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.

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.