The Apparel Top 50: Navigating the Line Between Future and Past
It’s a rule of playing the stock market that time in the market is better than timing the market, yet most financial advisors would likely steer their clients away from investing, particularly in an individual stock, when it’s at a high point. Invest low, sell high. It’s a no-brainer, if you can figure out which companies are undervalued.
On the other hand, when you’re a company that’s traded on the stock market, time is never really on your side. Wall Street isn’t looking at the long-term, and the market will punish you if you don’t meet its expectations. It’s a quarter-to-quarter game. The best time to make an investment in yourself is when the sun is already shining on your business, and you have money to spend. Because even if you’ve hit a sweet spot, you can rest assured that resting on your laurels will give some other company an opportunity to knock you off of it.
I think it’s fair to say that one of the things this year’s Apparel Top 50 have in common is that they all, to a company, stay on the road of continuous improvement by investing in their businesses now, with an eye to their long-term futures.
Investing in your business, to some degree, involves letting go of the past to embrace the future. When you move from sketching on paper to designing digitally, your process changes. Maybe your thinking changes. When you unsilo your data to establish one view of inventory across your company, available to fulfill anywhere, you create more opportunities for selling, reduce waste, please more consumers, eliminate redundancies and improve profitability. But you may have to rework your commission structure. When you provide steady living wages and health care and opportunities to your factory workers, or partner with those factories that do, you may spend more money up front, but it comes back to you in the form of less turnover, better quality, more engagement. That’s true for your human resources across the supply chain. When you decide to buy raw material in bulk, across your company’s divisions, in advance of a season, you can improve speed-to-market while reducing costs, but you may be placing new limitations on your designers. Limitations can be frustrating, but they can also be freeing and can really spark creativity and innovation.
One of the hallmarks of great companies is that they figure out how to walk the line between rushing too quickly into the future and holding too tightly to the past. It’s a good thing to be excited by new opportunities and technologies and processes, but it’s also a good thing not to turn your back on what makes you great in your zeal to embrace the latest and greatest.
Sometimes there are challenges so great that you have to move faster than you might like. The advent of digitalization and the changes it has wrought, from the rise of the anytime-anywhere shopper to the dominance of Amazon, for example, demand attention, and then appropriate action. But sometimes it’s best to watch and wait for a while before acting, and sometimes it’s best to rush into something head first, but on a very small scale, so that if it fails, it hasn’t disrupted the entire enterprise, and you can move quickly to test something else.
Across these approaches, there are often opportunities to transform by using materials you already have. It’s a matter of looking at old things in new ways — looking at something that’s been right before your eyes all of this time, but suddenly seeing it differently. That’s what innovation really is all about. There are endless examples of this across businesses and industries, and across our Top 50. I have space to mention just one.
Last year, Macy’s launched its Macy’s Style Crew, a brand ambassador program and social selling initiative open only to its own employees, each of whom showcases his or her own individual style and flair, with opportunities for rewards if their content leads to sales. Typically when you think of brand ambassadors, you think of fashion bloggers or celebrities, but Macy’s looked inside its own four walls to tap a resource it already had. And, really, who better to extol the brand’s high points than the people who spend the most time around it? Brilliant. Realizing the power of its employees, the retailer announced last month that it would expand the program.
As you continue to walk the line between tradition and transformation, don’t forget to tap the treasure that’s already at your fingertips.