I spent Tuesday lunchtime this week in the agreeable company of my old friend, menswear PR Colin Woodhead, Scott Malkin, owner of Value Retail, which runs Bicester Village, and a real retail legend, Burt Tansky.
I spent Tuesday lunchtime this week in the agreeable company of my old friend, menswear PR Colin Woodhead, Scott Malkin, owner of Value Retail, which runs Bicester Village, and a real retail legend, Burt Tansky, the 76-year-old former chairman and CEO of US luxury department store group Neiman Marcus.
Since the early 1960s, Tansky has worked for, and usually run, some of the most celebrated US department stores, such as I Magnin, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. He achieved the remarkable feat of selling Neiman Marcus Group twice in eight years between 2005 and 2013 - first for $5bn, then for $6bn - so, to use the American vernacular, he’s a smart cookie.
Over lunch he spoke a lot about focus in retailing. Presciently, Tansky revived the fortunes of Neiman Marcus by returning it to focus on high-end goods that gave it a point of difference. He expressed his admiration for Ralph Lauren for sticking to his personal vision - noting this single-mindedness has given Lauren a net worth of $6bn. Echoing my own thoughts, Tansky bemoaned that too many stores had become mini shopping malls, divided into identikit areas of over-familiar brand names instead of reflecting the retailer’s personality. He expressed excitement that etailing could reach wealthy customers who live nowhere near a luxury department store. But he also made the point that online selling is only the modern version of the catalogue selling of the late 19th century, when pioneers in rural America would order goods from a book that would be delivered some weeks later. This was look-and-collect rather than click-and-collect.
It was appropriate to be talking about retailing methods old and new on Tuesday, as January 28 was the 34th anniversary of my joining Drapers Record as a junior reporter. In 1980, Textile Trade Publications, part of Thomson Magazines, was based at 20 Soho Square and DR’s stablemates included the weekly Men’s Wear and the monthly British Clothing Manufacturer. My memory says we acquired the long-established weekly Shoe & Leather News not long after.
Like fashion retailing itself, today’s Drapers has undergone great changes and yet still remains remarkably similar to the version of 34 years ago. We are now online, of course, and increasing numbers of readers have no use for the printed version, yet many still rely on the physical publication for their weekly fix of news and views, trends and analysis. An early lesson for me as a reporter was that many subscribers used to read Drapers Record backwards, starting with the last page that listed county court judgments, then moving on to reports of creditors’ meetings for firms that had failed - it’s odd that bad news is so popular. The jobs pages would be checked over before finally the editorial sections were begun. Alas, the service that provided the CCJs and the reports of meetings is a distant memory, but our jobs pages are still buoyant - and a good sign is that more jobs are being advertised with us this year than last, a sure sign that things are, slowly, improving.
Strange to recall, Drapers Record in 1980 hardly ever used colour in its pages. This week’s all-colour issue shows how things have improved. I’d like to salute our fashion team of Graeme Moran and Emily Norval, plus our seasonal assistant Hannah Banks-Walker and a small group of fashion student interns, for the extraordinary amount of work they have done to produce this season’s fashion specials. This week’s Womenswear Special, the third in the sequence, will be followed on March 1 by our Footwear & Accessories Special. We hope they help you to do the important thing this season - focus on your point of difference.