“Sticking to one’s knitting” has always been an axiom in our retail world. We can count on one hand how many retailers have been able to completely re-invent themselves and become more successful. Once dormant brands have been ‘re-resuscitated’ such as Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch. Mostly though, brands and concepts have been ‘refined’ along the lines of Target, J.C. Penney and even Victoria’s Secret to match the customer’s demands for change but all the while remaining essentially what and who they were before.

One example of a ‘re-invention’ gone sour was when Gap decided to rid themselves of all their basic commodities and become a young, hip source for fashion, earlier in this century. The chain dropped 25% overnight and hasn’t fully recovered since. Any other success or horror stories of re-inventions out there? I would love to hear them.

In a recent outing at the mall I was struck by two retailers who have been hot lately and are taking slightly different approaches in this tougher environment. Anthropologie has honed in on the 20-30+ year old women who love the thrill of the treasure hunt, when looking for either something to wear or something with which to adorn their residences. They are unique not only in their approach to the theatre of retail (with their elaborate visual changes every quarter in every store) but their ability to create branded labels out of their own private labels. They have been consistent in this approach with their merchandising, staying true to their customer and not wavering from their core formula.

J. Crew has been another fabulous success. What Mickey Drexler and his team have done with that brand and those stores is nothing short of remarkable. They have extended the brand to wedding gowns, suitings, kids clothing and additional accessories, while, for the most part, staying true to the original premise of well made, preppy/fashionable weekend clothing for the young at heart. However, I hope the latest store set up is not indicative of a change in direction.

At the front of the store, were mannequins lined up with quite dressy looks in metallic fabrics in quite hideous mustard and gray colour combinations. It was not pleasing to this eye when walking in the door. It did not seem to fit what the general premise or direction has been for the past number of years. Maybe it was an aberration and it will change in the next few weeks (if it hasn’t already) but the point is, especially in these uncertain economic conditions, the customer must feel their favourite stores are familiar and trustworthy and must not stray from them in their time of need.

Staying true is difficult especially the more success one garners and especially in the “fashion apparel” business. But the customer must be able to recognize who you are and what you are offering as that is how they, in part, tend to define who they are and what they should look like to the rest of the world. A very important facet to keep in mind in any retailer’s strategic planning session.

TheRetailTherapist 🙂