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The BoF Podcast: Millard Drexler on Why ‘Growth Is the Enemy’

The retail guru on the state of American department stores, venture capital funding and the importance of staying small.
Millard Drexler | Source: BoF

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LONDON, United Kingdom — "There are too many choices," said retail legend Millard Drexler in the latest edition of the BoF Podcast. The New York-based "merchant prince," best known for his time at J. Crew and Gap, is now watching the American retail landscape crumble as brands and retailers struggle under store shutdowns and debt restructuring. He did offer some advice, and warnings, on the state of American shopping, and what it might look like after the pandemic.

  • "If you're not a micromanager, you're not doing your job well," said Drexler. With too much assortment, and too much retail space, brands need to determine what's necessary and get creative with their offerings. This same practice should also be applied to wholesale accounts. "Own the brand, don't let someone else put it on sale, and you're safe," he said.
  • Rethink what growth means for your brand. "Growth is the enemy," said Drexler, looking to the rise of VC-backed brands that have struggled to successfully scale and break even. Now is not the time to pursue top-line growth at the cost of profit margins. "That's what investors want, and they'll do dumb things to get there," said Drexler. "More is not better, the new big is small in my mind."
  • The American department store's make or break. "It's pretty much near the end," said Drexler. There's no reason for them, he argued, unless the assortment and store curation are unique and compelling: "I'm not impressed [and] I haven't been for years with the choices out there."

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The State of Fashion: Technology
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The State of Fashion: Technology