The Paths to Growth: Know Thy Customer, Get a Niche, Innovate

Achieving growth in an environment as tough as this depends on carving a unique identity with distinctive products and services. Here are some ideas.

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"Less will become more," said Seegal. "It’s all about the editing process. Edited, clearly defined, exciting product with a definitive point of view and cohesive aspirational advertising is the key for future brand building."

Stores are in need of a singular, unified voice, maintained Burstell, who believes that Bendel’s can’t be all things to all people. He edits the entire store as if it were appealing to one customer. "From top to bottom, the store has to look like it was bought with one eye and it needs to be promoted the same way," he said.


Consumers want wear-now clothing, but department stores have been reluctant to give it to them. Target, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart have cut the time it takes for a product to go from factory to store. Liz Claiborne ceo Paul Charron wants other stores to do the same. "It’s not just the cycle time, it’s what you do with that time," he said. "Suppliers can use the time between shipments to refine and micromerchandise the assortment. This allows stores to correct errors in sizing, color, etc., and meet consumer demand more accurately."

Saks Fifth Avenue’s private labels 548 and Real Clothes have bimonthly deliveries. "It gives us time to make adjustments and react," said Christina Johnson, chairman and ceo. "Our top customers are in the stores 24 times a year. We need greater frequency of deliveries."

Now that runway shows are beamed around the world on TV and the Internet, trends have an increasingly short shelf life. "We all have to work hard to compress product lead times," said Glen Senk, president of Anthropologie. "It’s not unusual for companies to invest a fair amount of their open-to-buy four to eight months out. Our customers are going online and looking at the runway shows, so we need to do a better job of giving them what they want. For us, it’s a pre-production issue. You need a crystal ball if you’re committing a large percentage of your open-to-buy eight months out. There’s no way you’re going to hit it right, especially in terms of quantities."
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