What Are Big Brands Doing in Retail? It’s a Bit Scary

Below is the handout I distributed at IASC’s Skateboard Industry Summit at the end of April where I talked about the evolving retail environment.  These are quotes from recent fillings and conference calls by Billabong, Genesco (owners of Journeys), Nike and Zumiez about how they see the retail environment and their involvement in it.  Except for Nike, you’ve seen these if you’ve read in detaill my most recent analysis of these company’s results.

These quotes aren’t my opinion or interpretation; they are what the senior executives actually believe and are doing.  In general, they are unclear about their growth opportunities in core stores and the survivability of those stores.  They think they can merchandise their own brands in their own stores better than in the core shops.  They like the higher margins.  You really need to read these comments.  Draw your own conclusions.


 There is still “…a little bit of an apprehension to actually placing forward orders, and some customers preferring to do a little bit of business in season.” “I’d say that’s a trend that’s probably going to be there for a little while,” he continues.
Jeff’s Comment: I’d be curious to know just what he means by “a little while.”
“I can’t sit here at all and say that all the accounts that we are currently dealing with will still be there in three months time,” is how he puts it. He also thinks they may have to tighten credit by the end of the current six months.
“If you look at the wholesale level, most of the business going on, the buyers are focused on your price point category and up to your mid price print category.” “…in our own retail, which has definitely outperformed our wholesale side in this period, in our own retail we can showcase and merchandise a product across all the price points and we’re doing really well right across the board.”
“The cycles with our own retailers, we are beginning to drop product into our own retail even faster than wholesale channel. We are beginning to, on certain key styles…build product that may go into our own retail before even the wholesale consumer sees it in an indent (sic) process. But we’re beginning to utilize our own retail to test product a lot more and we’re just becoming a little more focused on that shortening of the whole supply side.”
“If you look at the big retail brands out there, they don’t have a buyer to get past, they just decide what they’re going to make and they put it in their own stores and therefore they could have a very short cycle.…we are looking more and more at some of our own retail stores where we can looking at touching on a more vertical model. And not having that delay with going out and having an eight week ordering pattern and then go away and ordering product, we’ll just go straight to retail.”
What percentage of total revenues could retail represent?” somebody asked. “It’s probably going to depend on what happens with the wholesale account base,” O’Neill responded.
Genesco is looking at “very modest” store growth in Journeys. They say they don’t want to have happen to them what has happened to other retailers who have over extended themselves on their store count. They mention Footlocker, The Gap, and Starbucks as retailers who are closing stores because they got a bit overextended. They plan to open only 50 net new stores over the next five years across the whole company.
They also note that they have another wave of store leases coming up for renewal. They expect to get lower costs and more favorable terms when those leases are renegotiated. Overall, they expect that with very modest store growth and comparable store sales growing by only two to three percent, they can expand operating margins from the current five to eight percent and grow earnings per share by 15% to 20% annually. Obviously, they see a lot of opportunity in reducing costs and operating efficiently.
He notes that when, for example, a five store chain has a lease coming up for renewal, it will find Genesco on their landlord’s doorstep taking over that space. 
The other thing that’s happening, as they describe in discussing their hat, uniform and sport apparel business, is that they “…are consolidating the industry. The mom and pops are going out of business or they are credit constrained and can’t stay fresh.” 
President and CEO Robert Dennis talked about how the economics of their hat and hat related business has changed as they have gone from 150 to 800 stores. The difference, he says, “is enormous.” There is tremendous leverage with landlords, the companies from whom you license product, vendors, and infrastructure.
He also characterizes most of these small players’ systems as being “from the dark ages.” 
“We’re also starting to realize the broader benefits of becoming a better retailer. Over the past few years, we’ve spoken about expanding our direct-to-consumer business. We saw a huge upside to bringing innovation and excitement into the marketplace in our own stores, with our wholesale partners and online.”
“To do that we committed to building our retail capabilities, smoother product flow, surgical assortment planning that focuses on key items, more compelling merchandising, stronger brand stories and more efficient back-of-house systems. All balanced to produce greater consumer experiences and strong profitability. It’s a powerful mix that helped NIKE Brand Retail deliver 11% revenue growth and 140 basis points of gross margin expansion year-to-date.”
“We will continue to invest in bringing world-class solutions to consumers who are hungry for new retail experiences. Nowhere is this more important than online. The digital lifestyle is driving dramatic change in our industry and significant potential to our company. We are attacking that in every dimension; online shopping, customization, immersing our brands in consumer cultures and telling inspiring and entertaining stories.”
“Comparable sales for brick and mortar Nike-owned retail stores increased 17%, and online sales grew 25%. Profitability for the businesses grew even faster as better merchandising, lower promotions and more surgical mark downs drove gross margins up 550 basis points versus last year.”
 “Our stores bring the look and feel of an independent specialty shop to the mall by emphasizing the action sports lifestyle through a distinctive store environment and high-energy sales personnel. We seek to staff our stores with store associates who are knowledgeable users of our products, which we believe provides our customers with enhanced customer service and supplements our ability to identify and react quickly to emerging trends and fashions. We design our stores to appeal to teenagers and young adults and to serve as a destination for our customers.  Most of our stores, which average approximately 2,900 square feet, feature couches and action sports oriented video game stations that are intended to encourage our customers to shop for longer periods of time and to interact with each other and our store associates.”
 Jeff’s Comment: Except for the mall location, how is this different from any other core shop?
Zumiez pursues, on a national scale, the same branding strategy the best independent retailers pursue.  “We seek to build relationships with our customers through a multi-faceted marketing approach that is designed to integrate our brand image with the action sports lifestyle.” They spent $822,000 on advertising in fiscal 2009.
 “We have developed a disciplined approach to buying and a dynamic inventory planning and allocation process to support our merchandise strategy. We utilize a broad vendor base that allows us to shift our merchandise purchases as required to react quickly to changing market conditions. We manage the purchasing and allocation process by reviewing branded merchandise lines from new and existing vendors, identifying emerging fashion trends and selecting branded merchandise styles in quantities, colors and sizes to meet inventory levels established by management. We also coordinate inventory levels in connection with our promotions and seasonality. Our management information systems provide us with current inventory levels at each store and for our Company as a whole, as well as current selling history within each store by merchandise classification and by style.”