns and today’s installment should be no exception. Financo’s chairman Gilbert Harrison, chief executive officer John Berg and Welch want to keep the agenda focused on stores and how they will evolve, on how online and mobile technologies can support the brick-and-mortar business and the convergence of the channels. They also expect the panelists to tackle such topics as global growth and which regions are ripe, and “high-low” shopping, which is about consumers creating outfits that mix couture looks with moderate styles, like a Chanel jacket and an H&M jean, to reflect more of their personal style.

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The Financo executives pointed out in an interview at their Madison Avenue offices last week that stores will always account for the lion’s share of retail revenues. It’s estimated at roughly 90 percent currently and the rate of online sales growth, while still robust, began to slow last year. According to ComScore Inc., which tracks the digital world, online sales gains for the November to December period rose a healthy 13.8 percent but came in short of the 16 percent expected.

In a break from the past, the Financo Forum won’t feature the usual retail suspects. This year’s panel will include Paul Blum, the new ceo of Juicy Couture who is charged with reinvigorating the once red-hot label; Lew Frankfort, chairman and ceo of Coach Inc., who was ranked 21st on the Harvard Business Review’s list of the best-performing ceo’s in the world, and Eric Wiseman, chairman, president and ceo of VF Corp., one of the best-run fashion conglomerates with about two dozen brands under its umbrella including The North Face, Wrangler, Lee and Timberland.

Danny Meyer, founder and ceo of the Union Square Hospitality Group, will be on the panel as well. He’s been rolling out Shake Shacks, and has a portfolio of fine-dining establishments including the Modern, Gramercy Tavern and Maialino, a Roman-style trattoria in the Gramercy Park Hotel. On the surface, Meyer seems like a choice out of left field for the Financo Forum, though Harrison emphasized that food and restaurants are becoming more important to retail settings. Whether it’s ABC Carpet & Home or Applebee’s, service, hospitality and the experience are key ingredients.

In another break from the past, Sagra Maceira de Rosen, a strategy and investment adviser and author of “The Towering World of Jimmy Choo,” will moderate the group, instead of Harrison. But he will step up to the plate during the Q&A portion, directing questions from the audience and possibly throwing out some zingers of his own.

The 23-year-old Financo Forum will be packed with 275 industry executives, including more than 100 ceo’s. “Almost 70 percent of the attendees are at the c-suite level, compared to 50 percent last year,” Welch said. “Our international representation, about 15 percent of the audience, includes c-level executives of leading retailers from the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China and Canada.”

The by-invitation-only event starts at 4:30 p.m. with the panel and winds up with a cocktail hour.