For The Whitaker Group’s founder James Whitner, being the consumer is essential to knowing the consumer.
With an assortment of stores via his company’s four retail entities — Social Status, A.P.B., Prosper and A Ma Maniére — Whitner emphasized the importance of being submerged with the people you are trying to connect with. He asked, “Are you focused on the consumer? Do you know who the consumer is and why? Most people don’t. You’re casting a wide net in men’s wear…I’m the guy. I’m the guy who’s buying the stuff and wearing the stuff.”
Aside from anticipating what his shoppers want, Whitner spoke of how he tries to design spaces that they will emotionally respond to. “I’m always trying to re-create the places and spaces I’ve been in. I feel like I have a romantic affair with the consumer in the process. Can someone cue the music? [Romantic tunes follow.] When I walk into a store, this is how I feel. I’m being romanced by the romance,” he said.
Referring to outdated business practices that can’t keep up with quick fire social media and fashion’s rapid speed of change, Whitner said, “You’ve got to set your businesses up to move like we move. We get what we get, we want what we want, when we want it. That’s why malls are shuttering. That’s why Amazon is beating people’s asses. It’s not that Amazon has great product. It’s just that you can get what you want, when you want it, how you want it.”
With a new hotel in Washington, D.C., Whitner said that is another way to connect with consumers and to get a better read on what they want and how they live. He also predicted that his sales will double “pound-for-pound” each year, or at least increase by 40 percent.
He emphasized how the range of influences on men’s wear are greater than they have ever been — citing Tom Ford, Cartier, Gucci and Dover Street Market as places he likes to shop. But he also spoke of how retailers need to define their own ethos.
“What do we stand for and why? It’s less about what any designer is doing this season. What are we doing and why? Where do we want to take the consumer? How are we speaking to the consumer? What are our experiences?” he said. “When we walk in to buy a brand [to carry], the first thing we ask is, ‘How does it fit in to what we’re doing? Where are the synergies that we can create?’ It’s less about sell-throughs from last season. Obviously you’re going to measure your business but you can’t measure the business based on the relationship from last season.”
Looking to bring hospitality and retail together next year, Whitner said he plans to do furniture and home goods collaborations, and is open to exploring other areas of interest, such as art. Speaking to the audience, he said, ‘You guys can walk into Balenciaga or Gucci and you belong. They still don’t believe that we’re supposed to be there. All that does is create Off-White….You guys blocked us out. We’re just going to continue to create what we want, disrupt the market and drive you even more crazy. We’re not going anywhere. Every time people try not to let us in a room, all we’re going to continue to do is to kick the door in to get into the room.”
Asked about data analytics, Whitner said, “Analytics are real. You can’t ever beat the numbers. But I’ve been saying the same thing since I got in the business. ‘There is science and there is art.’ The only things that numbers can predict is consumers’ habits based on what previously happened.”