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Insights from Urban Outfitters CEO

By Tiffany Montgomery
May 15, 2009 8:18 AM

I always enjoy hearing Urban Outfitters CEO Glenn Senk opine on the current state of fashion and the consumer and how it all ties back into the company.

Here are some excerpts from a transcript of Urban Outfitters first quarter conference call yesterday that are particularly interesting and could be useful to action sports brands and retailers. Urban was one of the best performing retailers last year, though sales slowed in the fourth quarter. In the first quarter of this year, sales fell 2 percent to $385 million. Net income fell 28 percent to $30.8 million.

The discriminating shopper

Glenn Senk: "Our data tells us the customer is buying less and that she's more discriminating. She is seeking fashion and there's no evidence of price elasticity on desirable product. If it's a love, she's buying it, plain and simple. If it's a like, perceived as too basic or a recycle of older fashion, she may wait for the first markdown and if she doesn't like the product, it's not going to sell until it's on clearance. The implication - the merchants and designers have to work harder and smarter to create and identify the loves. Just like our customer, they have got to be more discriminating."

Urban Outfitter's advantage

Glenn Senk: "I feel that there's a sea change in the customer's psyche and I think that sea change plays into Urban's strength. I think people are going to be more discriminating and I think by and large, we are a company who discriminates. We have never been a company that's for everybody. We have always been a company that's for a specific customer. We are a company and most of you have known (founder Dick Haynes) for decades. We are a company that really has never been about the money for us. It's always been about executing a very personal vision and I think in this day and age that's more important to customers than ever.

"When I meant that the customer is changing the way she buys commodities versus special merchandise, what I'm talking about is, I wouldn't want to be in the commodity market now because Wal-Mart or Amazon is going to win. I mean, we are in the business of providing our customers a connection to the product through a connection to the designers, the artisans who make it and that's our sweet spot. I think that plays well with the psyche-graphic changes that are going on right now."

Fashion opportunities

"There is more fashion going on right now than I think there has been in a long time. I was thinking this morning, there are fashion trends in every single category of Women's Apparel and probably about half the categories of Women's Accessories right now. It is a field of opportunity."

Reasons for optimism

Glenn Senk: "I'm feeling more optimistic about our business than I have since October 2008, though, and in many ways I'm feeling more optimistic than ever. I don't believe we will be returning to 2007 spending levels for several years, but I believe the environment is considerably more stable than it was in the fourth quarter."


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