Retail viewpoints vary from FGI conference

Heath E. Combs, Marvin Lazaro, November 11, 2002

New York — Fashion Group International's (FGI) annual conference about the state of retail, titled "The Best of Times, The Worst of Times," featured five industry-watchers who presented widely disparate views about the 2002 holiday season, with opinions ranging from the "worst in a decade" to a prediction of 5 percent growth.

Sponsored dually by slipcover manufacturer Sure Fit Inc. and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., the conference was opened by Margaret Hayes, president of FGI, with introductions made by the ceo/president of Sure Fit, Bert Shlensky. Moderating the discussion was Philip Miller, president of Philip B. Miller Associates.

The panel was made up of Daniel Barry, managing director of Merrill Lynch; Walter Levy, managing director, retail trends & positioning, for Kurt Salmon Associates; Robin Lewis, president of Robin Lewis Inc.; and Carl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Research.

Lewis, whose company specializes in strategic brand positioning for major corporations in the retail and related consumer products business, said, "The bad news is the best of times have come and gone. The good news is we are going to come back and recover to where we were prior to the bottom falling out."

Lewis said the five Ds — declining share of market, decelerating retail growth, devastating retail expansion, deflating prices and dead retail sales per square foot growth — have all contributed to the current "black hole" state of retail. According to Lewis, who also writes and publishes the monthly Robin Reports, a report which provides strategic insight into major events occurring in the fashion, beauty, accessory and retail industries, distribution is the key. In order to be successful, he said, retailers must be able to bring their goods to consumers "first, faster and more often."

While innovation is important in order to drive retail growth, Lewis elaborated, it is useless unless retailers are able to get that innovation to consumers as rapidly as possible, since what is a hot product today is often "cloned ad infinitum tomorrow." Lewis praised apparel manufacturer Zara for its ability to constantly innovate and for its supply chain. According to Lewis, Zara delivers to and replenishes more than 600 stores twice a week. That quick cycle has enabled the company to weed out the losers and rapidly produce the winners, he said.

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