Jack Kleinhenz, Ph.D and chief economist for the world’s largest retail trade association, said while the rash of reported national retail store closings and job losses are real, he wouldn’t say they are a direct indication that the retail industry is moving backward.
“I think there is misinformation or a misunderstanding about the health of the retail industry,” said Kleinhenz, who is also principal and chief economist of Kleinhenz and Associates, a Cleveland-based registered investment advisory firm that specializes in financial consulting and wealth management services.
“We recognize these store closings are happening, but overall we’ve got to be careful to not focus just on store closings because other areas are performing,” he said, noting that in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50,000 jobs were added in retail nationwide including auto sales and gas sales. “If we take out those two categories then, still 46,000 retail jobs were added in the month of February.”
However, according to U.S. Labor Department data, job loss can’t be ignored. Between 2001 and 2016, jobs at traditional department stores fell 46 percent. For perspective, that’s a bigger drop than other troubled industries such as coal mining (32 percent drop) and factory employment (25 percent drop) during the same time span.
MarketWatch reported that in 2017, department stores alone lost 29,900 jobs, while general merchandising stores cut 15,700 workers. In addition, last year’s BLS data also showed retail discharges and layoffs grew to a total of 212,000 nationwide – the highest level in nearly two years.
Kleinhenz said based on all of the area data he’s analyzed and the NRF’s forecast, they still believe 2018 will be a stronger year for retail.
Some department stores are moving toward cost fulfillment centers, while other e-commerce retailers, discount stores, luxury goods, and even some small businesses with specialized niches are growing.
In Northeast Ohio for instance, Amazon is building a fulfillment center in Euclid in what once was a retail strip that included a shuttered Toys “R” Us. The dead mall will be replaced by an Amazon fulfillment center, scheduled to open in 2019.
A similar, but larger, project is under construction and set to open next year in North Randall, where Randall Park Mall once stood. Between the two Amazon facilities, the company will employ more than 3,000 people.
“The landscape is changing and the way the industry is operating is changing. They’re looking to be more cost efficient. Ultimately retailers want to deliver good price and value, which is no different than any other industry,” he said.
“Undoubtedly they’re facing significant competition and consequently they need to change the way they’re operating given the environment.”
The national retail landscape is changing rapidly with a great deal of upheaval as brick-and-mortar stores continue to struggle to change and adapt in the highly competitive digital age.
Claire’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on Monday, is the latest in a string of mall-based stores shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades.
But mall-based stores aren’t the only casualties of consumers increasingly more comfortable ordering products online. Toys “R” Us, another company left deep in debt from a leveraged buyout, said last week that it was liquidating its 735 stores in the United States. The bankrupt retailer is closing one-fifth of its U.S. outlets, which could end up being more than 180 stores including locations in Mentor, Western Hills, Dayton and Dublin, Ohio. Liquidation sales were to begin Thursday, but were delayed this morning until possibly Friday or later.
The number of store closings in the U.S. is expected to jump at least 30 percent to nearly 12,000 in 2018, and another 25 major retailers could file for bankruptcy, according to estimates by the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.
In 2017, nearly 9,000 stores closed across retail sectors. Cushman & Wakefield said that number will be between 10,000 and 11,000 doors this year–and that’s fewer than the 13,000 the analysts initially forecast, thanks in part to Simon Properties’ legal action attempting to block Starbucks from closing Teavana locations.
“Not everyone is shrinking! Off-price apparel, discounters, warehouse club stores and dollar stores will continue to post record growth,” Garrick Brown, vice president of Retail Intelligence for the Americas, said in a January blog.
“Grocery stores and most restaurants will continue to account for growth, even as the weakest concepts will increasingly struggle with a saturated marketplace,” he said.
Still, last year was a record year for both store closings and retail bankruptcies. Dozens of retailers including Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney shuttered thousands of stores — far exceeding recessionary levels — and 50 chains filed for bankruptcy.
Anchor tenants like these stores occupy large, multistory buildings at mall entrances, and they’re forcing low-performing shopping malls to either reinvent or go out of business.
The commercial real estate firm CoStar has estimated that nearly a quarter of malls in the U.S., or roughly 310 of the nation’s 1,300 shopping malls, are at high risk of losing an anchor tenant. Chains that have confirmed they will be closing locations in 2018 include Bon-Ton, Gap, Sears-Kmart and Walgreens.
In January, Walmart announced plans to close 63 Sam’s Club stores across the U.S. including one in Cincinnati.
Teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is bouncing back by cutting its stores. The New Albany, Ohio-based company was praised by analysts easier this month after it announced positive same-store sales growth in its fourth-quarter results. Same-store sales were up 9 percent overall at the company, boosted by 11 percent growth at Hollister and 5 percent at the Abercrombie brand itself.
But at the same time, the company also announced it would be closing up to 60 Abercrombie and Hollister stores in 2018. Closing store locations have not been identified yet.
By Marcia Pledger, The Plain Dealer