Marigay McKee On Hudson Yards And The Future of Retail

Real Estate

Marigay McKeeDavid Vaughn

Marigay McKee has been influential in the fashion world for decades.  After her tenure at Harrods, where she rose to Chief Marketing Officer, and her three years as President of Saks, McKee decided to start her own consulting business.

“As a consultant and investor one speaks less and listens more, which is important when trying to create or discover value and opportunity. One needs flexibility to embrace change, and savvy agility to seize an opportunity,” says McKee.

“My experiences as a merchant and retailer definitely helped me with MM Luxe consulting, our niche retail advisory practice, and even more so now with Fernbrook Management, our venture fund, which invests in tech-related early stage scalable consumer goods businesses.”

What are your current projects? 

From a consulting perspective I am focusing on Hudson Yards and Value Retail, my two biggest client projects.

Hudson Yards has been a three-year endeavor, working with the very talented retail and hospitality teams there, headed by Ken Himmel, to create something spectacular.

Steve Ross’ strategic vision was spectacular and smart – a new way of life, living, working, dining, shopping and exercising within the confines of green space, water and the High Line.  It will completely transform the west side of Manhattan and create a new community, a lifestyle for tomorrow.

The Shed, the largest cultural start up in the world, will open where the High Line meets Hudson Yards. It will bring art, music, media and dance to the five boroughs, and will be an international center for artistic expression.

Value Retail’s business has been booming in Europe and China.  Currently the company has eleven luxury shopping villages under management worldwide, including Bicester Village outside London and La Vallee Village outside Paris, with designer luxury brands and leisure and dining activities that drive millions of visitors each year to their doors.

I launched in 2016. My business partner , Bill Detwiler, a seasoned investment banker and lawyer, is the Chief Administrator, and I’m the Chief Merchant in the partnership. I look at brands and opportunities, focusing on the people and the product. We have a total of 18 high growth brands in the portfolio, including Ember and Kano in the tech space, Universal Standard and Knot Standard in the fashion space, and La Ligne and Maisonette in the mother and baby space.

What will the changing retail environment look like in the next decade?

In a world where price discovery and information is immediately available online, physical retail must offer a different, more engaging experience to stay relevant.

Consumers are better informed and do more due diligence than they used to. People want an easy, calm shopping experience that is efficient and delivers on standards and service.

Personalization and communication are also important, as everyone wants to feel special and wanted.

How will one make oneself known as a new designer without the classic path of brick and mortar?

A lot of our brands are evolving rapidly on a direct-to-consumer platform with no brick and mortar presence, albeit occasional strategic pop ups. Social media has been instrumental in building brands to superstar status, with digital strategists, influencers and celebrity placement along the way.

In some respects, a digital footprint has made it easier for brands to have a voice, and to reach audiences more directly then they used to.  Charm, charisma and aesthetic are important in the world of video and digital content; that is where personalities and DNA traits can shine.

I still believe in brick and mortar.  One of my clients says, “The future of retail is physical, the future of brands is digital.”  A healthy mix of both is the best equation, a balance of power distributed across both channels for consumers everywhere.

How important is social responsibility to the average consumer? 

It’s becoming more important, and young people care. Sustainability, saving the planet, the forests, the oceans, abolishing plastic, avoiding landfill and climate change are increasing in importance with each year that goes by. The progress being made today by many, whether it’s Kering and the Chime for Change Platform, British Airways and their Change for Good platform, Lauren Bush and Feed (the World Food Organization ), or Oceana saving oceans and sea life, these are all fantastic causes, and these are tomorrow’s heroes that the planet will thank.

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