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Barney's at the Beginning of Madison Avenue vs Recent Days (prior to the current Chapter 11)

LA Guy

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Overall consumption of men’s clothing has increased steadily while sales of the same have decreased steadily at department stores throughout the past 15-20 years. Brands like Hermès and Cartier have managed to avoid a lot of the effects of commoditization by strict control of distribution and licensing.

Department stores can’t compete in choice or price against pure plays. And with the convenience of same day shipping in the large metropolitan areas, they can’t compete in convenience either. And they can’t compete in sales staff product knowledge with small boutiques or niche stores. And there nail in the coffin: Barney’s was unable to build an attractive online presence or offer any competitive fulfillment and shipping.

You need to be better or at least equal in one area.
 
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Notch

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I'm not around long enough to know about menswear in those decades, nor do I live in NYC. But where I live, it is equally obvious that classic stores are struggling. In the city where I grew up (Bruges), two of the most well known menswear stores closed down in the span of 1 year. For true tailoring, there is next to nothing in Bruges and I'd have to travel to Antwerp or Brussels.

From my (younger) perspective, I'd say customer experience is key. I'm getting into retail myself a bit too, and for starters I'd like people to truly experience clothing. I don't see a menswear store as a place where I go to buy clothes (I'll do that from the comfort of my home after having established my size in-store), rather I see it as a place where I'd like to be convinced why I would want to shop there.
 
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dauster

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What do people think big department stores like that should be selling?

I feel like big stores are facing two problems:

1. On the supply side, the market has become incredibly overcrowded, which means that classic clothing (which is now often considered basic clothing) is under constant attack from commoditization. Excluding tailoring, which fewer and fewer people wear, it's hard to sell stacks of five-pocket cords, polos, and cashmere sweaters because of the ease of internet shopping (and thus price comparison).

2. On the demand side, it's harder to sell big ticket items, specifically suits and sport coats. Fewer people buy those things. To make up for the loss of one suit order, a shop might have to sell two sport coats. In order to make up for the loss of two sport coat orders, a shop will have to sell maybe ten sweaters. Those sweaters, again, in basic designs such as v-necks and crewnecks, have become commodified online.

So what's left for a high-end clothier with a large number of locations? Not a one-off shop such as Andover (they tell me they face these same problems, btw), but a business that has to support many more retail locations (often in cities where the cost of rent and labor have skyrocketed in the last twenty years).

Not attacking anyone, just curious what people think stores should be doing if not selling "streetwear."
You are probably right. And I agree with your statements but for me it's a mix of things. I have no problem if you want to offer expensive street wear and I even buy some these items but I feel like stores like these need to improve their customer service but also make their stores an experience - visually/ presentation. Barneys mens department was in a boring basement in San Francisco. With lame and inexperienced salespeople that frankly did not know their stuff. Unsure if you are familiar with a store called Jefferies at Stanford mall but they do it much better. While the actual store is just fine (nothing too stunning) they have great salespeople that actually add value and they also sell $5,000 raincoats :)
 

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Welcome back, RSS!

I don't think I've ever bought anything from Barneys. I remember first hearing about it in the 90s when my sister said it was "the best." A few years later, I was in NYC visiting my brothers and we stumbled on one of their annual warehouse clearances. I signed up for a Barney's card to be able to skip the long line but never used it. It was an interesting scene with people stripping down to their underwear in the aisles to try stuff on. I only went to the SF one a couple times. The men's was on the top floor and a half, iirc. I was surprised to find that they had moved to the basement when I visited a couple weeks ago. The sale was on, and it reminded me of Filene's actual basement in Boston. The bathroom was very nice though.
 

dieworkwear

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I feel like the only stores I visit now are small and more intimate, for lack of a better word. Barneys, to me, felt too corporate at the end. I stopped going for the same reasons why I don't like going to the mall.

I think to get people to come out, you need some kind of unique product that allows you to escape the commodifying effects of the internet. If someone is looking at a jacket in your store, they can pull up every retailer selling that same jacket on their iPhone, compare prices across the world, and showroom your shop. This puts US retailers at a disadvantage because they have to pay for certain costs, such as real estate and import duties, that shops abroad and customers importing don't have to bear.

It helps to be able to sell custom goods, which transforms your product into a service. I can price comparison shop the same jacket online, even while sitting in your store. But I can't as easily compare services. It's like when you go to the doctor or hire a graphic designer. You don't price shop in the same way you might for blank white t-shirts, even if there are a ton of doctors and graphic artists in your area. It's just hard to compare skills in the same way.

If you sell custom goods, then the quality of the fitter or maker comes into play.

This is mostly a meaningless comment because I don't know how anyone achieves this, but more than good presentation and visuals, I think you have to be culturally relevant. Supreme and Self Edge, for example, are doing well as B&Ms. Their presentation and visuals are pretty basic and sparse. But they're relevant in their space.

"Better visuals" can be a lot of things. But some people are taking it in the direction of the new Hudson Yards mall, or the American Dream Mega Mall, which sound like they're holding on to outmoded ideas of retail. That said, this probably varies by market. And most clothing is still sold in B&Ms. I would just be surprised if the trend towards smaller, more specialized boutiques, retail experiences that feel more intimate, and custom goods that allow for less comparison shopping doesn't continue to eat away at the traditional idea of retail.
 

dauster

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I feel like the only stores I visit now are small and more intimate, for lack of a better word. Barneys, to me, felt too corporate at the end. I stopped going for the same reasons why I don't like going to the mall.

I think to get people to come out, you need some kind of unique product that allows you to escape the commodifying effects of the internet. If someone is looking at a jacket in your store, they can pull up every retailer selling that same jacket on their iPhone, compare prices across the world, and showroom your shop. This puts US retailers at a disadvantage because they have to pay for certain costs, such as real estate and import duties, that shops abroad and customers importing don't have to bear.

It helps to be able to sell custom goods, which transforms your product into a service. I can price comparison shop the same jacket online, even while sitting in your store. But I can't as easily compare services. It's like when you go to the doctor or hire a graphic designer. You don't price shop in the same way you might for blank white t-shirts, even if there are a ton of doctors and graphic artists in your area. It's just hard to compare skills in the same way.

If you sell custom goods, then the quality of the fitter or maker comes into play.

This is mostly a meaningless comment because I don't know how anyone achieves this, but more than good presentation and visuals, I think you have to be culturally relevant. Supreme and Self Edge, for example, are doing well as B&Ms. Their presentation and visuals are pretty basic and sparse. But they're relevant in their space.

"Better visuals" can be a lot of things. But some people are taking it in the direction of the new Hudson Yards mall, or the American Dream Mega Mall, which sound like they're holding on to outmoded ideas of retail. That said, this probably varies by market. And most clothing is still sold in B&Ms. I would just be surprised if the trend towards smaller, more specialized boutiques, retail experiences that feel more intimate, and custom goods that allow for less comparison shopping doesn't continue to eat away at the traditional idea of retail.
This post perfectly says it all, the barneys executives should have called you as a consultant.

To make a long story short every store these days needs a unique selling point whether that be service, "better visuals", tailoring skills etc... barneys ended up with none and hence the result - bankruptcy.
Last but not least, I feel though that retailers like Uniqlo are able to do well because they do one thing well - in this case affordable clothing with decent quality and timeless looks. Of course that's not a good comparison to barneys but goes to show me that in an era where traditional retail struggled Uniqlo found a way to do well because they do simple things well.
 

smittycl

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I feel like the only stores I visit now are small and more intimate, for lack of a better word. Barneys, to me, felt too corporate at the end. I stopped going for the same reasons why I don't like going to the mall.
I shopped Barneys online for accessories and such before I ventured up to NYC and the Madison Ave store. I'm sure I had a pie-eyed view of the store. Bought many suits and plenty of shirts, ties, and accessories there. Not really sad to see Barneys go as they really just carried mostly the same CM stuff as everyone else and the quality of their house brand seemed to decline over the years. I really didn't like their focus on gaudy (to me at least) street wear like the absurd $500 dragon t shirts.

Your comment above is spot-on for me. I greatly prefer shopping at places like Sid Mashburn, Paul Stuart, or Billy Reid now. Knowledgeable staff and unique wares. Walk into Saks or NM and you just get pounced on by hungry salespeople willing to say anything to make a sale.
 
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Thank you to all who have commented. And thank you to those who have offered a welcome back. I do stop in from time to time even if I don't comment often. This place is relevant when I'm shopping ... which is not often these days but does happen from time to time.
 

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