Summer Buzz

Unlike most consumers, the retail industry doesn’t take a holiday in the summer. As we head into July, three very different retail companies are very much in the news. One has the industry all abuzz over who will be its next chief, while another has launched a pioneering employee initiative. And the newly appointed chief of the third wants to turn a cult L.A. brand into a global powerhouse. I’m fascinated by all three:

•  Target: At press time, there is no clear front-runner to replace ousted CEO Gregg Steinhafel. Industry analysts keep adding candidates to the list of would-be successors, with the most recent being Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer.
Other names being floated as possible fits include HSN’s Mindy Grossman, Victoria’s Secret’s Sharen Turney, Foot Locker’s Ken Hicks, Tractor Supply’s Co.’s Greg Sandfort, Ralph Lauren’s Roger Farah and Gap Inc.’s Glenn Murphy — and that’s just a small sampling.

Target isn’t the only big retailer shopping for a new chief. J.C. Penney, American Eagle Outfitters, American Apparel and bebe stores are all being led by interim CEOs. And The Bon-Ton Stores’ Brendan Hoffman steps down in early 2015.

•  Starbucks: It didn’t take long for the knives to come out over Starbucks’ new program to pay its employees college tuition. There was criticism that students face potentially long waits for reimbursements. And some don’t like that the program requires students to get their education online (from Arizona State University).

I get it: The program isn’t perfect. But give credit where it’s due. The Starbucks initiative is unique in its size and scope. It’s open to part- and full-timers, and comes with no strings attached. Employees are free to choose any course of study, and they don’t have to stay with the company for a required amount of time after earning a degree.

In a low-wage service industry, Starbucks has been a trailblazer, providing health insurance, even to part-timers, and giving its employees stock options. Who knows whether the coffee giant has been so successful because of the perks or in spite of them? I’d like to think it’s the former.

•  Fred Segal: Can Fred Segal, the legendary Los Angeles retailer and epitome of California cool, transform itself into a global luxury retail brand? That’s the game plan of Sandow, which acquired Fred Segal in 2012.

Sandow has assembled a diverse team for Fred Segal that includes veteran retailer Paul Blum (late of Juicy Couture) as CEO and equity investor Evolution Media Partners (a joint venture that includes Hollywood powerhouse Creative Artists Agency). The goal: to reinvent the luxury shopping experience under the Fred Segal brand by building lifestyle stores that combine fashion, dining, entertainment, cultural events and wellness programs. Digital- and mobile-friendly, the stores will offer an immersive, engaging experience, with unique merchandise.

“We’re not going to retrofit our stores to make them experiential retail. We’re integrating that from the beginning,” said Blum at a press event.

Blum is looking at both street and mall locations; each store will be individually designed. There is no word yet on when the new format will make its debut. Personally, I can’t wait.

Marianne Wilson

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