Melissa Payner, the chief executive of online clothing retailer Bluefly, visited the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit on Wednesday to talk some shop. I was more interested in talking about her predilection for wearing, despite the azure tint of her company’s name, nothing but black clothes. Here’s what she said about that.
Everything in my closet is black. Every single thing. They’re organized by shades of black. There are many shades of black. People sort of kid about that all the time, but no one more than my husband, who can’t understand whenever I buy something new.
I have no children and I left the public school system in 1991, so perhaps it’s not news to some of you that parents of public school children are paying for things that we never would have dreamed we’d pay for when I was in school. To OfficeMax Chief Operating Officer Sam Martin, who visited our Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit on Wednesday, this stuff is no surprise at all because he’s the one selling it to the parents.
On his short list of products that parents in some school districts are paying for: markers, chalk, tissues, paper towels.
Memo to the men of the United States of America, including myself: it pays to invest in a suit, and it pays even more to invest in a few. When I was growing up, my father and other older guys told me that if I spent more money on a small number of suits, they would last a long time.
Apparently much of the rest of America’s men have decided that durability and classic style count for less now that their wallets have gotten a little lighter in the past few years. Perry Ellis Chairman and CEO George Feldenkreis, speaking at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit, said that men are wearing fewer suits these days. “Not only that,” he said. “Men are buying cheaper suits.”
Modern day national influence, some smart people like to argue, spreads through the “soft power” of brand appeal and attraction rather than the “hard power” of coercion. In China, one avatar of U.S. soft power tends to be trim and busty, and come with blue eyes and a long mane of blonde hair. Her name is Barbie, she is made of plastic, she was born in Malibu and Chinese girls want to be like her.
Barbie comes in all sorts of versions, according to the man who introduces her to her foreign friends, Mattel’s international president, Bryan Stockton. Still, in China, the No. 1-selling Barbie doll is the sunny surfer girl who cruised across the Pacific from southern California to bring millions of young Chinese girls a new vision of the world, not to mention themselves.
Sometimes it’s refreshing to meet people like Hilco Real Estate’s Nina Kampler. They work up to their eyeballs in finance, debt, bankruptcy and the business of making and salvaging profits, yet think that there is more to life than money and private enterprise.
Kampler, who runs the retailer real estate group, visited us at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit on Monday, and talked about all sorts of business-y topics that we love to write about on our wire. But on this blog, I’ll highlight one or two of her more interesting thoughts about public spaces and how people shop — ideas that seem to exist in opposition to the profit motives of, well, everyone who’s in business.
The recession wasn’t kind to Ethan Allen’s manufacturing plant workers, but now that the economy is recovering, so are the employment rolls. Last year, the Danbury, Connecticut-based furniture maker and retailer slashed its manufacturing workforce by about 30 percent, Farooq Kathwari, the company’s chairman and chief executive, told the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York on Monday. That included closing a plant or cutting jobs in Chino, California; Andover, Maine; Orleans, Vermont and elsewhere.
I could not pinpoint exactly how many jobs he was talking about, and Kathwari did not immediately have the numbers handy, but according to the Ethan Allen website, it looks like they lost 65 workers in Chino and about 320 in Maine and Vermont. Meanwhile, the company said in 2009 that it planned to add some 300 more jobs to its larger facility in North Carolina, where it had 540 employees as of a year ago. The published numbers suggest that Ethan Allen cut a little more than 40 percent of its manufacturing staff, while Kathwari at today’s interview said it was about a third. Either way, he told us, “In about six months, about half have been added back.”
Do not expect the developer that’s working on the massive Meadowlands shopping and entertainment complex in northern New Jersey to compel its tenants to pay their workers a living wage. Related Companies, the New York-based real estate developer behind the project, said on Tuesday that it would be a deal breaker.
We talked to Stephen Ross, Related’s founder, chairman and CEO at our Global Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit, and after a while, talk turned to the stalled project, slated to open in 2011, four years after the 2007 planned opening date. Among other things, we learned that the name “Xanadu” isn’t happening anymore. Related, which took over the project after a bunch of lenders dropped out, has a list of other names, but wouldn’t share them with us.
The bulk of our conversations at the Reuters Global Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit deal with, well, real estate and infrastructure. On Tuesday, however, we got onto the subject of horse racing. Our guest was Gregory Cross, a lawyer at Venable LLP. He is the head of Venable’s bankruptcy practice and represented the state of Maryland, a creditor of Magna Entertainment Corp, which runs the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and its famous Preakness Stakes horse race and filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
We asked Cross what could help ailing racetracks improve their financial performance. His answer? A little less Damon Runyon and Dick Francis, and a little more Black Stallion and National Velvet — crossed with Field of Dreams.
This is a funny baseball technique to use when most executives spend their time trying their best to hit home runs, but LeFrak Organization‘s chairman, president and CEO says it’s worked for his real estate empire, so there’s no need to stop now. When we asked him at our Reuters Global Real Estate Summit why his company didn’t borrow a ton of money during the real estate boom, he said:
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The possibility of a Hungarian debt crisis pushed the euro to a four-year low against the dollar on Friday and reignited fears more Eastern European nations could reveal financial frailties.
The new Hungarian government spooked investors and knocked more than 2 percent off its currency, the forint, versus the euro, after a prime minister’s spokesman said he supported the view the country had only a slim chance of avoiding the kind of debt crisis that plunged Greece into financial instability.