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For Chinese Laundry’s Bob Goldman, the Way Ahead is Online

In a new series, top leaders from across the footwear industry discuss the deep impact of the coronavirus and the challenging road ahead.

Industry veteran Bob Goldman, CEO of Cels Enterprises, is determined not to let the current coronavirus crisis disrupt his business agenda. In fact, he will be using it to his advantage, continuing to build the company’s e-commerce presence as consumers increasingly gravitate to online shopping.

“It’s not a new business for us,” said Goldman, who entered the virtual selling space in 1996. “I wouldn’t be investing in it if I didn’t think it would grow. The key thing is brand loyalty, so the better the distribution circles the better the brand will grow.”

For Goldman, that means continuing to build online partnerships with key retailers as well as growing Cels’ internet business that includes marketing its Chinese Laundry, Dirty Laundry, CL by Chinese Laundry,and 42Gold labels.

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While many companies remain uncertain about their position in a post COVID-19 world, Goldman believes it will be a case of survival of the fittest. “The [pandemic] only exaggerated what was happening,” he said, referring to changes in the way both brands and retailers engages with consumers. “The consumer is still the end result. It they’re not addressing them, they will fall by the wayside.”

Here, Goldman talks about the role of government in helping companies move forward, supporting his employees, and strategies to garner a greater share of the online space in a post-COVID-19 environment.

What are you doing to keep your business up and running?

BG: “We’ve built out a robust drop ship program to serve our retail partners, both national and international, as well as a direct-to-consumer program to facilitate the [shipment] of goods as the states open up. We’ve invested in updating systems to be able to support the volume and customer experience.”

How have you been supporting your employees during this event?

BG: “We adopted a work-from-home policy and sanitized our facilities. While we’ve furloughed some employees, we’ve brought [some] back. This is a changing and evolving [situation] and we’re looking at it with a sharper view than ever before.”

For independent retail partners that may be more vulnerable, how are you supporting them?  

BG: “We extended discounts and temporary credit terms and helped independent retailers establish drop ship programs. We’ve have shifted our focus by connecting with our customers and partners primarily through direct-to-consumer platforms and social media.”

Coronavirus shoe contamination has been a key issue for consumers. How have you been addressing this?

BG: We’ve [adopted] UV-light sanitizing of our products. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

How are you reaching out to communities during these uncertain times?

BG: “We’ve consistently donated product to help the [local] community and are continuing to do so during throughout the country.”

What should the industry do as a whole to survive this moment?

BG: “Wholesalers and retailers [need] to work together to make sure they service the consumer needs based on their new lifestyle, [including] a virtual shopping experience.”

Looking ahead, what are among key issues facing the industry?

BG: “The single biggest is technical manufacturing expertise, which is dwindling. The training and development [involved] with new techniques are not happening, whether it’s how to [develop] domestic production to cutting rising labor costs. These things have to be taken into account today since the consumer is looking for value. Next, is warehousing and shipping costs which are dramatically influencing the pricing of footwear.”

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