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Mark Cohen (RTS #45)

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Episode #: 147
Mark Cohen (RTS #45)

Guest: Mark Cohen
Topics: Amazon, brick-and-mortar


Chris Ressa 0:00
This is retail retold the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris ReSSA. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC management.

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Ressa 1:12
Welcome to retail retold everyone. Today I’m joined by Mark Cohen. Mark is a professor of retail at Columbia University. He’s been in the retail industry for over 30 years. He said many C suite jobs at many of the retail brands. We all know I’m excited for him to be here. Welcome to the show. Mark.

Mark Cohen 1:34
Nice to be with you.

Ressa 1:36
I love talking to retail experts during this time of year mark. So I’m excited to hear. Okay, Mark, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you did and how you got to where you are now.

Cohen 1:49
Well, I grew up in New York City I was a math science Sputnik inspired kid. I went to Columbia University’s engineering school I have a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. I jumped into business school, more or less to avoid the the aftermath of the Vietnam Vietnam War because the draft was still on. I got into retailing entirely by accident, had no interest in retailing, no knowledge of retailing, no cognition of retailing as a business. I became a trainee at ANS is famed executive squat. And in the fall of 1971 took the position just to bide my time while I interviewed at IBM and Grumman and people like that. got hooked. 35 years later, I joined rejoined Columbia University as now the Director of Retail Studies and an adjunct professor teaching a variety of retailing courses. I worked for ans for seven years, I was a men’s furnishings buyer, I went out to the gap as a general manager, running a business called logo which was kind of a forerunner for Banana Republic. Then back to New York, in a more conventional role as VP menswear board Taylor, then back to California. As a senior merchant at Mervyn’s, and then the president of their South Central territory based in Dallas. Then I moved back to federated I was the president of Goldsmiths in Memphis for five or six minutes, because no sooner did I arrive than Bob combo, the Canadian construction magnate arrived in a hostile takeover. And in short order, I became the Chairman CEO of Lazarus which is one of the federated divisions based in Cincinnati. From there, I went to Bradley’s as Chairman CEO. That’s a long nasty story you may not want to get into I certainly would rather not. But I will, if you make me back to Chicago as a chief marketing officer and president of soft lines at Sears Roebuck and then up to Canada as chairman, CEO of Sears Canada.

Ressa 4:21
Wow. incredible history there. Looking forward to get your perspective. Before we do, I want to bring you to the section called Clear the air. I’ve got three questions for you. Are you ready? Go.

All right. Question one. What is one skill you don’t possess but wish you did?

Cohen 4:44
I am not a patient fellow. I’ve never been and at this point in my life, it’s highly unlikely I’m going to learn how to be a patient.

Ressa 4:53
Sure. Well, probably that lack of patience is how you ended up at such is having such a successful career though, so, but I get it. I’m not patient either. Okay, question two arc? What is one thing most people agree with, but you do not?

Cohen 5:15
Well, I would say many people feel that Amazon’s growth should be curtailed, that Amazon should be reined in, in some way, shape, or form. And I definitely disagree with that. I think Amazon is the most perfect expression of an extraordinary idea brought to life by a team of extraordinarily devoted focused people led by visionary individuals who created the company. And I know there’s lots of unhappiness about their influence on the industry, but I think their influence has been completely positive.

Ressa 5:55
We’ll talk more about that. I’m excited to talk more about that.

Number three. When is the last time you tried something for the first time? Well,

Cohen 6:04
this is going to be sent. This is gonna sound very odd. But I’m originally a gearhead. So the last thing I tried to take on occurred a week ago when I attempted to find the source of a leak under my BMW that my dealer claims doesn’t exist. So So there I am, lying on my back falling underneath this car, trying to figure out what I know is, is there. And by the way, I have not been successful, but I will eventually figure this out.

Ressa 6:41
Okay. So you’re not leaning toward that he’s right, that there is no leak. Well,

Cohen 6:46
they insinuated it might be in my imagination, but but not the case.

Ressa 6:52
Okay. All right. Well, that’s great.

I hope you find it before it gets too crowded out there.

All right. So you said something interesting. And there’s a lot of reasons I found it interesting. You said that you talked about Amazon and why they’re great for retail? Why don’t you expand on that a little bit, because I found that really interesting?

Cohen 7:21
Well, obviously, Amazon opened up a marketplace that didn’t exist prior to Vsauce, creating this company, which is the genre we now know as ecommerce. He not only created it as a portal for customers, but he created a tremendous series of technologies that made it increasingly attractive, efficient, and secure. I remember sitting in a room with some exalted masters of the universe, who I worked for, or was associated with, who said in one case, nobody will ever adopt this ecommerce internet thing. No one will ever buy more than a book or a CD or DVD because after all, who’s going to trust someone with their credit card? To which I replied, somewhat politely? Well, that’s a pretty stupid comment. Every time you go to a restaurant, you give someone access to your credit card. So why wouldn’t someone be willing to do that with a retailer via this newfound marketplace? So I’m a big fan of what Amazon has done. And they’ve turned the world on its on its side in that regard. You know, they’ve created they’ve, they’ve created a disruption. That is that is very much akin to the kind of disruption disruption that the great American shopping mall created. When it shut down. traditional retail in hundreds of US city.

Ressa 9:02
Yeah. So one of the places I go, is, it all depends on how you keep score. So you come from the retail world, right? And if you take away AWS? Well, for years, Amazon made no money, and there’s still a lot out there like just on their retailing. Do they actually profit? And so I go like, yeah, some of their innovations are great, but if they can’t profit from it, is it really that cool? And because, because most right, most of the retailers that are public, physical, are profitable. And let me tell you, no matter what innovation they do, no matter what, if they lose money, It’s not that cool. So I so I think, to me, if Amazon had like 20% margins on their physical on selling products, and they did all this to me, that would be okay, I

got it. But to do what they’re doing, I guess I go to the point where Sure. I can spend a lot of money in r&d, too. Now, am I as smart as the people behind that? Probably not. But I agree, they disrupted the world’s no doubt. They’ve made other retailers better. Thank God. Right, they’ve made other retailers really look at themselves and change things help the consumer. It’s great to do things that are impactful to the consumer in the industry. But if you do it at a loss or breakeven, I don’t know. What do you think? Well,

Cohen 11:01
that’s the basis of disagreement I have with folks who are more hostile toward Amazon’s presence.

Ressa 11:09
I’m not hostile. I’m a consumer, I use Amazon,

Cohen 11:13
you’ve got to know that. AWS is an outgrowth of the enormous investment that Amazon made at the very outset in technology. And as they invested in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in their platform and their platform capacity, they began and I know this because of an involvement they had between Sears Canada and Amazon back in the early 2000s. That they confronted the fact that the, the decision they made to invest for the future, created an opportunity for them to monetize the capacity they were creating for themselves. And by the way, this is when the street was critical of Amazon losing money and beat Bezos was out there publicly saying, Hey, if you don’t like what we’re doing, don’t buy the stock. You know, it’s cool. But we’re not going to manage the business the way you think we should, we’re going to manage it the way we think we should. And he had enough growth in top line and free cash flow, not to have to kowtow or listen to or be beholden to the views of the street. Now now, take take AWS so so it was a nascent capacity that they considered monetizing, and have done a brilliant job doing just that. It’s very much a part of the fabric of Amazon, it’s not as distinctly separate a business as people think it might be. But having said all that, they have been investing billions of dollars in growth. They have kept their prices at rock bottom levels. They have been investing in facilities all around the world. They created the two day shipping Prime subscription model, which they hived off of Costco successful subscription model. And now one day and same day shipping, and they’ve turned the industry inside out in that regard. These were all forward investments, costing billions of dollars, fueled by the success of AWS. Now, as far as their retail profitability goes, I don’t know how many millions of units Amazon ships every hour in every day, in every week of the year. It’s an enormous number, I’m sure their their unit, transaction volumes are in the billions. If Amazon raised their prices on everything, they shift by 510 or 15 cents, which would be more or less invisible to customers, they would instantly be profitable on the retail side of the business. But they choose not to do that. They choose not to do that because they are still on a growth path. That suggests that from competitors point of view, your margin is my competitors my opportunity. And so I don’t I don’t hold against them that they created this profit machine called AWS, because it’s the fuel that that keeps their boilers going. And they have tremendous capacity to modulate their financial behavior, they could stop opening distribution centers, they could stop investing in forward technology. Now, one of the things I’ll say AWS was a was a reach into the future that has turned out to be an enormous success. I think Amazon Go is the next driver of Amazon revenue. I think once they fully perfect that touchless frictionless transaction to capability, they’re going to sell that to the world just the same way they sell cloud services. And they’ll use that revenue to continue to expand their portfolio of products, which is just staggering. I think it’s probably fair to say they offer what billions SK use on their sites. Just just staggering. In terms of their breath.

Ressa 15:27
Yeah, no, I. So nothing you’ve said, I actually disagree with. I don’t disagree with anything you said. Right. Like, the one thing I would ask is today just on their retail, I don’t know, recently, but in the last quarter to adjust their retail, I don’t know if they report it this way anymore. Are they profitable just on their retail today. Whereas AWS and marketplace, still covering the shortfall. I

Cohen 15:59
don’t know exactly how they choose to report. But to say that they and it’s very low, but but I believe they choose to, they choose to avoid getting into the retail profitability, rat race, they long ago had suggested we’re running the business for its opportunity to grow. And we’re using vehicles within our portfolio to enable us to do that we don’t have to borrow money, we don’t have to issue stock, we don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. So So between AWS their venture into entertainment and advertising, their little reported expansion on b2b which is, which isn’t a form of retail but but retail transactions done with business? They just continue to be the Juggernaut they’ve been for over 20 years, you know, and now now, they’ve even ventured forth into pharmaceuticals, something which I think has scared the daylights out of Walgreens boots and CVS. Because Because Amazon has the capacity to disintermediate that business if they choose to, and I think they, they’re on their way. Got it. Now, you said, you think

Ressa 17:29
this is good. And I’m not saying it isn’t good. But you think this is good for the retail ecosphere? Why do you say that?

Cohen 17:38
I think there’s an enormous number of retail enterprises that have been operating on fumes for many years that have been that have been operating in Last Man Standing strategies by consolidating they’re rolling up their competition that have been abusing customers because they could and and think of the fact that pre internet most customers had a shop and a physical store. There was some catalog customers but not very many. And if they were suburban customer, their physical store resided in a shopping mall within you know, five to 10 miles of where they live. And that shopping mall might have been a shiny penny or it might have been a B or C also ran they would have been consigned to having to shop in a crappy Macy’s that hadn’t seen a can of pain 30 years that was poorly inventoried and poorly staffed. And they put up with it because they more or less didn’t have a lot of choices and long comes e commerce and suddenly the handcuffs are gone. The tethers are cut, the customer can browse and consider and now transact literally anywhere in the world. And, and Amazon has been the the the agent that has created that freedom and what it has done is it has forced the legacy business to either step up or get off, get pushed off to the side. It’s forced them to step up with regard to their ability to service customers to revisit the integrity of their assortments and that pricing and to consider the the age old value for real of customer service. You know, customer service used to be the watchword of the department store industry. It went by the boards as the bean counters whittled away that expense line. Here’s Amazon doing you know hundreds of billions of dollars and delivering customer service which in my view is world class. So I think Amazon has forced the retail industry worldwide to To face the fact that they can’t trade on historical momentum, they have to earn their stripes every day in the face of someone who in some cases, just does a better job than they do. That’s

Ressa 20:11
fair. I. That’s fair.

I think

they come at it from a, I think that’s fair. And I think I think there’s a lot of retailers that have now not only stepped up, but improved so significantly with the the emergence of E commerce anyway.

But I think I own some of those JC Penney’s with

paint that hasn’t been touched up in 30 years that you reference, so I know it all too well. The days of just bracket high and let it fly, you know, you need to do more than that. So I want to get your take. So we’ve talked a lot about Amazon, specifically. But what do you think, of the future of the physical store? Aren’t you know, it’s still today? You know, 85 86% of all retail sales are done at a store, which I think is fascinating coming from a place where people weren’t allowed to go to stores. So I still think I think it’s pretty fascinating statistic. I’m sure you know that. What do you and so what do you think of the future physical stores?

Cohen 21:31
Well, I don’t think e commerce is going to eliminate brick and mortar retailing, some people say that, and I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t know what the balance point will be over the next few years between E commerce and and physical retail, it will depend enormously. But it will, it will be dependent upon category, you know, the physical book, retail businesses, more or less disappeared, for the most part. And he’s starting to research a bit, I think people will always want to touch field, try on, sample and experience things in a physical setting. So I, I don’t sign up for the fact that physical retail is going to disappear. But I think customers are going to gravitate to places that are special, that places that are attractive, that are safe, that are complete, that offer them a modicum of excitement and energy. And that means that the the, the most important retail nodes, whether they’re urban or suburban, will continue to be in business and will prosper. But all the excess that was built out over the 30 years that the great American shopping mall emerged and all of the retail development that surrounded it, that’s being disrupted to the point of massive reset. So if you’ve got a location, that’s convenient, that’s filled with assortments that customers are gonna we’re gonna want to sample and consider and you provide them with an environment that’s appealing, attractive, supportive, you’re going to do business, no question about it. But you’re going to have to do business the old fashioned way, you’re going to have to have great assortments at the right price. With the right level of customer service, whether it’s self checkout, or consultative selling, you’re not going to get away with the kind of retail abuse that we’ve seen occur over the last 15 or 20 years, as so many of the legacy players basically just cruised along, assuming they could get away with same old, same old. It’s not, it’s not happening anymore.

Ressa 23:58
Agreed. I would add one thing that I’m curious on your take, I keep saying the most affordable way for American business, to deliver products to consumers. And then still profit is through a physical store. And today, it’s clear soon as you get to some scale, you can just look at Warby Parker’s numbers that they just went public the store is more profitable channel than ecommerce with customer acquisition costs. reverse logistics, my wife can order for send back three pay no shipping and the retailer make money. They’re not all like Amazon, Walmart, Target Costco, who can do things like last year when they said if you’re going to return it, just keep it that’s how expensive the reverse logistics costs were for them that they just said key Bit, most retailers can’t do that they would go belly up. So I believe that number will move that 85%. Because I believe in the symbiotic relationship between E commerce and physical, just look at Amazon, I don’t know if anyone will open up more stores than Amazon over the next five years, they might open up more than anybody based on what they’re doing.

But I think the store is here to stay. Because we talk about a here a lot of pundits, both in retail, real estate, and all these different factors that we need to make it special, experiential, all the stuff that I agree with.

But at the end of the day, one of the main purposes of a physical store is it’s the best place to actually profit from. So I think that’ll come through, it’s gonna be hard to do if you don’t create a compelling experience, have a great offering to the consumer and make yourself convenient. But there seems to be no end in sight to be able to profit online and alone. And it’s only getting harder and harder.

Cohen 26:10
I think that a legacy business or a new business needs to have a physical presence, as well as an Internet component, an E commerce component. I think a pure play ecommerce business doesn’t necessarily have to track in that direction. But but likely over time, we’ll see fit to do so. So for example, you mentioned Amazon opening stores. I don’t see Amazon opening 1000s of bookstores, I don’t see them opening department stores, I don’t see them opening convenience stores for the sake of the convenience store business. I see them opening 1000s of what used to be called catalog desks throughout the United States, which affords customers the opportunity to pick up their merchandise that’s been ordered returned merchandise that they seek to send back, pay for merchandise in cash, if they don’t see fit, or are unable to transact through the internet because they don’t have a credit card. Or they don’t want to use a credit card or they can’t get a credit card. So So I think that’s in the future for an Amazon because Amazon wants to have as little friction between themselves and customers as humanly possible. I agree with you that there’s a place for physical retail, and it’s an it’s a it’s an elemental place. As far as profitability goes. Well, there’s no natural law that suggests that a ecommerce business has to be profitable for at face value. If it if the organization that operates it has the capacity to subsidize it as Amazon does, for example, you know, for many years, the department stores

Ressa 28:04
but they’re the exception, though Mark. They’re the exception, though, right? There are 2.1 online, retailers in America, the top, the top 10 e commerce businesses, Amazon, Walmart, Target, Costco, they eat up 65% of the market share. So you have 1.99 9 million fighting for a small pie that do not have the balance sheets of Amazon, or Walmart or Target who have these massive ecommerce businesses. So majority of E commerce in America does not have the ability to subsidize a one business with the profits of another in order to collect data, get access to customers and do all this. That’s just that this will be an anomaly, not the rule because it’s it’s unattainable by majority of businesses, Amazon is going to be iconic for how they change the world. No doubt. But majority of ecommerce businesses can’t do this. You know, they’re the most of the DTC brands are trying to figure out how to scale to $100 million in revenue. And once they’re getting there, it’s really hard. Right? Let alone a billion, let alone the business that Amazon and Walmart to right so

Cohen 29:25
look, you know, you know, you know, for years. My favorite retailer is actually Costco which is arguably the most productive, traditional retailer in the world, which is a retailer that is globalized without creating train wrecks, as almost every retailer has who’s crossed a border, which is a retailer that at face value looks as plain Jane as you get. It’s a big box with concrete floors and metal shells, which is a retailer which is offered premium wages and benefits since it’s in inception and has almost no turnover among its staff, which has been criticized for years for the fact that their subscription revenue is the is a large component to their profitability. So, so the street has said, hey, you know, they make all their money on subscriptions, they don’t make it on the goods they sell. To which I say, you know, that’s nonsense. Their subscription base is is driven by customers who love doing business with them, and see fit to invest a substantial amount of money each year for the privilege of doing business with them. There were also criticisms of the department stores years ago, who saw it as a substantial component in their profitability, their credit, charge income. And the street said, Hey, you’re not making money on retail, you’re making all your money on your credit accounts with customers. And I say that’s nonsense. customers using a store credit card are doing it as a vital components of doing business with the store. So so the department stores sold off their credit portfolios. In some cases, for absolutely stupid reasons, like what caused Sears Roebuck to fire sale a $30 billion portfolio to Citibank, Costco, basically, which is reaching four or $500. A share at this point shrugs off the criticism because the two founders have stuck to their guns from the day they opened their first store, one of whom has passed away the other whom is retired, but they’ve left a legacy that is unbeatable. Jeff Bezos has said, Hey, if you don’t like what we’re doing, don’t buy the stock. And he has a control stake even though he stepped away as CEO. At the end of the day, it’s too bad that it’s tough. For legacy retailers or new retailers to compete, too bad. You know what, figure it out, find a way to create an assortment that differentiates you well enough. So customers seek you out as opposed to reach for Amazon, find a way to provide a an environment that is conducive to a customer making a driveway decision to go visit you. As opposed to just clicking on an Amazon website. Find a way to make your private label products so very special, that a customer has to do business with you because you own the product. It’s your product. It’s it’s exclusive. I

Ressa 32:34
love this. This last piece I love I totally agree.

Cohen 32:38
And so as much as Amazon attempts to customize their assortments through their data capture and data analysis, find a way to be so completely relevant in the marketplace in which you reside, that customers seek you out because you’re really special. Because you cater really well to their very precisely considered needs. Something that an ever growing Amazon will always have trouble doing just because of their size. So so so I don’t I don’t subscribe to the sniffling and whining. I’m not suggesting you’re doing that. That exists out there. The endless complaint that Amazon has an unfair advantage. You know, there was that complaint that they didn’t charge sales tax. Well, now that’s gone because they charge sales tax. The ever expanding complaint, by the way, fueled in Washington by lobbyists working for wait for it. Walmart looking to try to stop that train. Now, with regard to Walmart. Walmart was headed to oblivion. They had milked the daylights out of their 40 4500 stores in the US they had they’ve thrown away billions of dollars on on ill advised strategies internationally. And and what woke them up and shook them up and got them back in the saddle is the presence of Amazon. Now, they’re not entirely there yet, but they’re a far better company and a far more profitable company because they see someone who is going to surpass them and they don’t want to let it happen. They were taking advantage of their presence as an overlarge retailer without competition. And now, surprise, they’ve got a competitor who’s beat them to the punch. So So I think retailing is the ultimate competitive arena. And barring breaking the law, or disabusing customers or treating customers badly retailers should be allowed to continue to grow and be as successful as they can be without regard to political intervention or, or other intervention, something of which we’re starting to see. A call to action for. Okay.

Ressa 35:18
Well, Mark, this was great. If you want, next time we can we share your Bradley’s war story.

Cohen 35:27
Next time, please.

Ressa 35:29
Okay. Appreciate the insights. Really, really unique perspective.

I want to bring us to the last part of the show. Call it retail wisdom, which you have a lot. Are you ready? Question one. What extinct retailer Do you wish would come back

from the dead?

Cohen 35:51
Well, I wish I wish we could turn the clock back and and breathe life into Sears Roebuck circa 2000, which was the best year in their history. And in a similar sense, I wish we could turn the clock back and breathe new life into Sears Canada, circa 2004, which was a year of enormous recovery in the life of Sears Canada, to businesses that were iconic. In the case of Sears Roebuck, they were the largest retailer in the world, up until the early 1980s. And they were the Amazon of their day in the beginning of the 20th century, and could very easily be of Amazon’s size and importance today had they not been run into the ground by a group of village idiots. So

Ressa 36:46
do you mind if we stay there for a second before we move on to my last two questions?

So you were the CEO of Sears Canada during the time period which you’re talking about? What were you trying to do that, as you call them, the village idiots wouldn’t let you do.

Cohen 37:04
Sears Roebuck went through a leadership change in 2000 Sears Roebuck by the way, was the 51% shareholder of Sears Canada. Sears Roebuck went through a leadership change when Arthur Martin has retired in 2000, which was the best year in Sears history. His replacement spent five years frittering away the opportunity has run the business, fire sailed his $30 billion credit portfolio because his credit organization had Trainwreck the business invited Eddie Lampert into the tent as an investor. And today, Eddie Lampert the keys as a last gasp attempt to cash out. Lampert made I guess a year or two attempt to run the business in an unconventional way because he thought he knew better than all retailers. Having never spent a nanosecond running a retail business or any business for that matter other than a hedge fund and began to sell off the company and began to influence the behavior of the company for his own benefit and treated the company as his own private ATM machine. And so at Sears Canada, I was being pushed to do things like sell our credit portfolio, which was a mere $6 billion which was completely profitable having been run by a group of very conservative and talented credit executives for many years. And I refuse to do it. I was asked to invest in a store format that the US had created called Sears brand, which oh by the way was going to be fueled by the acquisition of 51 stores from Eddie Lampert’s Kmart for 605 million in cash. Which Lanford used to buy Sears Roebuck with that prototype was a catastrophe. It was a sham. And I refuse to open one candidate to help legitimize it. So you know, these businesses in the hands of folks whose motivation has nothing to do with the longevity and health and future the business falls to the ground, more or less like dead trees that have been cut down. And that’s exactly what happened at Sears Roebuck and it’s exactly what happened at Sears Canada. 350,000 people or more lost their incomes. 10s of billions of dollars of commerce disappeared into the ether all through the internet. tension of a couple of people through incompetence, avarice and greed. So I would bring those two iconic businesses back. There’s no reason from a customer’s vantage point why they shouldn’t be powerhouses today as they once were in the distant past.

Ressa 40:18
Thank you for sharing. I love the answer.

Amazing story. Question two, what is the last item over $20 You bought in the store?

Cohen 40:29
I’ve been thinking about that for a day or two. Having been given your your questions in advance, and I don’t I can’t recall. Having spent my life in stores having been sheltering in place like most of the rest of us in COVID. I really can’t come up with a cogent purchase that I’ve made in the recent past in a store. bottle of scotch? Well, I suppose I could, I could come up with groceries or other foodstuffs. But I think you’re looking for a shirt, a tie a sweater, or a belt, or a book or something of that sort. And I just can’t come up with a

Ressa 41:13
last question. If you and I were shopping at Target, who by the way, has done an unbelievable job with the experience of the store, their app is phenomenal. You can my family’s big target. You can buy it in store, buy online, pick up in store, buy online, they’ll drop it in your trunk, or they have shipped and their delivery times crush Amazon’s and it’ll be here in two hours. Amazing. They have been really incredible. And that’s where we get our papers and Pepsi. So if you and I were shopping at Target Market, and I lost you, what I would I find doing? Well, I’m an old menswear guy. So

Cohen 41:53
you’d find me in the men’s department. Okay, got it. And by the way, I share your your accolades for target. I applaud their relatively recent CEO who said to the street a couple of years ago, I’m going to invest, you know, four or five 6 billion and rehabbing my stores which have gotten to be shabby, outmoded and unattractive. And the streets nibbled and wind and fortunately for him, he had a board with a backbone that stood behind him. And I applaud the fact that he stepped into the breach in this ecommerce universe we live in and stepped up the company’s game and COVID. And to your point, has done a remarkable job of creating a wonderful omni channel enterprise.

Ressa 42:40
So good for them. 100

Cohen 42:45
men’s department men’s department checking it out. You were

Ressa 42:49
you’ve been to 1000s of stores all over the world. And you come from the merchant world, and I’m getting off topic but how

how important is the merchant today? We used to idolize these merchants, Mickey Drexler and these people back in the day. And it seems like we idolize tech people today. And you don’t hear about these unbelievable merchants like you used to how important is the merchant today? There are five

Cohen 43:20
principal pillars that retailers stand on product price, presentation productivity and people without product. There is no business, the merchant and the process that supports the creation of assortments the people and process the creative assortment is the heart of it all. Without which there is no business. Yeah, price presentation. Productivity, of course is vital and people is obviously important. But without having things available for sale that customers seek out having things that are differentiated, so they seek you out as opposed to someone else. It’s game over. So I’m I’m from the school that says merchandising is absolutely the linchpin. Now don’t sign up for the the the ubiquitous merchant princes who ran amok and fell in love with their, you know, their their alleged talent and capability and lost sight of unpicking product. Yeah, they they fell in love with you know, they woke up in the morning and said, I think the color of the day is purple without regard to whether customers really cared or not. But at the end of the day, it’s it’s all about the merchandise. It always has been and always will be. And unfortunately, there’s been less focus on the creation of assortments through the efforts of merchants today than in the past. Technology is certainly there to aid and abet the creation of product and assortments technology tools have stepped up. But but the creative element is is definitely under under fire. And that’s a shame.

Ressa 45:19
Okay, Mark, this was terrific. If there’s anything I can ever do with you share some information that we’re seeing. help you out. Please

don’t hesitate to reach out and I’d love to grab a cup of coffee with you sometime soon and catch up in person.

Cohen 45:39
We’d love to do that.

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