Saturday, August 6, 2011

Room for Improvement - Part I - Education

This is the start of a series of articles where I think Daffy's could easily improve. The first in this series is about brand awareness.

Part of what I've wanted to accomplish with this blog is to educate consumers out there about the brands that Daffy's carries. Most of the Italian brands they carry consistently have few, if any, retailers in the United States. Generally speaking, a store can't simply put clothes on a rack and expect people to buy them - as much as I'm far from a brand-hog, there's value behind a brand. And Daffy's would create a much more loyal customer-base if they explained to people what it is they're stocking in their stores.

Now, I realize, Daffy's is likely under contract not to advertise what it is they're selling. But, generally, those contracts don't prevent retailers from advertising within the stores themselves. One store's motto which I've always appreciated, even though I think their merchandise is simply horrific, is Syms -- "An educated consumer is our best customer." Plenty of the new sample-sale sites have two or three paragraphs about the brands they're selling, and often have videos about the lines as well telling the history and showing pieces from the label regardless of whether those particular pieces are going to be sold in the upcoming sale.

With Daffy's, however, we're lucky to be getting a little sign above some racks indicating a particular designer, but even that means little when most people who are not familiar with Daffy's would have no clue what the label is all about. But the general deal at Daffy's is -- let's just throw everything together and let the customer sift through everything. That might work at, say, a TJMaxx/Marshalls or a Ross Dress for Less, but the fact of the matter is that doing such a thing cheapens the merchandise that Daffy's gets in -- on the whole, leaving out the young mens dept. and any american closeouts the store gets in, the merchandise is high-end and retails for well beyond Daffy's prices. But there's no way that people are going to take anything seriously or pay attention to brands when the store itself doesn't take care or pride in the display or stocking.

So just a few suggestions -- have an in-store touch-screen display which links you to the websites of these designers, or at a minimum, show a video or some pictures of the merchandise or the company's line in general -- simply, let the customer get a feel for what you're selling so that the customers will develop a taste and liking for a specific brand. Another part of this equation would be to separate out the merchandise by designer/manufacturer -- Now, I realize such a thing may be hard with shirts, from, say, Mastai Feretti which contracts with literally hundreds of different labels for production, but there's no reason that merchandise cannot be separated out and labeled as 'Mastai Feretti' or 'Saitt' (MF's parent company). The value of the clothing is simply diluted when high-end merchandise from Italy is mixed in with junk from Calvin Klein, Geoffrey Beene, and the slew of other items that come in as made in China.

And I have a feeling, that if Daffy's offered brand-awareness for some of the companies they deal with, they would actually pay Daffy's to do so. Gilt-Man has been incredibly successful, in-part, because many unknown labels are using it as a launch-pad to get their brands known to the American public. But what better way for Italian brands to get recognized than in a store with over a dozen locations in the metro-NYC area. I can't imagine how many companies would kill to be exposed to the fashion-obsessed denizens of NYC, and Daffy's certainly has the retail space to provide that, and unlike Gilt, people would actually be able to see and try-on the merchandise first-hand.

The most important part about all this is quite simple, but a step which would require more effort by Daffy's than a simple marketing campaign --- EDUCATE THE EMPLOYEES - I would say about 95% of the employees who are stocking the racks and helping out customers have absolutely no clue about the merchandise the store carries - and in fact, most managers have no clue either. Honestly, the best employee in all of Daffy's is a wonderful man by the name of Andre in the 57th St. East Side store. Not only is he incredibly easy to talk to and will go out of his way to help you find something, but more importantly, he knows the ins and outs of every label carried at the store --- and he makes it his job to visit the websites of all these companies, and he even keeps up on trends in the general fashion world, outside of the obscure designers often carried at Daffy's. He is one of the few people I have met in all of the Daffy's I have visited that has anywhere near the encyclopedic knowledge as I do of the store's merchandise. The problem is that he is the exception, and not the rule. Every employee at the store should be able to explain to you the difference between Gazzarrini and Messori, and explain why shoes from Tremp are better than, say, Florsheim or Rockport.

I can't tell you how many times I've taken time out of my day to help out fellow shoppers looking for suits/shirts/pants/shoes who are clueless about what exists at Daffy's, and have only been frustrated by employees who either don't know anything about the merchandise or are simply unable to verbalize a response (no offense intended, but some of the Daffy's employees, especially in some of the NYC stores, are not exactly well-spoken). The thing is, that is not my job, and while I am happy to do it, Daffy's should be training their employees to the Andre standard, not simply giving people a job to be stockists - the merchandise is simply too good for that.

I hope part 1 of this series will be insightful, at least to the folks in Daffy's corporate, who may be looking for ways to improve the store. It is far from my job to be an educator and publicist for a company that processes over $200 Million in gross-revenue every year - thank G-d, I have a full-time job, and while I would love to be working for Daffy's if the proper circumstances arose, that is not what I get paid to do. In the meantime, I do it out of love and respect for a store that I wish did a better job itself. Part 2 coming next week -- stay tuned for merchandise updates on Monday or Tuesday.

13 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that my post was deleted within 60 seconds of posting...

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  2. Great blog.

    You're an open minded guy.

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  3. The post from WP -- unsure why it's getting deleted
    ------------------------------------------------
    I think that your intentions are good in this series that you're beginning. The challenge to your thinking has 3 parts:

    1) Daffys' buyers are not able to consistently purchase and stock a reasonable quantity of any one designer to warrant a "touchscreen" or an "in-store ad campagin." For instance: I go to a half-dozen Daffys each month, and I usually see (and buy) 2 or 3 Gazzarrini pieces (in total). The same goes for Xagon Man (a designer, I agree, is making moves in the right direction), or DelSiena (shirts). Barneys or Niemans can have a "Chanel" or "Armani" section of their store because they stock a full-line of clothing and accessories --- you'd be fortunate to find one Gazzarrini tie, one Gazzarrini belt, and one Gazzarrini blazer (rare) at one Daffy's location. How sad it would be to see a "touch-screen" taking you to the Gazzarrini web-site, when Daffy's doesn't carry the brand 29 days out of 30. Now, extrapolate that problem to all the other brands: Jae Cole Man, for instance.

    2) The reason you get an off-label Caruso suit for $200 at Daffys (as opposed to $500 on Yoox) is because there is NO advertising. You said it yourself - SYMS SUCKS - and it does. It sucks, primarily, because no established brands of any quality want to park their merchandise at a place that cannot advertise the brands being sold. The result: you get rack after rack of "made for outlet stores" suits, blazers and trousers from Ralph, Tommy, and BCBG. Daffys works - for guys like you and me - because we "can get Italian without having to fly to Italy" or spend three times as much on Yoox, or six times as much at a Manhattan boutique. What you are suggesting, if I hear you correctly, is that Daffys should educate its employees, consumers, and the larger public about the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the brands they sell...but keep the prices LOW, LOW, LOW??? How would that work exactly? How can you train employees to become as encyclopedic as Andre, and how can you install "touch-screens" and "jumbo-tron video screens" (etc) and keep selling a $600 Gazzarrini suit for $100 exactly?


    3) Daffys doesn't care about what you have to say. Why? As you know, the founder of Daffys is dead. RIP to a great man who "got" fashion and who is responsible for filling half my closet. The problem: the family (the heirs) are looking to make serious money, and to expand the brand. Expanding the brand always dilutes the brand. Since Daffys isn't going to invest in "building the brand names" of Jae Cole Man, Gazzarrini, Kemitch (which is much better than you suggest), Xagon Man, etc., then it will start to move product from Joseph Abboud, Calvin Klein and Banana Republic. Moreoever, Daffys' buyers who venture to Italy to buy up everything Yoox hasn't bought up are often left with the dregs. They aren't getting "fresh" or "current" merchandise, and they don't have a lot of mark-up room either (given that they're selling this stuff for next to nothing). So, you're essentially advising Daffy's make prices commensurate with quality. At least - that's the message I'd hear if I were one of the executives.

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  4. WP -- in reply, as for point #1, you're right in that the amount the buyers get from each brand varies with each season; but even if they only get two or three pieces per store every season, I think it's worth it from a corporate perspective having people identify with a brand which makes them want to come back to the store next season or visit other stores looking for the same merchandise. But I understand that they will never get full-lines, and I don't expect them to do so. But I'm not saying to have whole sections of a store, I'm simply saying separate out the merchandise by designer -- Century 21 does it well, even when they only get in a handful of items from a particular designer.

    As for your second and part-of your third points, I will admit that portions of my suggestions would likely result in the inflation of retail prices at Daffy's. But even if prices went up, say, 25%, there is still plenty of room. I know that several of the brands sold semi-consistently at Daffy's have a huge aftermarket online. But realize that having better-trained employees would not necessarily result in higher prices -- what I'm suggesting is that you have employees that know the product, which will in turn increase sales. The faster the merchandise turns over, the better chance there is for profit.

    Finally, I do believe Daffy's corporate cares about improving their stores. They have brought in a new CEO and a new buying staff to bring back the quality of merchandise in the stores to what it used to be only a few years ago, or so I have been told. I honestly do think that educating the consumers about what they sell would increase customer loyalty. But yes, I am suggesting as well that as more customers become aware of the quality of merchandise they are carrying, prices should be increased ever so slightly to co-inside with that knowledge. I think you'll see that some of the items this season, particularly the items from Hirshleifer's for one are reflective of this idea.

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  5. My experience with Daffys (over 9 years of shopping) is that:

    1. I don't learn anything from the employees. I know what I like, and what looks good on me, and I am a good judge of quality. No one at Daffys' has ever "introduced" me to a new brand that I wouldn't have found on my own. To the credit of 2 employees, they will keep an eye out for the brands and sizes I require --- which is no small favor. The reason that Daffys' works (when it does) is that no one bothers you, no one upsells you, no one says (I have the perfect belt for those pants...): you can go in and shop, unmolested, and be able to walk out with a bag full of stuff for $250 (or thereabouts). I think that most fashion-savvy people who shop at Daffys are the same way --- good taste is something you have or you don't. It cannot be taught. If I pick up a garment and it doesn't look good, is made out of micro-fiber, and is loud, then it goes back on the rack. And, designers are horribly inconsistent. Karl M (a new Dafffys' addition) makes beautiful blazers but hideous shirts. Jae Cole Man makes hideous blazers, but beautiful pants.

    2. Again - your "designer rack" doesn't work in my view. At 99% of Daffys' locations, there are 3 pieces of Gazzarrini, or Jae Cole Man, or Patrizia Pepe in the store at any one time. How can you have a "designer rack" of literally 3 pieces? Yes, the store may have a dozen pieces by one designer (on very rare occasions), but that stock may last for 2-3 days. To me, Daffys' is the very embodiment of a "one off." It has one piece, in one size, and for one moment in time. If you don't get it today, it won't be there tomorrow.

    3. Part of the fun of shopping at Daffy's is that it's all about picking through the racks and delighting in what you find. It's a mystery, and a hunt. There are no personal shoppers, the store is constantly rearranged, and it's never the same place twice (sorry to steal a tag line from a lesser competitor). Daffys is, more or less, organized chaos. But - to use your figure of 25% - I wouldn't want to pay $125 for something I currently get for $100. And, I'm not sure where you get your figure of a 25% increase. Training staff does require overtime pay (you suggest that educating the staff doesn't require more capital -but it flat-out does). If "Daffys' is bargains for millionaires" (which we know it isn't)- it is for people who can't afford to shop at Neimans (which I can't) --- I have four closets full of clothes that I've purchased for great deals...if I paid full retail, I'd be in the poorhouse. If you added 25% to all the garments I've bought, I would be in serious debt, or I'd have one-third less clothing.

    Ultimately, Daffys' (at its heart) is a bargain-basement store with under-the-radar brands from Italy. To make the kind of changes you suggest, elevates the store to something that it currently isn't, and probably shouldn't be.

    Ask yourself this question the next time you're at any one of Daffys' locations: Look around at your fellow customers...would they pay an extra 25-35%...could they pay?

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  6. My last post has been deleted three times.

    Please repost it. Or don't. It is my final post on your site.

    Thanks.

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  7. Last POSTS - in 5 parts...

    Hope these make it on the board...

    The Keys to Daffys' Expansion:

    1. Be selective - but know your customers. Don't feature a bunch of suits and blazers at your Bronx store if you're Wall Street location has a dearth of formalwear. Just think about it: you've got a captive audience of achievers on Wall Street, but you have some of your worst merchandise there. At the same time, you need to separate yourself from SYMS, Filene's Basement, and the like. Buyers shouldn't be focusing on buying ANYTHING "Made in Italy." There has to be standards. Brands do not matter. Don't focus on cutting out certain brands. FB and Kemitch both have occasionally amazing pieces of high quality. But you simply cannot have a rack of sixteen - twenty "shiny," "four button," and "man-made fabric" suits. It's clear that this kind of merchandise doesn't sell. I've seen it at the Bronx location (where flashy stuff rules, apparently), and at your White Plains location for years)...you keep some pieces on the racks until it disintegrates. Again - don't buy it if P. Diddy (circa "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems") would have worn it, and don't buy it (I'm talking to the "buyers" who actually fly to Italy and buy in bulk) if Mase or Creflo Dollar could wear it to preach in.

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  8. The Keys to Daffys' Expansion:

    2. Have an on-site tailor. Do you have ANY idea how many out of work tailors there are these days who would PAY YOU (Daffys') to have a space in one of your stores? Personally, I know a half-dozen who would kill for the opportunity. For God's sake --- even the s-house, Burlington Coat Factory has an in-store tailor.

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  9. The Keys to Daffys' Expansion:

    3. Stock your "Golden Mile" Manhasset store with merchandise worthy of "the Golden Mile." At the end of a "murderer's row" of retail (Prada, LV, Zegna) in Manhasset, LI is, of all places, a Daffys. Why? I'm not sure, but I'm not complaining. What doesn't make sense is that you don't stock more high-end merchandise here. How about more items from Tyrone's? How about more Caruso off-label pieces? Lino? Gazzarrini? Sure, you have a table of DelSienna shirts, but, after the fire that happened there a while back, I still (literally) smell smoke-damaged clothing. What gives?

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  10. The Keys to Daffys' Expansion:

    4. Open a NEW location in White Plains that isn't in a DEAD MALL. Donald Trump has announced that White Plains is a Jr. Manhattan. Well, that it isn't, but it is a place with rich consumers who pay for parking 24 hours a day. Mammaroneck Road or City Center Mall is an ideal Daffy's location --- it currently has a WEAK and PATHETIC "Nordstrom's Rack" with an anemic men's section of off, off, season suits and blazers. Daffys would clearly dominate there. Your previous location - that failed - was in a dead mall with a (no kidding) karate studio, and was selected by the manager because "it was close to his house" (seriously). It also failed because Daffy's HQ stopped providing new merchandise.

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  11. I think there may simply be a character limit in place. I honestly don't know if that's the case or not, as you're the first one to write a comment of substantial length.

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  12. The Keys to Daffys' Expansion:

    5. Offer Daffy's frequent shopper cards. If I spend $100, give me a $20 coupon off my next purchase. Why? Loehman's does it. It has a "gold card" membership that is dirt cheap, and - withoutu question - it keeps me going back and spending money even when I shouldn't. Daffy's doesn't do anything to recognize its good customers. If Daffy's exec. board is smart, it will read James Surrowecki's piece on Kosmo, the now defunct NYC service that treated all customers the same...and it went belly up. The truth is, giving me $20 off on something I wasn't going to buy anyway is a good deal for Daffys' bottom line...

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