We’ve written about the Steve and Barry’s clothing store before in a piece entitled, Being Consumer-Focused.
Steven Shore was the first sales manager for the Perishable Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, when Steve was just out of college.
Barry Prevor is the Pundit brother. He worked in the family’s long established produce business headquartered on the Hunts Point Market.
The two of them together came to develop one of the world’s fastest growing retail operations, now with over 260 stores.
The brand has become well known for a series of alliances. Some are with athletes including: basketball players Stephon Marbury and Ben Wallace; tennis player Venus Williams; golfer Bubba Watson and, most recently, surfer Laird Hamilton.
Other alliances are with actresses, such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Amanda Bynes.
What ties all this together is that there is a mission that involves providing stylish, high quality clothes at insanely great prices.
The role of the athletes and celebrities is really to confirm the quality and style of the clothing. When Stephon Marbury, who plays for the New York Knicks, wears his Starbury line of sneakers on the court, it establishes that the shoes must be high performance shoes.
When a style icon, such as Sarah Jessica Parker, now starring in the new Sex and the City movie, associates herself with Steve and Barry’s and actually wears her line of clothing, known as Bitten, she is sending a signal to her fans that these are stylish clothes.
Now Nightline did a major story on Steve and Barry’s, and as we watched we realized that there are lessons for our industry in their success.
After confirming that Steve and Barry’s is less expensive than many competitors, including Wal-Mart, Steven Shore made a powerful point:
“There are a lot of things you can do if this is your mission, if this is what you deeply are passionate about.”
In this case, he was speaking of Steve and Barry’s mission to keep prices low. But the same point would apply if we were talking about food safety or about flavor.
In many cases when we “can’t” do things, it speaks to a lack of commitment, a lack of focus, more than a literal inability to make it happen.
The comment also made us think about how easy it is to experience “mission drift”. Maybe the reason Steve and Barry’s is less expensive than Wal-Mart is because Wal-Mart is no longer focused on driving costs out of the system. For a while, Wal-mart was focused on ads in Vogue, then it became environmentally focused. It simply may not be possible to serve two masters.
Even at Steve and Barry’s, the pull of mission drift is strong. Steve told an anecdote:
“There was a discussion in our office recently, and there were a number of employees saying, you know, you’re crazy. Let’s raise the price from $8.98 to $8.99. It’s only a penny and we’ll make more than a million dollars from this,” said Shore. “And we thought long and hard and we said, you know what, it’s a little worse for the customers. They’d rather pay $8.98 than $8.99.”
Barry seems clear on the mission: “We’re trying to figure out how to get to $8.96!”
It all reminds one of Herb Kellerer, one of the founders of Southwest Airlines. He was always getting letters from stockholders who would advise him to raise fares. They would point out that the next cheapest airline was often hundreds of dollars more expensive than Southwest on a particular city pair, so rates could be raised and competitive advantage maintained.
But Kellerer never thought of his competition as simply other airlines. He wanted to get the customer who was going to drive to fly instead, figuring that was a much larger market on the short range flights Southwest specialized in at that time.
Herb had to keep the focus on that driver, and Steve and Barry’s have to keep the focus on their customer. Do you have a clear focus on who our customer is?
You can watch the video from Nightline right here.