Paul Charron

NEW YORK — Paul Charron is looking for change in the often tenuous vendor-retailer relationship.<BR><BR>“It is a symbiotic relationship — vendors and retailers need each other to survive,” said the chairman and chief executive...

NEW YORK — Paul Charron is looking for change in the often tenuous vendor-retailer relationship.

“It is a symbiotic relationship — vendors and retailers need each other to survive,” said the chairman and chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne Inc.

His comments Tuesday were made at the National Retail Federation’s Super Session titled, “The Retailer-Supplier Relationship: What’s Right, What’s Wrong and What’s Coming.”

Other participants included George Heller, president and ceo of Hudson Bay Co.; Gary Lewis, executive vice president of leasing at Simon Property Group, and Amy Merrick, retail reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Introductions were made by KPMG partner Mark Larson.

Heller noted that suppliers and vendors are “two sides of the same coin” and must work together to face the industry’s most pressing issues, such as chargebacks.

The group said a good working relationship can make vendor compliance with shipping agreements easier and help the retailer receive goods efficiently. Boding well for cooperation between the groups is the common goal of meeting the consumers’ needs.

Claiborne, said Charron, has aggressively sought to build up its business relationships, but has done better on that front with its own suppliers than with retailers, as there are certain impediments to the vendor-retailer relationship.

There are signs, though, of a thaw. Witness the LizPlanning system, which makes use of the 7thOnline Collaborative Planning software and is used by vendors and retailers to help take logistical work out of the showroom buying process — working out ratios and quantities in advance over the Internet.

“I view technology as the great enabler,” said Charron, noting that LizPlanning is the first part of a larger micromerchandising strategy.

The initiative’s success, though, depends on broad commitment from both vendors and merchants, in this case Federated Department Stores, with which Claiborne is rolling out LizPlanning.

In turn, this requires “fundamental alterations to the dynamic between buyer and seller,” he said. “We must be partners in the fullest and truest sense.”

While there has been a lot of talk about improving relationships for some time throughout the industry, Charron said the discontinuation of quotas in 2005 might help make true cooperation a reality.

This story first appeared in the January 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We’re talking around the edges,” he said. “We’re walking around the edges, but I don’t think we’re really serious about it.”

The ceo added, “We could simplify a lot of things if we could get together more responsibly and responsively. The vision for change has to come from the top of the organization. This is going to take a lot of courage. We’re going to have to get close and closer and closer together, driven by visionary ceo’s.”

Cooperation between retailers and vendors would be made that much easier by improved sales.

For his part, Simon Property’s Lewis said his company was always working to improve its malls.

“It’s a continual evolution,” he said, which includes adding new tenants, such as restaurants, that could bring shoppers to the mall at nontraditional times.

Simon, which owns more than 200 malls throughout the U.S., is also working to revitalize its older properties through the creation of some “destination uses” for the properties.