It’s a notoriously reticent industry, but on Monday, retailers let it all hang out, first with cocktails at Manhattan’s 21 Club, organized by the National Retail Federation, and then at the Financo dinner at the Harmonie Club, one of the hottest tickets of the year for the merchant set. At Financo, speculation swirled around the future of Gap Inc., which is struggling with poor performances and management departures; Jones New York, which could be back on the selling block or ready for a breakup; global warming and the impact on business; how Christmas 2006 failed to meet expectations for retailers, but still came out OK for most, and the changing political climate with Democrats emerging victorious in Congressional elections.
“The private equity guys are all circling around Gap,” said one partygoer.
“There is a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment on Capitol Hill. That’s going to be a challenge. It’s my biggest worry,” said Tracy Mullin, president and chief executive officer of NRF.
The 17th installment of the Financo event drew over 200 for dinner, about twice as many for cocktails, and some new additions. “We never got a gift bag before,” said a surprised Burt Tansky, ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group. “But to my dismay, there’s not one thing I can return to my store.”
It was also the first time the wife of Financo chairman Gilbert Harrison attended. “She didn’t want to stay, but I made her,” Harrison said.
Liz Lange, president and founder of Liz Lange Maternity, also came for the first time. “It’s overwhelming. This is absolutely a great networking event. There’s definitely a bunch of people here I could conceivably do business with.” She already has three Liz Lange stores and a successful licensing arrangement with Target where the maternity department sells only Liz Lange.
Joseph Gromek of Warnaco said 2006 was a challenging year. “Hopefully, we were good students and hopefully 2007 will be better.” David Simon, of Simon Property Group, told retailers, “Generally, the stores look great. The execution has been excellent, but we’ve let you down. But we’re putting a couple of billion back into our properties.”
Those at the Financo included industry legends such as Harvard retail professor Walter Salmon, Marvin Traub, David Tracy, John Belk and Paul Charron; a bevy of headhunters such as Hal Reiter, Elaine Hughes, Kirk Palmer and Karen Harvey, and a slew of regulars, like Nautica’s Denise Seegal and Crate & Barrel’s Gordon Segal, except for the noticeable absence of Gap’s Don Fisher, who was said to be out of the country, and Federated’s Terry Lundgren, who was in Cincinnati.