PHILADELPHIA — Retailers gathered here Wednesday night to celebrate the role that women play in all facets of the industry while across town speakers at the Democratic National Convention were making the case as to why Hillary Clinton should be the first woman to become president of the U.S.
The National Retail Federation and QVC hosted an event to showcase retail to the policymakers who are here en masse to attend the convention at the Wells Fargo Center. It was a stark contrast from the Republican convention in Cleveland last week, where retailers had a minimal presence for Donald Trump’s anointment as the Republican presidential nominee.
But attendees at the Philadelphia retail event were quick to point out they were not taking sides, having invited lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to attend.
The reception, themed “Celebrating Women in Retail,” was held at the National Constitution Center and showcased several display areas that looked in many ways like the set of a QVC show. There were room-size displays of clothing and shoes from designers who sell on QVC as well as other vignettes on beauty, home and jewelry.
Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, told WWD that she was just in Philadelphia for a day to support the efforts to showcase retail.
“I think we are going to meet lots of really interesting people, lots of policymakers that can help influence the retailing industry and lots of people who I think can do good things for our industry, as well as good things for the country,” Katz said. “One of the most important facts about the retail industry is that 25 percent of all jobs are in the retailing industry, so we should have a big influence on how policy is made. I think that is why the National Retail Federation is here in Philadelphia during the convention to really get our message out. I think that singularly is one of the most important things that the NRF does for all its member retailers.”
Katz also made a trip to the Democratic convention at the Wells Fargo Center earlier in the day and planned to visit it later that night, when Vice President Joe Biden, vice presidential nominee Tom Kaine and President Obama all spoke.
While there, she saw a lot of major media types.
“I have seen every famous news media person that I have ever seen on TV,” Katz said. “I was star struck. I knew what they were all wearing so that is really frightening.”
Decked in “chic but comfortable” shoes, Katz said the atmosphere at the convention was “exciting,” but she declined to comment on the candidates.
Asked what people in general want to hear at the convention, Katz said: “I believe that Americans in general want to hear a message of hope and that we can move forward. The world is a bit of a scary place right now on many levels. I think we want assurances that the world will be safe for our children and the next generation of our children. I think that’s in my mind what everyone wants to hear at these political conventions. We’ll see who delivers on their promises.”
Mike George, president and ceo of QVC, said of Wednesday’s event: “It’s really meaningful for us for several reasons. Most of our customers are women. We have amazing women executives at QVC. We’re so proud of the fact that we are one of the few national retailers that is still a home for a small businessperson to come and present their product on QVC.
“That’s harder to do in a typical national retailer,” George said. “So we give the small businessperson a voice.”
He said many small business owners, many of whom happen to be women, get their start on QVC and grow their business from there. He pointed to IT Cosmetics, a beauty brand built by Jamie Kern Lima, who launched on QVC and whose company was acquired by L’Oréal last week for $1.2 billion.
“What a wonderful thing for an entrepreneur like Jamie who had an idea, no experience, just passion for what she was doing and committed to building a great business, and we could give her a voice,” George said. “Our customers love Jamie because she is this very real, authentic person who talked to the customer about her very real world problems and how she is developing treatments that can help people with those problems. The customer believes her, gets her passion and out of that this magic happens when you create this amazing brand like IT Cosmetics.”
Matthew Shay, president and ceo at the NRF, said the night showcased the careers that women have chosen in retail and noted that QVC was the perfect partner.
“QVC showcases women on the entrepreneurial side,” Shay said. “That is one thing Mike George spoke about earlier — this evening how many entrepreneurs they’ve been able to put up on the stage, literally and figuratively, to give them a platform to promote the things that they’ve created and the products and services they offer to customers. At the end of the day while there are many large businesses in the retail industry, 50 percent of them have five or fewer employees and 95 percent only have one location.”
Shay said the retail industry is primarily comprised of small businesses, the vast majority of them run by women.
NRF said in materials distributed at the event that 98 percent of all retail businesses employ fewer than 100 people, while retail supports 20 percent of the jobs in every state.
To illustrate that point, NRF provided a “retail impact data wheel” showing the number of stores, employees, percentage of retailers with less than 100 employees and total number of female-owned, veteran-owned and minority-owned retail companies by state.
For example, New York employs 920,848 people in retail. There are 78,052 stores in the state and 98 percent of the retailers have fewer than 100 employees. Nineteen percent of retail companies in New York are female-owned, while 5 percent are owned by veterans and 36 percent are minority-owned.
On the other coast, 1.6 million people work in retail in California. There are 106,820 stores, of which 21 percent are female-owned, 5 percent are veteran-owned and 50 percent are minority-owned.
“The partnership with QVC for us was a logical one and not only because of the geography and the fact they are here in Philadelphia but even more so because the role they have played historically identifying women business owners and entrepreneurs and giving them that opportunity,” Shay said of the West Chester, Pa.-based QVC.
“It also tells the story of the dynamism in the retail industry broadly, the jobs that get created, the careers that are available to people and really puts some human faces on it,” Shay added.