This week StyleSage is launching its first installment in our 'Meet The Retail Expert' Series. We sit down with industry veterans, to pick their brain on everything from how to start and make the most of a career in fashion, to their take on the current retail climate.
Our first expert, Jim Shreve, is President of Baccarat USA. Prior to joining Baccarat, Jim has had a global career in merchandising and international business development at Diesel, Gap, and Nordstrom. Oh, and he's one of our most important advisers here at StyleSage.
Tell me about how you got your start in the retail industry.
I started off in retail working for a camera store during high school. I had had and continue to have a great passion for photography. I worked during all school holidays and summers. Then, when I was a sophomore in college, Nordstrom came to Northern California, and I applied to work there. I started off driving customers to their cars in golf carts during the Half-Yearly sale. I transferred stores to open one in another part of the state and continued to work 32 hours a week while in college full-time. I learned so much about customer service and enjoyed my time at Nordstrom so much that my stint there lasted seven years.
Any advice you’d give to someone starting out their career in fashion?
No matter what you choose to do, you must have passion for what it is. Be sure to keep your goals and values in check. Meaning, why are you doing this? Make sure you can always sleep comfortably with your conscience.
What excites you most about the fashion business?
The fashion business is forever changing. We never figure out the perfect formula. No two seasons or days are the same. Just when we think we understand consumer behavior or how to pick a best seller, we are inevitably thrown a curve ball. Be prepared for this eventuality.
There’s so much talk about all the problems in the fashion industry today. What do you think is the biggest blind spot that has brought the industry to where it is currently?
For me, some of the challenges are that, in the US, retail is over-stored. We built malls as a convenience for the consumer, and we are now faced with too much space. We need to better implement the balance of supply and demand.
What's more, we have also lost any passion or art for selling. It is difficult any more to find a true (and knowledgeable) salesperson. There are plenty of clerks but not a lot of sales people who can convincingly share product stories. What's more, for many American fashion brands, they all look the same and there is simply no reason for us to buy. We need to better define and articulate a clear point of differentiation.
While there’s obviously not a magic bullet to the current challenges, what advice would you give to brands and retailers to navigate today's retail environment?
First of all, you must focus on your core competencies.
Second, give the consumer a reason to buy and be excited for your product.
Third, create demand and specialness. Not every item should be a 'stack em high and watch em fly' offering.
Last, and it cannot be said enough, listen to consumers.
What do you think is the single biggest overlooked opportunity in retail right now?
(Aside from adding Baccarat crystal to everyone's home?) But seriously, new and interesting product. Gucci and Coach are two of the most interesting brands today because their product is new, fresh, and always have that element of surprise.
At StyleSage we live and breathe data as it relates to fashion, but we also get that sometimes the connection is fuzzy and it can be difficult to see the relationship between the two. How do you see the two of them happily co-habitating and helping teams make decisions?
When properly designed with the users' needs in mind, it is a tool to help me make better decisions...not to make the decisions for me. Instincts and experience are still incredibly important in this business.
Onto more important topics, you’re stuck on a desert island, but at least you are wearing your favorite outfit...what is it?
Dsquared2 jeans, a leather jacket with a v-neck tee and sneakers, of course.