Retail Therapy

Initially thought I was watching a skit on Saturday Night Live when I first heard the reports that America’s department stores emerged from the second most active selling season of the year, Easter week, with the some of the best numbers in nearly a decade: Bloomingdale’s upped their dividend payment and those made by Marshall Fields actually doubled. With gas and grocery pricing gobbling up a large part of discretionary income, how could these large brick and mortar dinosaurs be making bank when the rest of us are battling to sell $5.95 trials?

On the surface, it was easy to credit the illusion of a return to prosperity to smart merchandising — carefully giving the public what they want to purchase number one, and then aggressively promoting and discounting that merchandise to compete against the big chains to which they had been increasingly losing ground.

Many experts believe the uptick in sales was actually “defense spending,” fearful of inflation, consumers were simply stocking up.

Looking a little deeper though, many experts believe the uptick in sales was actually “defense spending,” fearful of inflation, consumers were simply stocking up on bargains while the prices were low, and they still had jobs. While that explains the larger top line, it was their ballooning bottom line that painted a rosy picture, after all, figures don’t lie, but liars figure and would a rose by any other name still smell as sweet once we looked under the petals —and the answer is no!

In previous years, at the end of the season, major retailers sold the leftovers to the discounters, ala Marshalls, but last year they held onto the majority of the unsold goods in their own warehouses. That means this Easter’s profitability was greatly enhanced by fact the much of the merchandise had been not ordered, but taken from stock on hand, with industry wide inventories running at their lowest point since the consumer restrictions of WWII. In other words, their Profit & Loss statements looked better not because of an increase in demand, but the reduction in supply. Reduction in supply, however, does not apply to our industry and increasingly, if anything, it is the opposite and our balance sheets are reflecting that.

While the exponentially increasing amount of free porn, especially with gas hovering around $5 a gallon is definitely luring once paying customers away from our join pages, the biggest other culprit of the excess available is ourselves.

When the larger straight companies periodically decide to dabble in the lavender lane and roll out a gay program with half a dozen new sites of dubious quality and promote them with triple digit payouts, they strong arm the smaller independent gay programs down a notch in the short term and in the long term, make the shrinking number of still paying consumers more gun shy if the member’s area’s failure to live up to the hype.

And then there’s the rest of us, cow towing to the ever increasing demands of the remaining affiliates giving them longer trailers, bigger images & simply more, more, more to add to the glut already available.

The final insult to injury at a time when there seems to be more porn than ever, the pool of qualified models seems to be dwindling in step with the sales — and next month I’ll be back to look that that hood too!