Thursday, January 18, 2007

Drexler: Retail Needs Inspiration

Retail’s golden boy—Millard (Mickey) Drexler—was the man of the hour at the 2007 National Retail Federation (NRF) convention in New York City. The NRF honored the chief executive of J. Crew Group with its highest accolade, the Gold Medal, for his contributions to retailing. In his remarks upon receiving the award, Drexler was characteristically blunt.

“American fashion is not doing what we need to do,” he said. “Our industry doesn’t inspire customers today.”

As Drexler sees it, the industry suffers from a lack of creativity.

“Retailers are not thinking creatively,” he said. “If anyone doesn’t think the world is based on innovation, they are wrong.”

The man who grew Gap Inc. from a $400 million a year company to a $14 billion behemoth and then went on to turn around J. Crew and execute one of the most successful retail IPOs in recent years, said his early years in retailing were fundamental to his later success.

“I spent most of my time early on doing the most important thing: dealing with the customer,” Drexler explained. “What I learned was that consumers will buy everything that looks good. And it’s still that way.”

Drexler did not speak very long. And he didn’t offer any balm to retailers, or speak to the greater glory of his profession. Instead, in almost chastising terms, he encouraged retailers not to be afraid to make mistakes and try new things. The most successful companies, Drexler said, are those that continuously innovate. He suggested that one way to do that was to create an environment that supports creative people and allows new talent to come to the surface.

“We have a responsibility to encourage them and let them develop,” he said. “We have to give young people an opportunity to make a big difference.”

— Marianne Wilson

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