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We are in the midst of the great American great power

Rachel Green works at Bloomingdales.


"Are you going to Bloomingdales with Julie? It's like cheating on Rachel in her god house," Chandler Bing tells fellow "Friends" character Monica. [19659002] The two-decade-old joke would not work today. The Rachel Green character, whether sporting mini-barrettes and spaghetti strap dresses or not, was more likely to shop at home, on her computer, with a glass of wine.

Of the victims of the retail upheaval, department stores have been among the hardest hit. Annual sales in US department stores dropped 20% from 201

7 to 2018, and sales are falling even more this year, according to U.S. Census Bureau. In recent years, Bon-Ton liquidated and Gordmans and Sears went bankrupt.

The pressure does not subside. Barneys filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, while J.C. Penney is working with restructuring advisors to cope with the debt burden. The shares in Nordstrøm are more than 38% and Macy's down 35% so far this year. More than 1,000 department stores have shuttered in the past decade.

"We're in the middle of a shakeout in a department store," said Michael Dart, a partner at A.T. Kearney and author of "Retail's Seismic Shift.

If you haven't been to a department store lately – and you're not alone in avoiding them – you may not have noticed that they are slowly dying. And the imminent question is who will survive.

To some extent, the pressure these stores face is the same: as retail has changed over the past decades, the store's greatest strength, size and scope has become their biggest weakness. with the largest footprints, which limits the ability to respond.

Today's shoppers like their shopping personally: shoes for the working urban woman, pants for the mother who is home-at-home. which most likely appeals to a wide set. Their huge footprint across the United States makes it difficult to tailor products regionally.

A man checks his phone while passing Macy's flag shipping store in New York City.

Getty Images

Resellers have tried to adapt. Macy's adds a curated retail concept, Story, to 36 stores across the country, including on the flagship Herald Square. Also launched is Market @ Macy's, an in-store pop-up shop featuring local designers.

But even that has challenges.

"The market was wherever [Macy’s] thought they would have as much foot traffic as possible, but not the best area for each brand," said Dee Murthy, CEO of Menlo House, owner of the New Republic shoe brand that participated in the Market.

Brands turn back

In 1969, Bloomingdales made a bet on a new men's line called Ralph Lauren. It was the first time it had expanded a brand to an in-store store. The brand soon became an iconic part of American style, synonymous with laid-back luxury. Last year, Ralph Lauren CEO Patrice Louvet closed about a quarter of its US department store distribution during the fiscal year.

Ralph Lauren is by no means alone. Brands from Michael Kors to Coach depend on dependence on department stores. There are many ways for a brand to control its own destiny to reach a variety of customers, from retail outlets to standalone stores in malls, and of course their own websites.

As department stores "problems have grown, brands" the urge to be independent has also strengthened. Brands no longer trust that department stores will not reduce product prices. Brands worry about sloppy presentations, decaying customer service and empty floors as some malls have become deserted. This fear is especially strong for lower price point stores.

"The reality is storytelling, merchandising and TLC, which no longer exists," Murthy said. "Brands don't get that kind of power from the dealer."

The exception, Murthy noted, may be retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman or Nordstrom, which still have strong customer service and stores outside the mall.

Instead, brands build websites or store some of the products for their own standalone stores. Lululemon, a brand that may have depended on a retailer like Bloomingdales decades ago, ended 2018 with 440 locations globally and plans to grow this year. Digital brands like Warby Parker have side-by-side stores almost entirely, making it a point to grow through expanding their own stores.

An employee stores clothing on display in the sportswear store Lululemon Athletica on Regent Street in London. [19659002] Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Staple department stores such as Pucci and Nanette Lepore also sell products at retail outlets and price dealers such as T.J. Maxx, which offers buyers cheaper products and an opportunity to discover that a department store cannot. Macy's, Nordstrom and others have tried to recreate the experience with their own affordable stores, Macy's Backstage and Nordstrom Rack.

"I try not to go too much in stores," said Brianna Ryan, a 22-year-old Pilates instructor in New York City, noting the number of thrift stores in Manhattan.

She was last in a large department store, Bloomingdales, about a month ago, looking for new workout clothes. She left after finding the prices too high.

"I found a pair of white leggings that looked like TJ Maxx's Lululemon," Ryan explained.


Like other stores, these forces have fallen victim to bankruptcy or liquidation, such as Sears and Bon-Ton, that the business appears to have evaporated not shifted.

After Sears filed for bankruptcy in October last year and closed a number of stores, investors expected JC Penney to take advantage, believing former Sears buyers would head to Penney instead. That never materialized. Instead, Penney picks up even further. It stopped selling appliances last winter. It closed stores and has hired external advisers to look into debt restructuring options.

Employees Help Cashiers in a J.C. Penney store.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In the absence of a quick fix, several retailers are trying to protect themselves from the public spotlight. As a private company, a retailer can make tough changes, such as closing stores or investing in technology, without the whipping reaction of the public market.

With private equity recently burned by retail in the 2000s, the best shot companies have are those already having significant ownership – and a pitch as to why they want to be the ones to survive. Two efforts are already underway.

A group of Nordstrøm family members who own a substantial stake in Nordstrom has worked on a proposal to increase its stake in the department store to more than half, people familiar with the situation told CNBC.

The proposal comes more than a year after the company was forced to cancel talks with private retailers. A special board of directors rejected the offer of $ 50 per share. The dealer's shares have been over $ 20 under the offer in recent weeks. Department store spokesmen say it has stronger relationships with brands than its peers, as well as a smaller footprint in better places.

Nordstrom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Richard Baker, CEO of Saks owner Hudson's Bay, is leading a bid by shareholders who collectively own 57% of the company to take the retailer private. The shares of the retailer, which also owns Lord & Taylor, had dropped almost 50% during the year through June 10, before the consortium launched the offer.

However, the offer has already met pushback from a special committee appointed to evaluate the deal, which has called it "inadequate."

The offer of Canadian $ 9.45 ($ 7.12) a share represented a 48% premium to Hudson & # 39; s Bay stock price on the last trading day before the offer was extended. Still, Hudson's Bay Director Helena Foulkes only last year valued the company's property at $ 28 Canadian dollars per share. That's about three times the offer made by the Baker-led consortium.

Still, retail has become more difficult over the past year, and Hudsons Bay has transformed assets, including the European department store Galeria Kaufhof. [19659044] A Barneys store is located in lower Manhattan on August 6, 2019 in New York City. Barneys, one of America's most exclusive clothing stores, has filed for bankruptcy.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

In a letter released earlier this month, Baker and the other shareholders made the case to take the company private, saying that the landscape of retailers "poses serious threats" to the value of its business and property.

"We believe that the business plan and value creation initiatives required to meet these challenges will be better understood, accepted and executed by patient capital in a private company context," they wrote.

The investor group pushed back on speculation that, as a private company, Hudson's Bay would return the dealership to the roots of Baker, a New York real estate investor, leaving the retail business in detail. Hudson's Bay sold its iconic Lord & Taylor Fifth Avenue store to WeWork earlier this year.

And now investors are being asked to take their bets.

"There will be survivors, I think Nordstrøm is one of them, but the jury is out on who will be the others," said A.T. Kearney's Dart.

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