Gilbert Harrison sure knows how to get people talking. The chairman of Financo once again drew a power-packed crowd to his annual merchandising seminar and cocktail event last Monday. The afternoon kicked off with a heated — and at times confrontational — panel, featuring outspoken execs Millard “Mickey” Drexler of J.Crew and Topshop owner Sir Philip Green, who delved into topics from social media to the decline of mall traffic to speed to market. Also on stage were Hot Topic CEO Betsy McLaughlin; Li & Fung Ltd. President Bruce Rockowitz; Disney Stores President James Fielding and Just Group Chairman Solomon Lew.
The panelists (and audience) spent much of the discussion debating whether being active on Twitter and Facebook really has a meaningful impact on sales.
McLaughlin said Hot Topic has moved fast to connect with its consumer online, noting that shoppers are no longer frequenting the mall like they used to.
“The traffic is no longer there,” McLaughlin said. “The place for them to hang out is the Internet.”
While not all the execs on stage were ready to embrace social media, they did agree that the fashion industry is in the midst of a major shift.
“Industry change is a given,” said Drexler. “If you don’t figure out how to do it, you are not going to be around five years from now. Speed of change is faster than ever.”
The lively banter continued into the cocktail hour. Vince Camuto, Steve Madden and Bob Campbell were among the notable footwear players attending the event for the first time, along with longtime Financo fans such as Matt Rubel and big retail names including Terry Lundgren, Jim Gold, Michael Gould and Ron Frasch.
Foot Locker Inc. CEO Ken Hicks and Finish Line Inc. chief Glenn Lyon also met for the first time during the evening. The companies have been bitter rivals over the years, but could the friendly exchange signal a detente?