This November marks my fifth anniversary working for VMSD magazine. It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since I took the job, knowing just about zilch when it came to retail.
I grew up wanting to be an artist but found myself in journalism by college. I was never a fashion-oriented person in my youth – I could probably only name five or six designers, and they were the “big” names that everyone and their mother knows. In journalism school, you’re taught to become the “expert” in whatever you’re covering, and so retail became my life when I signed on with VMSD.
Soon, I was noticing mannequins in stores, when their hands were chipped or where paint was missing. I’d walk into a department store and say out loud, “who does the visual merchandising here?!” It became an obsession, wandering store to store in an attempt to gather as much retail intel as possible.
And now, five years later, I’ve watched retail fads grow and die; I’ve watched concepts flourish then falter; and I’ve watched projects I’ve certainly thought would fail blossom into strong competitors in their sectors. It’s been a fascinating journey to watch the peaks and valleys of the industry at large.
Now we find ourselves in a sea of uncertainty. Since the election last year, things have seemed quite fragile: Department stores we have grown used to seeing at every mall are closing hundreds of locations, some companies are going completely bankrupt and others are being gobbled up by competitors or larger holding companies.
When the 2008 Great Recession hit, everyone seemed to think it was truly the end of the world as we knew it. It sure seemed that way. Yes, bad things happened. Yes, businesses closed and people panicked; it was not a good time for retail, either.
But as time passed, we began to see progress. Retailers that seemed to be on the brink of extinction pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and kept the candles burning on both ends in order to save themselves. And it worked for some. By the time I joined the magazine in 2012, it was all about store openings and expansion.
Though this past year was dominated by doom-and-gloom headlines, I believe the industry, as a whole, will recover. And it most likely will evolve into a different entity of what we once knew, into a hybrid of showrooms, physical/digital retail, virtual reality and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store), but it won’t completely disappear.
Everyone likes to talk about how retail isn’t going away because of the human connection, because of engagement, and because people like to physically visit stores for not only the social aspects, but also to feel and touch merchandise they aren’t comfortable purchasing online. Maybe one day there won’t be brick-and-mortar retail, but I really think that will be long after anyone reading this, including myself, are all dead and gone. At least in our lifetimes, retail is here to stay, and it isn’t going anywhere.
The great leaders in every industry didn’t get where they are by laying down and playing possum, they got there by having the courage and strength to move forward, by having the tenacity to keep fighting for what they believed in.
If the retail industry has taught me anything in the last five years, it’s that resilience is an asset one shouldn’t easily dismiss.
Carly Hagedon is the Managing Editor of VMSD magazine. She lives and works in Cincinnati and is a 2011 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, where she studied Journalism – Magazine Writing and American history. She also currently serves as a board member for the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Prior to her foray into the retail industry, Carly worked as a freelancer for several local publications and interned at Cincinnati Magazine.