The Evolution of the Fashion Industry - Marty Staff, CEO of BCBG

Marty Staff is one of the most renown names in retail and his extensive experience in the field makes it clear to see why.  Marty has worked in executive roles with companies such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and HUGO BOSS, just to name a few. He is currently CEO at BCBG Maxazaria. Marty has made his mark on the fashion world and continues to advance innovation within the industry. Staff accepted his first role in retail in an entry-level position at Bloomingdales, and the rest is history. He developed a passion for the work that motivates him every day.  “If you don’t love this profession,” Marty said, “You won’t do well. This industry becomes your life, not just your job.” Our scholars were fortunate enough to receive some words of wisdom from Staff at our event hosted by BCBG. “In retail what we need is a marriage between both design and business,” Marty said. “That is where the ‘secret sauce’ for success comes from.” Staff divulged some business advice to the audience, emphasizing some of the core themes our scholars have been hearing throughout the summer. “People are spending less and less on clothes and more on experiences and entertainment,” he said. “Therefore, we need to make retail more exciting and entertaining.” Marty recalled a marketing tactic he and his team used with HUGO BOSS. “We used to simply sponsor events like film festivals and premieres, but never had any true role in the event itself. After noticing that our sponsorships weren’t doing as much as we’d hoped for our brand, we decided to try something new. We put together a huge party for HUGO BOSS and invited all kinds of celebrities and influencers. The reaction we recieved from this event really helped shape the image of HUGO BOSS into what it is today.”

Marty Staff is one of the most renown names in retail and his extensive experience in the field makes it clear to see why.  Marty has worked in executive roles with companies such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and HUGO BOSS, just to name a few. He is currently CEO at BCBG Maxazaria. Marty has made his mark on the fashion world and continues to advance innovation within the industry. Staff accepted his first role in retail in an entry-level position at Bloomingdales, and the rest is history. He developed a passion for the work that motivates him every day.  “If you don’t love this profession,” Marty said, “You won’t do well. This industry becomes your life, not just your job.” Our scholars were fortunate enough to receive some words of wisdom from Staff at our event hosted by BCBG.

“In retail what we need is a marriage between both design and business,” Marty said. “That is where the ‘secret sauce’ for success comes from.” Staff divulged some business advice to the audience, emphasizing some of the core themes our scholars have been hearing throughout the summer. “People are spending less and less on clothes and more on experiences and entertainment,” he said. “Therefore, we need to make retail more exciting and entertaining.” Marty recalled a marketing tactic he and his team used with HUGO BOSS. “We used to simply sponsor events like film festivals and premieres, but never had any true role in the event itself. After noticing that our sponsorships weren’t doing as much as we’d hoped for our brand, we decided to try something new. We put together a huge party for HUGO BOSS and invited all kinds of celebrities and influencers. The reaction we recieved from this event really helped shape the image of HUGO BOSS into what it is today.”

Staff went on to discuss the process behind deciding on the value of a retail item. “If you compete solely on price, you will always lose,” he said honestly. “If a buyer tells you that they want you to lower the price of your item, that means your item is just not that hot right now. The price of an item isn’t about whether it is ‘expensive’ or ‘cheap’ – it’s a question of whether it is worth it to the buyer.” Marty shared some details about the math behind how companies price an item. “Each member of the process wants a certain amount in profits,” he said. “If an item cost $20 to produce, the manufacturer is going to want a 50% markup, which means you need to price it at $40. The retailer will then want a 60% markup on that price, meaning the item will need to be priced at $100 when it hits the selling floor. There are a lot of parties involved and we need to satisfy each one.” In retail, more than half of a company’s business comes from basic items and predictable commodities. Creativity and innovation generate consumer interest in making the purchases that produce the remaining portion of sales. Marty shared that as a company, when an industry feels stagnant, you need to create the demand and then fill it. “A good example of this is a company called Free City,” he shared. “Their main product line centers around loungewear and sweat suits. However, they draw customers in by making coming into their store locations an engaging experience. Alongside their clothing they sell a large assortment of health and fitness items ranging from full sized bicycles to fresh almond milk.” When retail locations are experiential, companies are selling their customers more than just their items; they are selling a lifestyle. 

Staff went on to discuss the process behind deciding on the value of a retail item. “If you compete solely on price, you will always lose,” he said honestly. “If a buyer tells you that they want you to lower the price of your item, that means your item is just not that hot right now. The price of an item isn’t about whether it is ‘expensive’ or ‘cheap’ – it’s a question of whether it is worth it to the buyer.” Marty shared some details about the math behind how companies price an item. “Each member of the process wants a certain amount in profits,” he said. “If an item cost $20 to produce, the manufacturer is going to want a 50% markup, which means you need to price it at $40. The retailer will then want a 60% markup on that price, meaning the item will need to be priced at $100 when it hits the selling floor. There are a lot of parties involved and we need to satisfy each one.”

In retail, more than half of a company’s business comes from basic items and predictable commodities. Creativity and innovation generate consumer interest in making the purchases that produce the remaining portion of sales. Marty shared that as a company, when an industry feels stagnant, you need to create the demand and then fill it. “A good example of this is a company called Free City,” he shared. “Their main product line centers around loungewear and sweat suits. However, they draw customers in by making coming into their store locations an engaging experience. Alongside their clothing they sell a large assortment of health and fitness items ranging from full sized bicycles to fresh almond milk.” When retail locations are experiential, companies are selling their customers more than just their items; they are selling a lifestyle. 

Our scholars were eager to ask such a season retail executive questions about his experiences. “What do you love most about retail?” one scholar asked. “I started as an assistant buyer for sweaters,” Marty shared. “My boss once gave me about 1200 sweaters and told me to set them up in the store by color and organize the display. To the average person, this might sound like the most horrible job in the world. To me, it was amazing. I couldn’t get enough. ‘Does the grey look best by the light pink or the pale blue? Does the pale blue look best by the lime?’ I would ask myself. When I finished setting up the display, it felt great knowing that when the customer sees it they could be inspired to make a purchase. The inspiration and creativity in retail are the root of my drive.” “We’ve heard a lot this summer that it is important to gain experience in the industry outside of your specific role. What advice can you give on how to achieve that?” another scholar asked. “Being able to gain an understanding of other areas needs to be a crucial part of your internship or job experience,” Marty stressed. “When you are looking for a job, you need to make sure that exposure to different areas is something that company can offer you. A job interview is as much for the applicant as it is for the employer. Part of your evaluation as an applicant needs to be whether you can get exposure to a wide range of topics while in that position.”

Our scholars were eager to ask such a season retail executive questions about his experiences. “What do you love most about retail?” one scholar asked. “I started as an assistant buyer for sweaters,” Marty shared. “My boss once gave me about 1200 sweaters and told me to set them up in the store by color and organize the display. To the average person, this might sound like the most horrible job in the world. To me, it was amazing. I couldn’t get enough. ‘Does the grey look best by the light pink or the pale blue? Does the pale blue look best by the lime?’ I would ask myself. When I finished setting up the display, it felt great knowing that when the customer sees it they could be inspired to make a purchase. The inspiration and creativity in retail are the root of my drive.”

“We’ve heard a lot this summer that it is important to gain experience in the industry outside of your specific role. What advice can you give on how to achieve that?” another scholar asked. “Being able to gain an understanding of other areas needs to be a crucial part of your internship or job experience,” Marty stressed. “When you are looking for a job, you need to make sure that exposure to different areas is something that company can offer you. A job interview is as much for the applicant as it is for the employer. Part of your evaluation as an applicant needs to be whether you can get exposure to a wide range of topics while in that position.”

“You’ve worked with a number of very successful and well established brands,” a scholar noted. “How are brands able to continue to drive excitement when it seems as though they’ve reached their peak?” Marty provided some insights on the different way organizations can approach this. “Many companies generate new revenue streams by creating other collections, like direct-to-retailer lines. Ralph Lauren did this when they formed Chaps, and it was a great success. Companies also often partake in collaborations to freshen up their brand image. Brooks Brothers did this with Supreme and it worked wonders for their brand. Louis Vuitton recently released a collaboration with Supreme as well.” Collaborations are a great way to generate new energy within a brand and stimulate excitement. 

“You’ve worked with a number of very successful and well established brands,” a scholar noted. “How are brands able to continue to drive excitement when it seems as though they’ve reached their peak?” Marty provided some insights on the different way organizations can approach this. “Many companies generate new revenue streams by creating other collections, like direct-to-retailer lines. Ralph Lauren did this when they formed Chaps, and it was a great success. Companies also often partake in collaborations to freshen up their brand image. Brooks Brothers did this with Supreme and it worked wonders for their brand. Louis Vuitton recently released a collaboration with Supreme as well.” Collaborations are a great way to generate new energy within a brand and stimulate excitement. 

Marty’s Words of Wisdom: If you don’t love this profession, you won’t do well. This industry becomes your life, not just your job. In the retail market, you cannot be average at what you do and expect to succeed. The price of an item is not about whether it is “expensive” or “cheap” – it is a question of whether the cost is worth it to the buyer. In a stagnant industry, you need to create the demand and then fill it. Love what you do and live what you love.

Marty’s Words of Wisdom:

If you don’t love this profession, you won’t do well. This industry becomes your life, not just your job.

In the retail market, you cannot be average at what you do and expect to succeed.

The price of an item is not about whether it is “expensive” or “cheap” – it is a question of whether the cost is worth it to the buyer.

In a stagnant industry, you need to create the demand and then fill it.

Love what you do and live what you love.