As Many Brands Shift Focus to DTC, Chinese Laundry’s Bob Goldman Is Still Betting on Wholesale

As major players from Nike to Crocs trim their retail roster in favor of direct-to-consumer, Chinese Laundry chief Bob Goldman is still banking on wholesale.

The executive said shoes under $50, sold at off-price stores such as Burlington, T.J. Maxx and Nordstrom Rack, are the focus for Cels Enterprises, which consists of the Chinese Laundry, Dirty Laundry, CL by Laundry and 42 Gold, as well as a private label business.

One reason? The cost of building e-commerce.

“Between acquiring customers, making big investments, warehouse costs, logistics and so forth, it is very difficult to acquire that business if you don’t really put funds into it,” Goldman said. “Our volume isn’t in e-commerce, but it’s still teaching us what the consumer wants, not what the buyer thinks.”

In addition, the executive is betting on the comeback of independent retailers, a sector that has suffered as more brands have cut ties with small retailers.

“We never gave up on them,” said Goldman. “We’ve always had that as a base, even though we sold to all the majors. The independent retailers have an opportunity today to service the customer who’s not buying online.”

In May 2020, Goldman built out a drop ship program to serve the company’s retail partners, who were particularly vulnerable amid the height of the pandemic. The company also extended discounts and temporary credit terms.

All in all, Goldman is optimistic, after ending 2020 in a profitable position. The junior’s brand Dirty Laundry business saw the most growth in the portfolio, thanks to strong boot sales, he added.

As the company looks to fuel wholesale, the return of in-person events is an important part of the equation. Regional trade shows have proven successful so far — including Dallas, said Goldman, noting that it is key to reach retailers in the Midwest and smaller markets. Product-wise, comfort is still important, but customers are increasingly looking towards heels. “We’re having a large increase in the dress shoe business and we’ve seen tremendous growth in [the first quarter],” he said.

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