On the latest episode of Recode Decode, Hudson’s Bay CEO Helena Foulkes joined Recode’s Kara Swisher onstage at An Evening With Code Commerce in Las Vegas. She talked about the challenges of running retail chains like Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, and what the stores of the future will look like.
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Helena.
Kara Swisher: I’m very excited to do this interview, we’ve got some great interviews today, also, all of them, but this one in particular, I wanted to talk to her a lot, actually. I tried to reach her when I was in the contention — allegedly — to be CEO of Uber. She was one of the names that were brought up, which I brought up, I think I did. Anyway, I want to bring up Helena Foulkes to come up and talk to us...
Helena Foulkes: Hi everyone. Hi.
Thank you. There’s so much I want to talk about. Were you in contention for Uber CEO?
I had a conversation, yes.
And? What did you think about it?
I was really early in the process. I was early in my process too, sorry.
When you broke that news it was uncomfortable at work for me.
Thank you very much on that.
At that point, I think they were still thinking, and I was still thinking.
You were at CVS?
I want to start first at CVS.
To give people a sense of who you are and what you were doing there.
You ran a massively complex ... speaking of ...
The reason they would call you for Uber is because you ran a very complex pharmacy, all the retail operations. Is that correct?
Can you talk a little bit about what you did there?
Yeah. I went to CVS right after business school, I spent 25 years there and I had almost every job in the company. I became the president of the retail business, which does about $80 billion in sales.
We had, when I left, 10,000 stores including about 1,700 stores inside Target. Yeah, in all about 220,000 people reported to me.
Explain to me the process of going ... you obviously were talking to Uber, to be CEO of something, to really run something.
Talk about how you got here.
Oh yeah, it’s like, “How do you go from that to a department store?”
We’re gonna get into why you’d want to run a department store at all, the way it’s going.
Wait, we are?
How did I get there? I was never looking to leave CVS, actually. I was really happy. I loved health care. I tell people all the time that I had joined a retailer that became a health care company. For me, from a purpose perspective, I was really wedded to that, I felt like it was important work. But honestly, I got to the point where I felt like I was at this rung then waiting for the next rung was gonna be a while. I was feeling hemmed in and a little frustrated.
I started peeking around.
Peeking around. What attracted you to this opportunity?
Yeah, it’s interesting. I got a call from a recruiter and she said Hudson’s Bay Company, I had never heard of it.
Hudson’s Bay, for those of you who don’t know, we own Saks, Lord and Taylor, Saks Off Fifth. Hudson’s Bay is the largest department store chain in Canada and we own three department store chains in Europe. What got me really interested, actually, was they were doing very innovative out-of-the-box things. I wasn’t sure if they made sense, but I thought it was intriguing. They had just announced the sale of the Lord and Taylor flagship building to WeWork.
Which I thought was odd and different and therefore appealing to me.
Well, why not sell it to those guys with all that ridiculous money? But go ahead.
Yeah, exactly. They looked like a company that was willing to get out of the box and that was what I was looking for.
Okay. But when you went in, you’ve done quite a lot of changing.
It’s mostly selling and shedding, it seems like.
Talk about your strategy. You’ve been there how long?
One year exactly.
One year. You cleaned out a lot. You’ve cleaned up a lot.
What was your thinking? Was that the idea when you came in was to clean the place up, or ...?
I didn’t know, I didn’t go in with preconceived notions. All I knew when I went in was that these were amazing brands not doing well financially.
The year before I arrived, the company had lost $1 billion in free cash flow.
The EBITDA was half of what it had been three years before. When I started getting into the numbers, I could see where the cash was being burned, and that became a compelling place for me to focus on what to do.
Right. Where was that?
The first of those was our European business. We had bought the largest German department store, the largest department store in Belgium, and we did a startup of department stores in the Netherlands. This had all been in the course of the previous three years. It was not doing well financially. It was distracting us. I was over there a lot trying to figure it out, and it just really struck me that if there was a buyer out there, we should very open to that.
It was also very clear that ... Look, I had grown up in a US-based company, we didn’t have expertise on how to run a European business. I had to let go of the first guy who was leading the European business, so I had the three reporting to me. It allowed me to get closer to it. But what was really the gem of that business was the real estate that we had bought.
The founder of Hudson’s Bay Company has an amazing eye for real estate. He really did find some gems of real estate. What we ended up doing was partnering with our No. 1 competitor and doing a joint venture where we owned 50 percent of the real estate and 50 percent of the operating business. We actually own 49.99 percent of the operating business, which allows them to be in control from a management perspective and now really I show up as a board member. Anyway, that was one big body of work.
You got off your plate.
Yep, get that off the plate.
So you really don’t operate in Europe?
We’re not anymore. Exactly.
We sold Gilt very quickly.
Gilt was a business, I can see why we bought it, it was this idea, obviously, you’re all in the space that if you’re in the apparel business you should try to have something that’s online only. I think it may have been a really good idea that was probably not well executed. When I came in, what I saw was it was a massive distraction for the Saks Off Fifth team. They were spending more time worrying about that than they were running the business. So again, we ...
Worrying about what part?
Everything. I think they were worrying not so much, and this has been a common thread, not so much about how to make Gilt great, which was obviously something we needed to do, but how to look for cool integration points with Saks Off Fifth. I think that’s something I learned at CVS is, you got to really be careful and focused on where is the economic value in this partnership? For Saks Off Fifth, which is a big successful company, distractions from a small internet player, that sounded good on paper but really we’re not lifting both boats. It was not worth the effort.
Good on paper is something that everyone bought.
You had the permission to do this, presumably from the thing.
To make that decision, to get rid of an internet part of the company that was a very narrow ...
Sounds crazy, right?
No, it doesn’t at all. I think it was a mess. I think I’m still ...
No, it really wasn’t that hard because it was so obvious that it was going in the wrong direction. Before I arrived, they had let go of the leader of that business. As I spoke to the person who was leading Saks Off Fifth, 80 percent of my conversations were around Gilt distraction rather than how do you optimize the Saks Off Fifth business.
Saks Off Fifth has its own digital properties.
They had bought it for $250 million, is that right?
And you sold it for what?
We didn’t disclose, but yes.
Was it 50 million?
It was less than 100.
Less than 100.
Which could be 50, for example.
All right. Was that okay? Were you worried about not feeling like you were part of the online space?
No, I wasn’t, because actually the digital penetration of Hudson’s Bay as a whole is quite significant.
So you didn’t need to have that internet company and those internet people.
Really what I thought was that there were a lot of really great technical people who we have absorbed and they’ve really helped us as a company, so there were many good things we got from the opposition, but I thought that was not a hard decision.
Not that hard a decision. Then you’ve also been closing Lord and Taylors, closing them down, and you closed the Home Outfitters stores too.
We closed the ...
We’re gonna get to what you’re gonna do.
Yeah, I know, right. We closed the ...
It’s always the lady who has to clean everything up.
You ever notice that?
The flagship Lord and Taylor building, we closed down and we said we will sell up to 10 other Lord and Taylors, so we’re doing that.
Lord and Taylor, I think, has amazing loyalty among the people who shop there. There are not enough of them, but they’re amazingly loyal and we have incredible people working in that business. I think it’s in the toughest part of retail.
The middle, exactly. It’s neither the high-end luxury where you can really own it, nor is the low-cost deep discount retailer.
It’s not up at Saks, it’s not down at Ross.
Yeah. We have a fairly high cost structure and I’ve brought in a new leader, she’s here today, Vanessa is the president of Lord and Taylor. She’s doing amazingly innovative things with that business, but it is handicapped by its positioning in the marketplace.
In the marketplace.
How do you change that? You have to go up or down, right? Or some way, right? You can’t really go down with Lord and Taylor.
You can’t go left. You can’t go down. I think you have to get personal and local. You have to stop saying “We’re a chain.” You have to say, “I’m in Westfield, New Jersey, and I’m going to be incredibly relevant for this market that I serve. I’m going to bring in new services, stylists, and do things that really matter to the people who live in this community.”
I used to go to the Lord and Taylor, I think it was on Northern Boulevard. I think it was somewhere like that. My mom worked at Bonwit Teller, which is another. Bonwit Teller. And we used to go to the Bird Cage, which was your chain of stores. Every time we went, I went with my two brothers, and it was ... the woman would always give desserts and it was always boys’ day. And on boys’ day they got two desserts and I got one, and it was never girls’ day.
That is not right. I am so sorry, Kara.
Shockingly, sexism is around.
Even in the Bird Cage.
So if you do something with that store, you better friggin’ give girls ...
Girls will get twice the desserts, definitely.
Okay good, thank you.
But I remember going to Lord and Taylor. It was a beautiful store. It was very high level ...
Oh, it’s beautiful.
A lot stockings, ladies with stockings.
That kind of thing.
How do you then go up? When you go up, you hit so many, you hit — bang! — into including Saks.
Yeah, I don’t think you can go up so high. But the woman shopping our stores is really in her early 50s. She’s working. Her income is good. She’s got kids she’s taking care of. So she’s got the income and she’s looking for quality. We score way off the charts on quality.
So we’re doing a lot to really make her happy. We have overcomplicated that business, but the brand itself and the product we sell has a lot going for it.
So when you talk ... I’m trying to look it up, sorry. Someone’s head’s in the way. I think it ... I just want to make sure I have just plenty of time for questions.
When you think about a brand like ... Why not? You haven’t closed the other things, why not just close that?
You know, look, I’ve always said everything’s on the table. Some I’m not closing off any options ...
Sorry. Apologies. Okay.
No, but I think our real focus is on Saks and Hudson’s Bay.
So, the real job that I have in this business with all of the pieces that we own is to figure out where is there great upside as I think about the next ...
And what’s a waste of your time.
Yeah. And Saks and Hudson’s Bay have tremendous upside.
You closed also Home Outfitters.
And we closed Home Outfitters. Yes, I have been busy closing. I hadn’t really thought about it this way till you started hitting me with all that we had.
Well, I had.
So Home Outfitters was a chain of 67 stores in Canada focused on the home. And it was also not performing well. So again, take all the ...
What was wrong with that business?
It was in ... Great people working in our stores but kind of “me too” products. And quite frankly, all the great products that we were selling in the stores, we had nearby in a Hudson’s Bay store anyway so we really didn’t need it.
All right, so you’re focusing on Saks and Hudson’s Bay. Talk about Saks first of all, another legendary ... I have a Saks bag with my clothes.
My mom shops there. And I’ve been to Saks a million times.
You don’t? Don’t you shop there?
I don’t shop at all. I just have people bring me things. And then, I grudgingly buy things from Amazon. And I tried Stitch Fix, but they never get it right. I think I’ve told ... I told that story here last year. When they finally, the stylist said, “You’re too simple and androgynous for us.” Which is accurate.
But I don’t like to shop. I never did. Don’t worry, it’s not you. It’s me. But what are you trying to do with Saks? I did love Saks as a store.
Saks is doing really well. In the last quarter we had over 7 percent comps at Saks. And it is a business that is, I think, really redefining luxury. And so what are we trying to do there? I would say the two big thrusts as we think about luxury are to obviously really win in digital and personalization space.
And then secondly, it’s to win from an experience perspective. And when I say experience, it means both the in-store, the online, but also services, which I think is a big important factor for all of us who have real brick-and-mortar retail is we’ve got to figure out how to get people in our stores.
Experiential services. So what I mean by that is if you ... I would love all of you to come see the new Saks on 5th Avenue in New York. It is honestly spectacular. We opened it on February 7th. It’d been under construction all through that Christmas period, which was challenging. But we took the whole main floor and tripled the number of handbags on that floor. It is spectacular.
We took ... One of the problems with the Saks shopping experience is when you walked in the store, the sight lines were tough and you didn’t know where the elevators and back escalators were.
Which was the point in the old days, right? Get lost.
Yeah, but we opened it all up.
And so it’s really bright. We got an escalator designed by Rem Koolhaas. And we have an escalator now right in the middle and it goes up to the beauty floor. And it will go down to the jewelry floor.
So the beauty floor is on the 2nd floor.
With windows and stuff.
And we opened the windows, so all the glorious windows on 5th Avenue had been blocked because they had the stockroom back there. So we took all that down, the sunlight is pouring in. And we have lots and lots of services. So my favorite is one called Face Gym. You can go and have your face worked out for 30 minutes.
You should do that.
You travel a lot. You’re busy.
I will never do that. Appreciate your offer.
All right. Okay.
I should stop, I should stop recommending services.
My mom will go. My mom will go.
Because I can tell, I’m not going to get a bite here.
Okay, all right.
So anyway, we have a bunch of services. We also opened a spectacular new restaurant called L’Avenue. The original L’Avenue is in Paris and this is the first outpost outside of Paris. It’s really magnificent.
That’s what, on the top floor?
That’s on the top two floors; there’s a bar and then the restaurant itself. So I think ...
So services is like the idea that people want to come in and enjoy the store.
Yeah, I agree.
I think the three things that are critical for offline retail ... I covered retail for seven years, actually, for a long time, so I have some knowledge of it ... Is experiential, customer service, and merchandising that you can’t get on Amazon.
I mean, you could get it on Amazon, but you can’t put it together. But you don’t put it together the same way.
Yep, you’re right about that.
What other things? Okay, Face Gym, all right what else?
So you can have cellulite reduction. You can have your nails done. You can have a brow bar. You can have facials. We have 15 different rooms for facials and other services ...
And for foods you have just the restaurant, but not a food court or something.
Like in Germany, I know there’s a ...
We’re going to add more food because we have, on the 5th floor, we’ve got a small coffee bar, called FIKA, which is really nice for a little break. But one of my observations, I was just in Europe looking at some spectacular retails over there, and they have more food options on more floors. So it’s something that I’d like to do in that as well.
It reminds me even in Washington, there’s Union Market.
It’s really fascinating what they’re doing with retail and food at the same time. And it was packed, packed with people looking for an experiential thing.
So what do you expect to do? You have how many Saks now?
We have 40 Saks stores.
And it’s a very healthy business. We expect that to grow significantly. I’ve got big ambitions for it from both the top and bottom line.
And then the discount business?
In Saks Off 5th? Yeah, Saks Off 5th is probably in one of the best sectors of retailing right now. We’ve not been doing so well. But I see a good path for that business to turn around as well.
Because it’s almost like a textbook for everything that you would do in that category. The former team had made some other decisions, but we’re making changes.
So for example, we were buying it like we were department store retailers, which we are. But instead of being out in the market and turning that product quickly and looking for deals ourselves that we brought to customers. So we’re just making that shift. We have moved to an everyday low price strategy; we’re moving back to what people expect out of a Saks Off Fifth.
We’re bringing more Saks product into the stores. It’s a great outlet for us from product that isn’t selling in Saks. If you look at just last year, every quarter we improved our performance. I do see that business turning around.
So when you think of the idea of a department store, obviously online is still, even though you shed Gilt...
Absolutely ... It’s very good for us.
How do you look at that? Because your competition is who, from your perspective?
Our competition is everyone who sells our product. But I would say there’s obviously the traditional big-box luxury department stores: Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom being the two. But you could be home buying from Net-a-Porter or Farfetch as well. So I think what we have to do is figure out ...
And the RealReal.
And the RealReal? Yeah, absolutely.
They just opened a stunning store in Los Angeles.
Yeah, the RealReal is also a great retailer.
Their store looks like a Barney’s in Los Angeles.
Oh I hadn’t been at the one in LA.
The new ones. Go see it. It’s great. It’s fascinating.
So the ... I’m really excited about digital at Saks because what we’re doing I think is really ... It goes from this belief I’ve always had that you can never out-Amazon Amazon. Right? We’re never going to be like the best pure-play retailer.
Or data or ...
What we have to do is marry digital tools with our store experience so that when you want to come in, we’ve got the right experience digitally powered for you. But when you want to stay home, you can do that, too. And so we have 4,500 stylists all across the chain, and we are giving them tools to serve their customers. We have ways for them to ... For example, you’re going to be in DC, you said, this week?
So, if you were on our website searching for product, we actually have a stylist who will pop up and offer you the chance to ... You can come in and try that on. Or she’ll get it to your hotel if you need it there. So it’s a real person who’s powering that digital tool.
Now, you just got here. But why do you think department stores and other retailers have been so slow in that regard? In terms of there’s all these great ideas — whether it be Stitch Fix or RealReal or something else — what’s been the ... What has happened in the ... And Amazon doing what it’s doing ....
Well, first of all, Saks is doing a lot of things right, so I don’t want to be critical of the business or the industry. I do think in this particular marketplace, for whatever reason, there’s been more of an inward focus than an external focus, I would say.
Looking at ourselves and our direct competitors who are exactly like us as opposed to saying, “How’s the consumer evolving?” I always like to use this term, Clay Christensen used it: “What’s the job she’s trying to get done?”
So when you think about the job that she’s trying to get done, it’s actually much more than just buying product. It’s like, I’m getting ready for my daughter’s wedding. What are all the things that are related to that? And how do we fit in and help her do that? So I think it opens your aperture.
How do you think of data right now? Because obviously, that’s getting a lot of attention. You know, Facebook did its daily “screw you person with your data, with your phone” today. Like they can now hack your phone because Facebook did something stupid. Like the data that’s being misused by a lot of these ... They did, look it up. Turn off your phone thing on Facebook immediately. Just please.
But the lack of care for your data is something that I think is an opportunity for stores. For old-line businesses that think more strongly about privacy just naturally. But do you use a lot of data? Or how do you look at ...?
Yeah, I’ve looked at, I’ve always believed that it’s a two-way street. People share their data if they get something useful from it. And the usefulness that we can provide our consumers with data is to know what you love and to make it more relevant and easy for you to shop with us.
So yes, we use data because we know the kinds of brands you’ve bought. And we can then recommend other things we think you’ll like, or you have a stylist and she knows that you’ve always had your eye on this particular jewelry line and something new came out. I think as long as we’re doing it in a trusted way and using that data to serve our customers, that’s the guiding principle we need to use.
The last thing is, where do the fresh ideas come from, like in an older business? How do you innovate into new things? I mean, whatever you think of these businesses like Stitch Fix or Rent the Runway or Glossier, on and on and on, they’re so interesting.
They’re great. I love that.
They do not come out of any of these stores, which used to be that to them. So how do you do that as a CEO, innovate within the company? How do you impact people?
One of the things I’ve done that we haven’t talked a lot about is, I’m really proud of the team that I have. I would say, roughly at the top of the house, half the people in the seats were there when I arrived, and half of them are new, and for me in any company, that’s how you create healthy tension, because the people who have been around are going to give you perspective, what you might be missing. But the new people that I’ve brought in didn’t come from this industry, and so they’re challenging the status quo.
So where are they from?
Well, Vanessa came from Stitch Fix, and before that she was in the department store industry. I brought in a CTO from CVS, and my head of marketing came from BJ’s, and so it’s other industries. It’s people who aren’t really wed to this particular industry, but by the way, I grew up at CVS. I was there for 25 years. You can be a challenger inside a company with longevity, and we have plenty of those as well. It’s people, I think it’s the people who are dissatisfied with the status quo and are always looking around and trying to figure out what’s new.
And last question, what do you imagine, if you’re trying to get people into stores, what would this store of the future be to you? If you had to think of something in 20 years, what does Saks look like?
Well, I think we’ll keep pushing along these ...
Or Hudson’s Bay, or ...
I think it’s going to feel like theater and entertainment and a place that you are going to feel this level of excitement to be at, and at the same time, the beauty of ... Look, the things that we buy, there’s a touch and feel about them which you can’t get just buying online. So it’s, how do I, when you walk in that store, I know you immediately and I make it easy for you.
I will say that department stores can be hard to navigate, so how do we help you as soon as you walk in the door to find the things that are going to really make you happy.
You don’t think you should walk in and they should know you?
That’s what I mean.
I mean really know you, like, really know you.
Things start popping off of you. I don’t know how the world will ...
Do you see that?
I think the world will evolve that way.
Where they just get your eyes or whatever
How they know who you are, I do.
I mean, people are already playing around with those things, so yeah, I do think that’s going to happen.
All right. Anybody get up for questions, we’ll have questions in a minute. The last question I have for you, Helena, who do you fear? What is it, Amazon? I mean, Jeff Bezos has gotten distracted lately, obviously, but he’ll be back when he settles down.
The biggest thing I fear right now is our own inability to move fast enough. It’s just the complexity, it wakes me up at night to think, “Are we moving fast enough?” Because the world’s moving so fast.
Okay, questions, questions?
Phil (audience): Let’s talk about Canada.
Helena Foulkes: Yes, we didn’t talk about Canada!
Phil: You know, the part of the continent that keeps it normal.
I like Canada.
Phil: So Hudson’s Bay, you just had a switch at the top there. Tell us a little bit about what upside you see there, because it’s a little bit like Saks. Canada is a country of frozen people at home. E-commerce is not as penetrated as it is here, and I’m just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what you see in terms of opportunity for Hudson’s Bay on that front and on the store front.
Helena Foulkes: I’m very excited about Hudson’s Bay, and I’m sure ... If you’re American sitting in this audience, you’re not very clear about what Hudson’s Bay is. I was not a year ago. But Hudson’s Bay, we own 90 department stores, and basically, we’re everywhere the people in Canada are.
Akin to ...
There is no akin to, that’s what’s amazing. That’s what really struck me. People in Canada feel this immense loyalty and connection to and fondness for Hudson’s Bay. They learn about it in fourth grade because Hudson’s Bay was founded by a charter from King Charles II, a land grant, so they learn about it in the history books.
We carry many more products, so it’s like, whether you need a mattress or something for your kitchen or a prom dress, you go to Hudson’s Bay. I had one woman say to me, she said, “You know, I don’t shop that often, but if Hudson’s Bay were to ever go away, I’d be really sad.” So there’s really a deep emotional bond that people have, and I’m excited because I think there’s even more that we could do at Hudson’s Bay around the same things we’ve been talking about. Experiences, services, the beauty business needs to be completely reinvented, and we’ve got, for example, a couple partnerships that are exciting.
We put a WeWork in two floors of our Toronto Hudson’s Bay store, because we love the idea of people coming to work in a department store. I think that’s really cool. It’s going to bring more bodies in the door. We had a whole FAO Schwarz partnership this year. We did a partnership where we showcased the top young designers in Canada to show the world what they were doing. So I think it’s a very exciting business. It’s more on the early stage of its growth curve, I would say, than Saks, which is clearly humming along. We have more work to do at Hudson’s Bay.
Do you imagine closing stores, or?
Right now, everything’s on the table, but there’s nothing imminent.
Okay, another question, right here.
Audience member: Helena, nice to hear from you. I’m a Canadian, I live on top of Hudson’s Bay. So I’m forced to go into a Hudson’s Bay every time I get to my parking. But what’s interesting about this is I’ve seen the evolution of Hudson’s Bay for the last 10 years. I’m very intrigued by what’s happening in the recent times where I’ve seen Hudson’s Bay partnering with more digital-native brands like Casper, and I’m seeing them more and more in the store. I’m just wondering what the philosophy behind that is, and what the go-forward strategy with that is.
Helena Foulkes: Thank you for bringing that up, it’s a great example. So one of the things that we’ve been looking at is the sleep category. It’s a critically important business, I knew it from my days at CVS. It’s one of the top issues that keep people up at night.
But we were fairly traditional up until last year, selling the traditional mattresses you would expect to find in a department store, and we knew the world was moving towards the Caspers.
And I think it’s a great example of someone like Casper saying, “Wow, Hudson’s Bay has 90 stores everywhere I would want to be, I don’t need to go open storefronts. I can partner with Hudson’s Bay and we can do something really unique together.” So we’re looking for more things like that, there are more opportunities in sleep.
But actually, across the store, isn’t it so interesting that more and more online businesses, you mentioned RealReal, are opening up stores? And I would like to be the place that they come to. So for those of you who run online businesses and think there’s a connection in-store, come reach out, because I think that’s the world that we’re going to live in. It’s going to be much more integrated.
Well, they want a presence in certain places, not everywhere. They don’t want to be hindered by lots of stuff.
Yeah, that’s fine.
KS: Right here, last question.
Courtney Reagan: Courtney Reagan from CNBC. I just have a question about what Lord & Taylor gets out of the online store that’s being hosted on Walmart’s website. It’s a little confusing, I think, when they first pitched it to us as journalists and I still don’t really understand what you’re getting out of that, or if you’re getting anything out of that. If you can share what you’ve learned from that.
Helena Foulkes: Yeah, that was one of the examples of the things that intrigued me when I got the call, because they’d already announced this deal. So the theory behind the partnership is, all the eyeballs that are going every day to Walmart.com, which vastly outweigh the number of eyeballs that we get on the Lord & Taylor website, and the idea that Walmart could really use those eyeballs and itself create its new positioning around a more premium brand of clothing.
So, look, I think the jury is still out and we’re both looking at it really hard and learning a lot every day and figuring out what’s working and what’s not. I think the idea is still very intriguing. I think the challenge is still, for both of us, around the execution of it, which is still not as easy as it should be.
So if you’re confused when you go, I can see why. Some of it’s walled off, for example, in a premium store, because of the way we want to treat the brands, but it doesn’t always make it as consumer-friendly as it should be. On the other hand, it’s still very interesting to me to have a partnership with someone who has that level of traffic and to figure out how we can make each other better.
I think she’s confused too. That’s my impression.
That wasn’t nice!
I think you are, it’s confusing.
No, the jury’s out, we’re still learning from it, definitely.
You can say you don’t get it, I don’t get it either. So last question, who do you, pick one retailer, online or offline, you think is doing something super cool. What do you think that is? Just one. Not one of yours.
Le Beau Marche in Paris.
It’s an amazing experience. Visually, when you walk in, there’s a new art installation every two months. They’re rotating the store, so many areas of the store are rotating every two months with a theme, so it makes it very exciting. You have to go back frequently to see what that feels like. And I think they’ve done an amazing job editing the product.
And something you don’t like?
A retailer that I don’t like?
Yeah, something that you saw and didn’t like.
Well, you know, I can’t name a particular brand, but there are many sad stores, we all walk in and you say to yourself, “Wow, retail’s hard.” And one of the things I love about the business that I’m in is that we really have great brands. We don’t have too many stores, which is fantastic, and we’re in amazing real estate locations. So I think we have a foundation from which — as long as, to your point, we’re creating great experiences, fantastic customer service, and really good digital integration — I think we have a real opportunity to win.
Yeah. You should go to Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, too, and watch all the pop-ups there. There’s one called Golf Wang which I somehow paid $150 for a sweatshirt, but that is another story.
They got you.
Yes, they did. Thank you so much. Helena Foulkes.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.