This "Queen Of Retail" Talks Trends, Challenges And Entrepreneurship


Retail is one of the most dynamic and closely watched sectors of the world economy. Consumer spending underlies American gross domestic product growth. It all comes back to the stores -- what drives us to spend our money? Why do we choose to shop here, or there? What can store owners due to elevate the experience?

1. What retail trends are you seeing today?

Retail will always be a force on the avenue. Today, the best stores impart an experience that ties a customer to their brand and collection that evokes a lifestyle. Transforming textiles into fashion is more than design, sewing and distribution. The best retailers elevate their work to trigger emotions. Bricks or clicks, whatever your fix, it's the creativity that makes this business come to life.

2. What is the biggest misconception people have about retail?

The biggest misconception about retail is based on not understanding how much work goes into finding, bidding, leasing, designing, building and opening a new store. It is a lot of work. There are many professionals involved at every level, and everything needs to come together correctly for it to work well. In terms of the business of retail leasing, the biggest misconception is really from the residential brokers -- retail real estate is a totally different beast.

3. Who is doing brick and mortar really well?

The in-store experience is best when shopping can really become its own event. Saks Fifth Avenue is doing something really special here -- where the idea of personal shopping is being brought to the nines with all of the pampering and attention within the store. What Saks is also testing now is 'The Personal Shopping Experience,' where an 8-person team of stylists, tailors and jewelers come to you in a van complete with an edited wardrobe. At Saks, it's about the service and the selection.

4. Can you please speak a little about brick and mortar vs. digital.

Brick and mortar versus digital is a big misconception right now. It's not either or, but both. The best brands are loved by their customers because of how they deliver products and services to enhance our lives. It does not matter if the product is being bought in the store or online, because we do both, sometimes even in the same day. One really interesting example is from one of the country's biggest landlords we work with: there was a medium-sized store that grew a big online following. They closed the store, because they thought the online business would be enough. The online following just started to disappear. Physical and digital are the two faces of the same coin in the retail business, and we want that coin spent on our brand, in person or online.

5. What are some of the challenges with digital shopping?

There are three big challenges for digital shopping. We lose the ability to touch, feel and try on in the moment. And, as for the moment, we miss out on the in-store serendipity -- I came in for a blouse, but saw this skirt, and bought them both. For me, the third challenge is the loss of the magic. The in-store experience is about imbuing a space with what the brand represents, achieving a look and feel that translates into a lifestyle. It's like the difference between being in someone's beautiful home, or just seeing a photo. I think Ralph Lauren is a world leader in everything he does, but, would you want to shop his brand online, at a department store or discount retailer, or in the Ralph Lauren Mansion at 72nd Street and Madison Avenue? You already know my answer. If you've never been, that corner actually has three of his flagships, for women, men and children. It's divine!

6. Can you speak briefly about the "Amazon effect"? How is Amazon affecting various online industries?

Online, Amazon is the elephant in the room. The question for every consumer who wants to order anything online in this very moment, once Amazon carries it, the price will be lower and the delivery faster than any other website. The secret there is economies of scale. Amazon generates $130 billion in revenue, and its profit margin is a tiny 2 percent. That was also a long time coming. In 1997, Amazon shares began life at $1.50 and, nearly 20 years later, they’re trading close to $800. Two years ago, the shares were only at $300. The point is, if you have 20 years, and the ability to reach scale before having to turn a profit, you could become the next Amazon, too. Most businesses do not have that luxury. So, the question becomes how to bring a new and interesting idea to the market, how to keep costs below the price your customers will pay, make it sustainable, and then scale up. That's true for brick and mortar and online stores.

7. Where do you see the future of retail?

Retail is now all about the experience. We're seeing a lot more focus on in-store amenities, on the idea of art and creating a performance in the space, and, of course, service, where we're seeing a focus on providing what definitely cannot be gained online. Growth is also about convenience -- a Starbucks on every corner, a bank branch everywhere you need it. Online, the future is definitely Amazon for mainstream purchases -- why buy laundry detergent every now and again when Amazon can have it at your door for the same price or less in 48 hours? But also, all of the great ideas that humanity can invent, package and sell to us, available for browsing at home or on the go, with new products always there to tantalize. What I mean to say is that we need not fear this giant shopping monopoly, but let it take up the monotonous parts of what we need to buy, allowing us more time to be creative, to discover and to support young artisans with their tiny online shingles in cyberspace.

8. What advice do you give to an entrepreneur looking to sell something?

Do the thing better and cheaper than what the market offers, or more elaborate and extravagantly, but with the same eye towards what the customer really wants, and delivering. Focus on the simplicity of your idea, reduce needless features and understand your competition. In the online world, venture capitalists want to see solutions that are 10 times better, because they know how hard it can be for consumers to appreciate your improvements. If your widget is a mouse trap that catches 10 times as many mice as the other guy's, it becomes an easy sell.

9. Are self-selling sites like Etsy good vehicles for distribution?

Etsy's brand started with the artisans and craftsmen out there, and I see that as a strength. When looking for an artsy purchase, why not go to Etsy? I've known people to find artists, calligraphers, specialist jewelry makers and antique restorers at Etsy, and that is great. As a sole distribution channel, that might be OK for a small artist who makes every product differently, but I don't think it's so great for selling a manufactured product with a national distribution. If you try it and get sales, great. If you can expand your network onto channels, even better. If you can augment online with your product on the shelf of every Macy's, brilliant. If you expand your line and have enough product to take your own store, all the better! If one store is performing wonders, open more in the same city. If that works, certainly, take it national and then global. It all comes back to what you're making and the customer's response.

10. Please speak a bit about technology in brick and mortar. How is it evolving?

The biggest technology changes within stores is that computers can track the movement of inventory better than ever. We know where every box is in the warehouse because of serial numbers or RFID tags -- that's Radio-Frequency IDentification. New middleware programs make sense of all of the back-end, tying together all of the programs stores use. We control the inventory, the shipping, and the direct delivery to the stores. All of that continues until the POS -- point of sale -- cash registers -- now sometimes even cashless, just iPads, credit cards and signatures. This is evolving the same way "Internet of things" in the home -- once it can all be connected, everyone wants to, never mind the cost. The challenge, of course, is that big operations can benefit, but, in your smaller boutique or only shingle, all of this might be overkill.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.