Archives for retail



Michaels Going Public: Coincidence?

Yesterday we published a post about how some retailers spend a lot of money and effort on their employees, how other retailers spend much less, and how that difference affects shoppers.

I mentioned finding long lines and few cashiers at the arts-and-crafts store Michaels. And I wrote this too:

FWIW, critics — especially Democratic critics — may note that Michaels is a chain that went public a long time ago, expanded widely, and was taken private in 2006 when it was acquired by two investment firms: the Blackstone Group and, yes, Bain Capital.

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How Many Workers Is the Right Number for a Retailer? Stories from Trader Joe’s, Michaels, and Whole Foods

A reader named Quinton White points us to an interesting article by Jim Surowiecki in The New Yorker about how retails firms are succeeding by hiring more workers and spending more money training and rewarding them. Surowiecki writes:

A recent Harvard Business Review study by Zeynep Ton, an M.I.T. professor, looked at four low-price retailers: Costco, Trader Joe’s, the convenience-store chain QuikTrip, and a Spanish supermarket chain called Mercadona. These companies have much higher labor costs than their competitors. They pay their employees more; they have more full-time workers and more salespeople on the floor; and they invest more in training them. (At QuikTrip, even part-time employees get forty hours of training.) Not surprisingly, these stores are better places to work. What’s more surprising is that they are more profitable than most of their competitors and have more sales per employee and per square foot.

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Location, Location, Location

One of the private-sector retail stores adjacent to the main Austin cemetery sells grave monuments and related items, while another is a major gardening center. These are sensible location decisions—these retailers provide convenience to customers who will be using the cemetery.

A similar example is provided by the locational choice of our sons’ orthodontist—directly across the street from the local middle school. These are examples of agglomeration economies, but are in the retail sector and based on consumer demand, not production.

I wonder what are other good/bizarre examples in which small retail firms’ locational choices are determined by the fixed location of a major public facility that attracts potential customers? Brothels next to seaports?



The Fixed Costs of Retailing Bourbon

The Bourbon Outfitter in Lexington, Kentucky sells souvenirs and paraphernalia related to bourbon distilling and drinking. Its only physical retail outlet is a kiosk in a shopping mall; and its selling season is the Christmas shopping period. Its difficulty is that the mall will only rent kiosk space in three-month intervals—the kiosk is a fixed cost to The Outfitter, which has come up with the following solution: It rents the kiosk from November through January, and opens on November 1, sufficient time before Black Friday to make an impression on shoppers. It stays open until New Year’s and then closes down.

The owner tells me that this is a profit-maximizing policy, since the variable cost of remaining open after New Year’s Day far exceeds the trickle of revenue that might flow in.

[HT to BK]



Abercrombie’s “Situation” Subsidy Sunk its Stock Price Right? Not Quite

So this morning, Abercrombie and Fitch reported solid earnings for the second quarter. Its revenue was up 23% off strong international sales, and its net income rose 64% to $0.35 a share, beating Wall Street estimates of $0.29. So how come its stock price closed down nearly 9% today?

If you believe the knee-jerk mythology of the Internet, the answer’s simple: The Situation. Here’s the story: On Tuesday, the market closed with Abercrombie stock above $70 a share. That night, the Ohio-based company released a statement (strangely dated Aug. 12) titled “A Win-Win Situation,” in which it announced that it had “offered compensation” to Michael “The Situation” Sorentino to “cease” wearing its clothes. Here’s the entire statement:

We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans. We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and the producers of MTV’s The Jersey Shore to have the character wear an alternate brand. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently waiting a response.”

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The Costco Effect: Why Does the Wholesaler Cause Inflation?

There’s a lot of data showing that Walmart causes prices to decline when it enters a local market (see here, here and here). Why then, according to a new study, does Costco have the opposite effect, and cause competitors to raise their prices? The answer boils down to the complex ways that stores choose to compete against each other, and shows that not all big box retailers are created equal. Here’s the abstract:

Prior research shows grocery stores reduce prices to compete with Walmart Supercenters. This study finds evidence that the competitive effects of two other big box retailers – Costco and Walmart-owned Sam’s Club – are quite different. Using city-level panel grocery price data matched with a unique data set on Walmart and warehouse club locations, we find that Costco entry is associated with higher grocery prices at incumbent retailers, and that the effect is strongest in cities with small populations and high grocery store densities. This is consistent with incumbents competing with Costco along non-price dimensions such as product quality or quality of the shopping experience. We find no evidence that Sam’s Club entry affects grocery stores’ prices, consistent with Sam’s Club’s focus on small businesses instead of consumers.

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