The retail business might be more challenging, but there is still plenty of opportunity.

Four important retailers joined heads to offer five strategies to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace, from creating a more innovative in-store environment and bolstering partnerships to capitalizing on growth.

The panel, moderated by Footwear News News Director Katie Abel, included Tarek Hassan, president of The Tannery; Fred Mossler of Zappos.com; Liz Rodbell, EVP of merchandising at Lord & Taylor; and Ron White, CEO and creative director of Ron White Shoes.

 

1. Create a more compelling experience
Tarek Hassan: “As we make it, we break it and we make it again. We focus on storytelling and the consumer experience.”

Ron White:
“We just opened our seventh store in Toronto and [unveiled a new design concept]. We grouped the store into sections focusing on three women: a daughter, her mother and her grandmother. The new layout is working well.”

Liz Rodbell: “We renovated our flagship store [on Fifth Avenue] and we started with shoes first. We expanded our shoe presence by 50 percent. Over the last five years, our highest growth rate has been in shoes. It is the highest dollar-per-square-foot experience in the entire company. It’s truly a traffic driver.”

Fred Mossler:
“With the recent push into different product categories, we found our customers were challenged. We had to completely re-architect the site.”

 

2. Make service a bigger priority
LR: “When we’re looking to hire, we don’t look for someone who has specifically sold shoes. We’re looking for someone with energy and passion. We spend a lot of time teaching product to sales teams on the floors.”

RW:
“We started as an independent store, but when we [opened] more doors, we set out to create a training university.”

 

3. Bolster vendor partnerships
FM: “A big focus of ours is the efficiency of the supply chain. We’re working with a lot of our vendors to figure out how to ship goods directly from China to our fulfillment center … to create efficiences there.”

LR: “Price increases are going to be there [this fall], so we have to look at how to tackle that. We’re really impressing on everyone to make sure we’re all offering the most newness.”

 

4. Build more buzz
TH:
“Twitter plays a big part in [driving] sales. Our business has to figure out how to be heard through social media, but word-of-mouth is still the best form of advertising.”

LR: “[Social media] is moving quickly, and we have to be on top of that. But we also are still focused on direct-mail business [and traditional advertising].”

FM:
“This sounds archaic, but we think the telephone is our best branding device.”

 

5. Unleash opportunity
FM:
“We recently announced our intention to move our company to downtown Las Vegas. It’s very important to the community of Las Vegas and to our employees.”

TH: “We’re going to open a store in the Big Apple. We’re doing it now because the best opportunities arise in challenging times.”

LR:
“We’re opening in our core market in Westchester County, N.Y., in March 2012. We’re excited to announce a second store in the next couple of weeks. It really expresses to our consumer that our business is healthy.”

RW:
“Four years ago, I took a plunge into creating my own label. Fast-forward eight collections, lots of disasters later, and my brand has taken off. So I took a step into wholesale. Everyone I showed the line to bought it.”

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