Tell us about your introduction into retailing.
When I was little kid in Toledo, Ohio, I wanted the new Monkees album, but I didn’t have the $2.99. So I picked all the flowers from my mother’s garden and sold them on the street for a dime apiece. I got my $2.99.
Did your mother applaud your enterprise?
Hardly. She ordered me to take all the money back to the people I had “stolen” it from. That was my first retailing lesson: Selling is bad.
That changed, obviously.
Yes, I worked my way through college in retailing. My first job was with Howard & Phil’s, a Western wear store in Glendale, Calif. I became area supervisor and grew the chain from six stores to 55. Later, I went into retail consultancy and hung out my shingle.
What was your first successful operation?
A client, Polly’s Gourmet Coffee in Long Beach, Calif., was facing the encroachment of two Starbucks stores into the neighborhood. So instead of taking the position of the poor little independent being attacked by the big national chain, I aggressively picked a fight with Starbucks. We launched a marketing campaign built around the slogan “We’re down the street from ordinary.” We launched print ads and distributed bumper stickers with slogans like “Friends don’t let friends drink ordinary coffee.”
And it worked?
Long Beach conducted a marketing study of 1000 consumers, of which 85 percent were aware of our slogan. Sales grew 40 percent in the first year. One week, I purposely didn’t place an ad and people called in to ask where the ad was.
Who would you love to get your hands on?
JCPenney. They mounted this huge rebranding campaign, with new management, new logo, new ads. But at the end of the day, people walk in and see and feel nothing special, or different. The ads are fun, but there’s nothing fun in the stores, just more stuff to look at.
Who does a good job?
Lululemon. I think its stores are smartly thought out. Williams-Sonoma has refreshed its stores. They’re not as cluttered, more inviting. Michael Kors stores have an amazing design, the merchandise is beautiful and the employees seem to love to work there. That’s hitting on all cylinders.
That’s not a lot of raves. Nobody else?
No, most stores are just copying each other. Nearly everyone looks the same. Too many brands never bother to tell their story. It’s like building a beautiful ballroom without teaching the dancers the steps.