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Financo Dinner Draws Retail Heavyweights

Call it hustle and flow. That was the game at the 18th Annual Merchandising Industry Chief Executives seminar and dinner, hosted by Financo Inc. at the Harmonie Club...

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Leeds concluded that the industry isn't as sick as some think, and cited companies on the upswing, including Urban Outfitters Inc., Guess Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., VF Corp. and Warnaco Group Inc.

One of the sectors being scrutinized is luxury, which has boomed in recent years. Saks Inc. ceo Stephen I. Sadove made the case that there is still plenty of growth ahead. "The well-reported demise of luxury is a little early and not very accurate," he said. "The consumer is out there. Luxury is a great place to be."

"For years I've talked about the rich. I love the rich," said Neiman Marcus Group Inc. ceo Burt Tansky. However, last Christmas, he admitted, "got a little choppy. That's OK — it's all psychological."

Who is the real enemy behind the slowdown? It's "we husbands," said Tansky, answering his own question, for too often invoking the word "enough" to dissuade their wives from shopping.

Regardless of December's slowdown, "there's no trading down. Quality is here, luxury is here....Whether [business] slows down or not, we don't change our strategy," Tansky stated.

Neiman's subsidiary, Bergdorf Goodman, has just completed its fifth year in a row of double-digit comps growth, boasted Jim Gold, its ceo, on a panel moderated by Financo chairman Gil Harrison. "New York's luxury retail has been on a meteoric rise....International tourism gave our store a material lift in October and November," he said.

The category drivers were men's, jewelry and women's shoes. He also noted the best-in-class designers at the top end, those items priced more than $25,000, showed the highest growth. However, European ready-to-wear fashion was a particular weak spot, he acknowledged.

"It's not about whether they can afford to buy, but are they in the mood to buy," Gold said. He also emphasized that the high-end customer does not trade down even when there is an economic slowdown. "They take a breather, but they don't trade down. And they come back, as we saw after 9/11, with a vengeance," Gold said.
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