Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Debate: Urban Outfitters And A Shift Towards Mass Market Quality

Urban Outfitters is no stranger to paradigm shifts within menswear, which is a fancy way of saying that they have a reputation of staying on top of trends in a specific marketplace.  Not too long ago you could get an ironic neon tee for every day of the week.  As the preppy/Americana boom has taken hold over the past few years UO has tailored their offerings as such.  For the most part all mass retail is reactive as oppose to proactive so this should come as no surprise to anyone who even has a slight interest in all this stuff.  But what interests me the most is that instead of simply selling low quality cookie cutter ripoffs, UO has slowly built up a stock of impressive high quality brands specializing in the above mentioned aesthetic.  What started with Quoddy and Billykirk has now ballooned to a selection that includes Monitaly and various other brands one might not expect to see at such a retail location.  I don't think anyone is expecting Urban Outfitters to become Context or Blackbird overnight, but could we be looking at a Opening Ceremony-esque evolution?  Meaning, a store that specializes in trends, but focuses on up and coming brands known for their quality.  Does quality only exist in this case because, well, the idea of quality (products with "stories" and heritage) is pretty damn trendy right now?  In five years will UO's products look completely different then they do today?  In the business of making money can a large chain simultaneously run with a respectable image? Or rebuild their image?  Should we commend these guys for bringing smaller brands to a new customer?  Sound off if you feel so inclined.

A selection of brands currently offered at Urban Outfitters:
-Quoddy
-Monitaly
-Gant Rugger
-Mark McNairy New Amsterdam
-Rogues Gallery/Never Sleep
-Billykirk/The Brothers Bray
-Steven Alan/Lark & Wolff

-L.A.S

[Editor's Note: I think a big part of this discussion is UO's partnership with brands to create less expensive diffusion lines (i.e. Never Sleep, The Brothers Bray and Lark & Wolff).]

26 comments:

  1. I'm just amazed that most of these brands, which we know, love and hold near and dear to us are readily available in UO..... I'm all for people looking great and all but I'm not feeling none to good about it.

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  2. Jesus their shoe selection makes me want to throw up.

    Quoddy, BK, etc are great, but these people need to stop looking like punchlines to a StyleForum joke about SWD heads.

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  3. I think what matters here is not my opinion, L.A.S.'s, or anyone else's. It's all about the Blog coverage that they wouldn't otherwise get. It's all marketing. Odds are very good that none of these products are widely stocked at their many stores. They're just looking for website hits. The average UO customer, their bread and butter, doesn't give a shit about the supposed quality or the stories behind any of this expensive stuff. I would know, I used to work at the store in Wicker Park. They tried to bring in several more expensive brands while I worked there, a few years ago now, and everything ended up getting sent back. This is in an affluent neighborhood mind you. I think the average Context,Blackbird,OC consumer is significantly older, and has more money, than the average UO one. UO's biggest competition is Am Apparel, AKA a whole nother realm, at least in Chicago.

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  4. I've seen some of these products in stores and I'm happy for any niche brand that gets a significant order from UO, but it's no secret that the diffusion brands don't hold a candle to the real McCoy (Bros Bray bags are not great, etc.), and for the pricier stuff UO tends to stock a cheap equivalent that undercuts the "real thing."

    Come shop for a McNairy saddle, buy an Urban-brand buck for $60.

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  5. I bought three Steven Alan (L&W) shirts for $15 a pop a while back. Not a bad deal if you ask me. However, UO is not somewhere I frequent on the reg.

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  6. Honestly, I'm for, and against it. Like every other style blogosphere inhabitant, I reek of entitlement. We always want to be ahead of the curve. That's why we're here. That's why UO, despite keeping up, will always be fighting an uphill battle.

    We're early adopters. Like a band? Before everyone else does? That makes you either a card-carrying advocate, or the whiny bitch "FIRST!" types.

    It's inevitable. It takes a bigger man to appreciate and recognize the success of growing brands. Argue this, then argue what you would do if you were UO? Stick with the cliché, or try to adapt? Don't kid yourself. At the end of the day, it's a business.

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  7. "At the end of the day, it's a business."

    Exactly.

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  8. As a person with someone who works at UO, I am all for it. 40-50% makes a brand new Gant Rugger blazer a no brainer...

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  9. "Not to long ago..."

    should be

    "Not too long ago..."

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  10. I think their greatest successes will lie with diffusion lines that may not be of the best quality but will be affordable to the UO demographic. I just can't see high school kids who shop at UO buying a $500 Gant Rugger blazer.

    It's not like this is unusual. Big name designers have had lower cost, lower quality lines in department stores since forever. The only difference here is that the brands getting into UO are way smaller.

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  11. Patrick KicklighterOctober 12, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    Considering that most of you were wearing graphic t-shirts and Nikes or full frat boy regalia (ala the Schlossmeister) two years ago does it really matter that Urban Outfitters is selling the current hot trend? UO's job is stay relevant and make money - this news is not groundbreaking nor really even worth a discussion.

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  12. PK- Haven't seen you around these parts in a while. It's always good to have you come through and remind us that nothing on Sart Inc is worth talking about haha.

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  13. Give Lawrence a break. He only wears his Zuma destroyed boot cut jeans and white flip-flops on the weekends now.

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  14. Kev- White flip flops? C'mon brah, you gotta be kidding me. Sketcher Shape Ups or nothing.

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  15. I work near a J. Crew in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the US (Beverly Hills), and all the pricey Barbour, Mackintosh, etc. stuff just sits there. I mean, they've got racks of it. So if they're not selling it, I can't imagine UO is selling any, either.

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  16. Kinda reminds me of when Saturn brought in their competitors' cars so you could compare them all right then and there, as opposed to having to shop around. And we all know what happened to Saturn.

    Anonymous in Chi is right, the avg UO shopper ("Why buy Gant when I can get BDg for a third of the price?!") just can't afford this stuff. Which means that most of this stuff will go on massive sale (a la standard operating procedure over at UO) and we will all be able to go in there and pick them off.

    At least they're trying. They prob just need to create a separate line of stores altogether and target them at major markets (but given the outcome of Martin + Osa, Ruehl, etc.), history suggests otherwise. UO used to only be in big cities. But look at their list of stores now. They oughtta call it Suburban Outfitters.

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  17. They sell Filson, Pointer and Pendleton now too.

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  18. Man, RUEHL had potential when it first opened.

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  19. From Quoddy itself, Urban doesn't sell the shoes at all. Partly because they don't have that customer, but partly because they don't tell the story correctly/at all. That's the biggest benefit of the web - and they don't take advantage of it. Honestly, I'm not sure J.Crew sells most of their curated items well either.

    That said, Glen Senk is a retail genius. Urban turns inventory at rates most of the other retailers can only dream of. This is because of smart merchandising. Turns x Gross Margin = Measure of health for any retailer. Urban is near the top of the chart. Opening Ceremony is a FANTASTIC brand, doing something really truly innovative. However, URBN is a better BUSINESS. All depends on what you're looking for.

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  20. L, You can add Filson bags to that list as well.

    - jon

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  21. I think for J Crew, and probably for UO too, it doesn't matter if they sell the stuff or not. It's all about gaining credibility by aligning themselves with classic brands. Credibility they wouldn't (or don't) have as just a mall store.

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  22. Stephen, they would only care about gaining credibility if that translated to increased sales somehow. Like if you or I began to shop there because of these new designer collaborations.

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  23. the difference is that urban can do funny shit like this that an aspirational brand won't touch. i think the real humor in all of this is how serious people are about their style that they actually take ownership to something so superficial as a "look".

    http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=18805929&navAction=jump&isProduct=true&parentid=MORE%20IDEAS&isProduct=true&cross-sell=true&guide-bn=true

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  24. Great comments in here! You guys are on point !

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  25. As a retailer that actually sells these brands..it drives me crazy but ultimitally it's just done so these designers can actually make a bit of money...how can you deny them that !? If I had my way I would prefer these brands stay within the smaller shops that spend hours displaynig knowledge on the construction and the background/history of the brands.

    UO employees aren't even allowed to talk to customers (true story) ... sorry, it's not encouradged...because they're too busy folding those lame Tee Shirts all day. What kind of service industry business doesn't place customer service at the forefront ?!

    I'm also happy to read comment from guys that say JCrew is not really moving it's blog product like Barbour and Mac coats...I mean c'mon JCrew is garbage made in CHina and they're pretending to be all about Americana...pure business peoples...ruthless. The craft is out the window. I could go on for hours about this.

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  26. Tommy -- You and I are in agreement. I meant they don't care if they sell the collaborations or not, but sure it probably translates into more people coming in the door and buying other products, even if it's the $150 J Crew brand instead of the $400 Barbour jackets.

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