Execs Talk Strategy at AAFA Summit

WASHINGTON — Growing the top line in a competitive climate takes a combination of savvy business strategies, executives said at the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s annual executive summit, held here last Thursday.

From innovative product and acquisitions to expansion into new markets, leaders sounded off on how they are working to take their companies to the next level during a difficult economy.

Rob DeMartini, president and CEO of New Balance Athletic Shoe Co., said his firm is focused on becoming the world’s No. 1 running brand —as well as a $5 billion company — by enhancing speed, entrepreneurial spirit and associate skills.

“We’re working very hard to tell our story to consumers,” DeMartini said. “The omnichannel opportunity is putting [the brand] back in control and putting us in the seat of responsibility [to tell our own story].”

And while Macy’s may be heralded for being a pioneer among department stores in omnichannel retailing, its focus is still on “building better bricks,” said Jeff Gennette, chief merchandising officer of Macy’s Inc.

Mobile drives both online traffic and in-store sales, while in-store technology can help boost sales online, explained Gennette.

“We have to make the in-store experience richer,” he said. “It’s important to us [to] always have something going on in the store, like events, to get customers interested.”

While companies concentrate on the omnichannel opportunity, they also are focused on tapping into new markets.

“We feel we’re a little behind the curve in Latin America,” admitted Rick Darling, vice chairman of LF USA and LF Europe. “The region is top of mind for many retailers today [but it’s not easy to break into because] Latin America is not one whole market.”

Like many others, Rick Helfenbein, president of sourcing giant Luen Thai USA, is eyeing acquisitions for growth. But he stressed that companies must be cautious when they are considering making a purchase.

“You only want to buy a healthy company, so you can make it healthier,” he said.

Helfenbein also weighed in on the subject of rising production prices and higher labor costs, by urging executives to focus instead on productivity. For example, he said, China might be becoming more expensive, but its workers are more productive than those in India, which has been trying to up its manufacturing game.

“Cheaper isn’t always better. Being smarter is better,” Helfenbein said. “The focus of companies should be on giving workers the tools to be as efficient as humanly possible.”