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Commentary: The Business

Emerson Robbins: Dying Geese



Designer brands curry favor with chains? at their own expense, says Emerson Robbins

YOU KNOW THE CHILDREN’S STORY about killing the goose that laid the golden egg? 

Ever heard the one about how the designer brands killed their golden goose? Maybe you don’t know that one yet. It’s a story that’s still being written and not one your children would be very interested in.  

However this version is undoubtedly more meaningful to your business, especially if your store carries designer lines.  

Here’s how the story goes: 

Once upon a time, designer lines built their business by having their brands represented in the most prestigious stores in every market.  


This relationship with independent jewelers was their golden goose. 

These stores bought and sold plenty of the designers’ merchandise through the years. The stores even advertised cooperatively with the designers, spending their own money to help build the designers’ names.  

Over time, though, the designer lines got greedy. They wanted that goose to lay more and more golden eggs ? they wanted the stores to buy more and more merchandise.  

The designers didn’t care that the stores were starting to choke on the huge inventories they’d been pressured to buy. The designer lines simply wanted more and more golden eggs.  

Soon even that wasn’t enough. Despite their promises that the stores would represent their lines exclusively in their markets, the designers started looking for ways to get more golden eggs ? in the form of big-box national chain jewelry stores.  

As these superstores expanded into the different cities they wanted to compete with higher-end independents.  


So the chains went to the designers, guaranteeing them huge initial orders with their mighty buying power.  

The designer brands’ eyes grew as large as golden eggs. ?Yes, yes,? they said, never thinking of the many promises they had made to the smaller geese that helped build their names and businesses through the years.  

It wasn’t long before these designer lines were in all the big chains.  

But then a funny thing happened: These well-respected independent stores had the audacity to tell the designers they didn’t want to carry the same lines now carried in the big-box national chain stores down the street.  

The independents began dropping the designer lines. It happened one by one all across the nation: Seattle, Minneapolis, Portland, Kansas City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Phoenix. 

Before they knew it, the designer lines were no longer in most of the top independent stores. Instead, these lines were now only in all the big boxes.  


And before long an even stranger thing happened: Customers no longer seemed to want these lines, since they weren’t associated with the more prestigious stores in town.  

The customers now equated these designer lines as mediocre brands carried in the all-too-common chain stores. They wanted to own more exclusive merchandise. 

And the independent stores began to realize it was their own brand that was most important to their customers, not the designer brands. In their communities, customers trusted them more than any other brand.  

So the independent stores started buying equally fine quality merchandise that didn’t come with a name and the accompanying higher mark-up. And they branded their merchandise with their own stores’ names.  

In a few years, the designer brands lost their panache. No one wanted them. Even the big box chain stores couldn’t sell them anymore.  

And that’s the story of how the designers killed the goose that laid the golden egg. It wasn’t a happy ending for the designer brands, who killed their golden goose.  

The independents realized that they were better off not building someone else’s name when they could build their own. And they no longer had to pay a premium for their merchandise or buy more than they needed or be forced to advertise someone else’s brand. 

In the end, it was the independents who learned the moral of the story: If you don’t care about your customer, your customer won’t care about you. And, lest we forget, no one stuck with overpriced merchandise that doesn’t sell will live happily ever after.



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