Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

from Summit Notebook:

Public school student? Bring your own supplies


schoolboyI 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.

Seriously? Why? "I think the budgets of local schools are pressured," Martin said. "The trend started a year ago. I expect to see it expand."

And are parents, as one of my colleagues asked, down with that? "Whether they're down with that depends on the mom. I know I supply a lot for my son."

Check Out Line: Steady is the new sexy!


shop1Check out the boring but steady holiday-season sales outlook.

U.S. retailers might have reason to celebrate amid the weak economy as a steady holiday season with a gentle increase in sales this year, executives said at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit.

That would be a relief after the plummet in sales in 2008 as well as 2009, when stores waited for shoppers to return. But don’t expect a return to the heady days of 2007 either as shoppers are likely to remain cautious through the rest of the year.

from Summit Notebook:

America: It’s in your country and it’s feeding your culture -Iconix CEO


The aura of the land of Britney Spears, Madonna and everyone's favorite cartoon beagle -- Snoopy -- helps move products in growing markets like China, according to Iconix CEO Neil Cole.

Iconix, which bought the Peanuts brand earlier this year owns, licenses and markets all-American brands such as Candie's, London Fog, Material Girl and Rockawear. And the company is betting that U.S. names will help bring international sales to 30 percent of its overall business within three years, up from 6 percent now.

Check Out Line: Retailers don’t see yuan move as all bad


yuan1Check out what retailers are thinking about China’s revaluation of the yuan.

Western retailers may pay more for goods they import from China as the yuan appreciates, but the flip side is that the move may create significant selling opportunities by putting more money in the pockets of consumers in the world’s biggest market. 

from Summit Notebook:

Barbie does Beijing: The adventures of a Malibu girl in China


BarbieModern 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.

from Summit Notebook:

The Nina Kampler manifesto: don’t waste space, buy less stuff


shoppingSometimes 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.

from Summit Notebook:

Ethan Allen fills up its (tastefully upholstered) bench

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."

Check Out Line: Ralcorp, Corn Products, Heinz go shopping


heinz1Check out the deals by Ralcorp Holdings, Corn Products International and Heinz.

Ralcorp, which sells a variety of products, including Post-branded cereals, corn snack products, syrups and salad dressings, said it would buy private-label dry pasta maker American Italian Pasta Co for $1.2 billion. That deal is expected to close by the end of September.

“This transaction strengthens our position as a diversified provider of private label and branded food products,” Ralcorp co-Chief Executive and President Kevin Hunt said in a statement.

World Cup soccer hits home-run in U.S. bars

SOCCER-WORLD/From our correspondent Nivedita Bhattacharjee:

Surprised at the roar from the bar around the corner on an otherwise normal work day in New York City? Don’t be. It’s the FIFA World Cup, and that pub’s full of people rooting for team USA.

As a record number of U.S. viewers tune in to experience the 90-minute soccer matches, bars and taverns from New York to San Francisco are doing all that they can to keep the cheers loud and the beers flowing. And even while at work, some Americans are letting daily tasks idle while they keep score.

Check Out Line: Walgreen, CVS back together


WALGREEN/Check out the happy ending to the fight between CVS Caremark and Walgreen over reimbursements for drug prescriptions.

The two drugstore chains left their differences behind and announced a new “multi-year” deal, salvaging a relationship worth billions of dollars.