Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Paint It Black with Bluefly’s CEO

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PaynerMelissa 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.

His comment? “I think you have that,” she said.

My question: What happens when you get invited to a summery event that encourages wearing lighter, more summery colors. What happens if she gets invited to be the bridesmaid in a wedding and everyone’s wearing, say, lilac?

I probably either couldn’t go, or I’d have to wear black. I have not been in a situation where anyone has asked me.

Public school student? Bring your own supplies

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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.

‘That’s a cheap suit!’ isn’t a compliment

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suitMemo 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.”

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

Ethan Allen fills up its (tastefully upholstered) bench

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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.”

That’s rich. I meant the wine.

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Jeffrey Rubin

What do gold and wine have in common?

Price.

Well, too high of a high price, according to Jeffrey Rubin, director of research at Birinyi Associates, the stock market research and money management firm.

Rubin told the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit on Tuesday that he thought gold prices were “certainly a little frothy” at current levels and that he would rather be a buyer of the gold miners such as Newmont Mining Corp, Barrick Gold Corp, or Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. Gold hit an all-time high  above $1,250 an ounce on Tuesday as investors piled in due to fears that European credit contagion could lead to a double-dip recession.

from DealZone:

Markdown poster child: I’d do it again

With the luxury of hindsight, Saks Chief Executive Stephen Sadove said he wouldn't hesitate to repeat the big markdowns of the 2008 holiday season if faced with the same tough environment that made the retailer the poster child of recessionary sales.

"It was the right thing to do to generate the cash," Sadove said at the Reuters Global Luxury Summit in New York.

from Shop Talk:

Check Out Line: Cautious notes hit by top luxury execs

bulgari1Check out the cautious notes being sounded in the global luxury market.

Industry executives voiced concerns about everything from unemployment to Europe's brewing economic crisis, but are nonetheless banking on growth from China and a recovering U.S. market.

Leading officials speaking at the Reuters Global Luxury Summit said the debt crisis in Europe is threatening to halt luxury's rebound, but demand for fine merchandise was picking up in the United States while China's shoppers were venturing frequently into Tokyo for top brands.

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