Retail shopping

Retailing usually gets a bad rap.

Yet according to Stephen Sadove, principal of Stephen Sadove & Associates and retired chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Inc., “Retail is healthy. Retail sales are up about 4 percent.”

But there are winners and losers, he added.

Sadove, among several speakers at the Retail Leaders Circle conference last week at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Manhattan, said, “Wal-Mart spent $3 billion on Jet.com because they want to change the culture. Wal-Mart is capable of being a winner. Amazon is capable of being a winner.”  TJMaxx is another winner, Sadove suggested during his remarks during a panel themed, “Retail’s Seismic Shift.” He credited the offprice chain for “delivering an experience” revolving around offering a constantly changing assortment of designer and brand products at low prices.

On the same panel, Robin Lewis, ceo of The Robin Report, said, “Wal-Mart is coming on like a rocket. It will become Amazon’s biggest headache.”

Then there’s Pirch, a large box retailer selling high-end appliances in an environment where consumers can test all the products – even take a shower to check out the hardware and the water.  “The average lingering time [in the Pirch store] is over an hour and a half,” said Jonathan H. Owsley, managing partner at growth fund L Catterton, who spoke on a panel themed, “Powering Growth Through Investments in Luxury.” But Pirch may not be the best example of how to get consumers out of the house and into the stores since it is closing the bulk of its stores.

On the investment panel, Jill Granoff, ceo of Eurazeo Brands, said the beauty sector is a particularly “hot category.…The multiples are crazy from an investment perspective. Whether that’s makeup or skin care, you wonder if it’s sustainable,” she said. Sephora and Ulta beauty chains are among the retailers getting consistently strong shopper traffic, with panelists suggesting the “seasonless” character of beauty, and the “selfie” phenomena, are helping to spur the beauty business.

Other brands and stores to watch, cited favorably by the speakers on the panels, were Everlane, Tom’s Shoes, Moncler, Burberry, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. And Martha Stewart was cited by Leslie Ghize, executive vice president, Tobe, and senior vice president of Doneger Group, for bringing some edge to a brand that’s been around awhile. “She managed to partner up with Snoop Dog and not abandon herself.”

Ghize said that with all the changes occurring at retail and with consumer shopping patterns, companies must learn to adjust quickly. “You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” she advised. “Retailers don’t move fast enough.”

Lewis spoke favorably about Hudson Yards, the massive mixed-use project in development on Manhattan’s West Side. “I can see a lot of Hudson Yards around the country. They are communities.”

On the negative side of things, Lewis said, “Overcapacity is driving retailers to the path of least resistance which is insane price promoting.” But he also said “Millennials will break the insane price promoting. They will pay for value,” even though they are “less into stuff.”

Lewis said the nation was entering its third year of month-over-month traffic declines, yet Amazon is growing 20 to 30 percent each year since its inception.

Other speakers on the panels were William Sussman, ceo of Threadstone Advisors; Graziano de Boni, former president and ceo, Americas at Philipp Plein Group, and industry analyst Richard Jaffe.