COCKTAILS AND CHRISTMAS TALES

Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — “I feel like I’m in the hall of legends,” said Mark Goldstein, chief executive of BlueLight.com, after scoping the crowd at the annual Financo dinner Monday at the Harmonie Club.
True to tradition, the Financo event drew a world-class, multigenerational crop of retail and fashion executives, about 200 in all, reuniting old colleagues and providing a bright postscript to the grueling holiday season.
Among the veterans there were Edward Finkelstein, former Macy’s chairman; Gordon Segal of Crate & Barrel; Matthew Bucksbaum of General Growth, and David Tracy of Fabria.com and former J.P. Stevens chief. It’s a male-dominated evening, but the cigar smoking has been purged and female executives attended in greater numbers, representing about 10 percent of the guest list and reflecting an industry more actively elevating women. “We don’t find it intimidating,” stated Helene Fortunoff, ceo of the store bearing her surname. “Every woman here has a good ego.”
Though he’s not that old, Larry Leeds of Buckingham Capital and a regular at the Financo fest, invoked the Thirties to put the economic slowdown in perspective. “A lot of great fortunes were made in terrible times,” he said.
“Christmas wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a disaster. I don’t think we’ve got doom and gloom ahead,” observed retail analyst Maggie Gilliam, while Financo chairman Gilbert Harrison believes, “The real story unfolds when gross margins get reported.”
A few retailers actually excelled last Christmas, like American Eagle Outfitters, and Laura Weil, the chain’s chief financial officer, explained why. “On a micro basis, it was about having the right merchandise. With our 556 stores, thriving Web site and magalog, we took a laser-like focus on our customer — the 20 year old. We think we will do well even in a downturn.”
There’s more reason for optimism, with some predicting a fashion turn. “It’s time for people to dress up a little more in the workplace, to look a little more professional, and for women to be more feminine,” said Donna Schmid, vice president at Monsoon/Accessorize USA.
Financo’s dinner coincides with the National Retail Federation’s convention at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, as does the NRF’s own cocktail party, and the Goldman Sachs dinner held Tuesday at the New York Palace, which brought out the industry captains for another round. Among the ceos: Federated’s James Zimmerman, Sears’ Alan Lacy, Pier One’s Marvin Girouard and Zale’s Beryl Raff. Parties have their place, but business is top priority — as it should be, according to Walter Salmon, the Stanley Roth Sr. professor of retailing emeritus at Harvard Business School, who urged guests to come up with new business models. “Without organization and supply chain reform, the general merchandise sector is in jeopardy.”

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