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The Tracks of My Tiers

February 13, 2012

There was this tractor trailer you used to be able to see in a parking lot that the train passed every morning. On the side of the trailer was the name of the store - long gone even back then - and below it the slogan, "America's Favorite Junior Department Store."

I always wondered what most of the riders on that commuter train used to make of that slogan. A hundred out of a hundred of them most certainly had no idea what in the world a junior department store actually was. It was one of those categorizations that those in the retailing business understood, but pretty much nobody else had a clue. Call it business myopia, but it was probably part of the reason that trailer was sitting abandoned in that desolate parking lot for all those years.

I'm reminded of that moment by all the recent commotion caused by The Martha Wars. Ms. Stewart's pending migration to JCPenney and her possible eviction from the hallowed halls of Herald Square and environs certainly makes for great theater, and you know lots of lawyers are going to make lots of money on this - including the ones who screwed up in the first place and wrote contracts with seemingly Houdini-like escape clauses.

One of the key issues here will be channel of distribution exclusivity and how much overlap and competition there is between Macy's and Penney. To which I say: You people are all insane, there are no channels of distribution anymore. The consumer shops wherever she wants and she doesn't make a damn bit of distinction between channels anymore.

Think about it: You can buy Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel or H&M. Missoni is at Target and Neiman's. A shopper can look for Sony electronics everywhere from the local Duane Reade drug store to the most high-end home theater boutique. And I won't even talk about Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren.

Even the lovely Miss Martha is everywhere from Home Depot to Michaels to Macy's. If you look hard enough you'll probably still find some inventory in the back room at Kmart.

I get store exclusivity. It's one of the reasons Macy's has done so well recently as it has developed not just captive and private label programs, but captive and private label programs people actually want. If you're the only place in town to get that brand - and it's a brand worth getting - it's a great merchandising card to play these days.

That's not what we're talking about here, however. A brand like Martha is all over the place. And the consumer knows that.

But does she understand channel of distribution exclusivity? Absolutely not. Does she care? Even more absolutely not. She's just as likely to buy something at Amazon as she is at Nordstrom as she is at Dollar General. And it's all good to her.

She may even shop at a junior department store ... whatever that is.