In the popular business book Lean Startup, the author Eric Ries encourages companies to test their way into new businesses – to create a minimally viable product (MVP), get customer reaction, iterate and reiterate, and learn as much as possible before investing the whole wad in a finished design.
My conversation with Steve Morris, Founder and CEO of Asset Strategies Group, drawing on his 30+ years in the retail industry.
Vertically integrated fashion retailers have an easy dotcom business model compared to retailers who sell others’ brands. This relative ease comes from having an extra ~15 percentage points of margin to play with, no direct competition, an established supply chain model, and real constraints on assortment.
In a market environment characterized by scant growth and persistent overcapacity, mature specialty retailers have no choice but to pursue non-core growth initiatives. Most companies wisely consider only “adjacent” opportunities, meaning those that leverage existing corporate competencies and other assets.
When I was VP of Brand Planning at Limited Brands, one of my team’s core responsibilities was to help with the merchandising strategies for several key business units. The main thrust was to develop plans and inculcate disciplines that would drive large-scale growth and achieve absolute dominance in specific strategic merchandise categories. These were big businesses, and our CEO Les Wexner, who drove these engagements, would devote substantial corporate resources to these efforts because he envisioned (and frequently realized) topline gains in half-billion dollar increments.
A former boss of mine used to say, “This strategy works…until it doesn’t.” His specific point was that all merchandising strategies eventually fail. Hopefully, your CEO or GMM can anticipate that moment and create a new strategy, but even if they tell you to hit trend, cover entry price points, fend off Forever 21 and H&M, grow knit tops by 3x, become a wear-to-work destination, etc. – will you know how?
After twenty years focused on retail strategy, I took a two-year hiatus in an attempt to make my Internet riches with a software start-up. When I returned to consulting in late 2012 (alas, sans riches), I returned to a significantly changed retail landscape. The Internet was certainly important in 2010, but not nearly as integral. Well into the late ‘00s, stores always mattered more. Today, few retail decisions are made without consideration of digital. And for most retailers, digital is their fastest growing and most profitable channel, for both marketing and transactions.
Digital has altered both supply and demand Continue reading “Retail Strategy in the Digital Age”
2013 was an inflection point for U.S. mall retailing. The economy warily emerged from its Great Recession doldrums, share prices reclaimed record highs, and online retail ascended to become mall retail’s equal partner (in influence if not in transactions).
Promotions offering discounted prices have always been a prominent feature of U.S. retail, but they’ve become significantly more so since the recession melted away demand and technology reduced to near-zero the cost of targeted communications. An unintended consequence for many retailers is that their customers now expect discounts; ticket prices lack credibility; and discounting becomes the only way to move merchandise.