Tracking the Cutting Edge of the Fashion Industry

with Abbey Doneger of The Doneger Group

Henry Doneger
Henry Doneger, president.

Henry Doneger and Jack Lasersohn founded Lasersohn-Doneger in 1946 as a buying office for retailers. In the early 1960s, Doneger bought out his partner. His son Abbey joined the firm in 1973 and became president in 1980. Today, The Doneger Group has evolved into a merchandising consulting firm working with department stores, specialty stores, mass merchants, discount stores, and multimedia retailers. The company is a leading source of global trend intelligence, focusing on merchandising direction, retail business analysis, and comprehensive market information. They have two offices, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles, and 140 employees. The key to this privately held firm’s 66 years of success? Keep ahead of the trends. Here’s how.

1. Hire From Within the Industry

To stay on top of the trends, Doneger hires people who are immersed in them. “We have people who have been doing this for years,” Abbey says. “They understand the whole marketplace. They went to school for fashion, had an interest in fashion, had positions in the fashion industry, and/or owned their own businesses in the areas of color, fabric, style, trend, and merchandising.”

2. Keep Feet on the Street

Of Doneger’s 140-person staff on the east and west coast, around 100 are in the field daily. They are literally on the fronts lines of fashion, doing research and interacting with the retail and wholesale community, as well as the industry at large. These staffers hold meetings, network, attend trade shows and conferences, travel to clients both domestic and international, and participate with educational institutions by lecturing on campuses. Wherever there is a fashion trend taking shape, Doneger is there.

3. Get in the Know

Doneger conducts primary research covering women’s, men’s, and children’s apparel and accessories. To gather data, researchers shop stores, analyze people on the street, and read fashion magazines. They look at runway shows and check in with blogs and other content online. After absorbing all the knowledge it has collected, Doneger develops a predictive point of view. “Each employee has specific merchandising areas: categories and classifications they are responsible for,” explains senior vice president Leslie Ghize. By looking at what has come before and formulating what’s to come in the season ahead, Doneger can customize the information to fit the needs of each retail client and work one-on-one to help the client tailor their upcoming season.

4. Offer Online Services

Being digital is a necessary part of business. “For us, technology is, without question, a customer relationship tool,” Ghize says. “We provide our clients with a vehicle and a methodology for how they want to access information from us on all levels.” Doneger offers all forms of online services, from e-mail to PDFs to PowerPoint presentations and more. “If clients want information quickly, even through their mobile devices, we are able to push them things like images or creative, and it’s quicker and more impactful,” Ghize says, noting that the company regularly drives people to its website to view its latest insights.

5. Be a Visible Presence in the Industry

Doneger maximizes its presence by speaking with the media and press. “The Wall Street Journal, Women’s Wear Daily, and others use us as a resource all the time,” Abbey says. “We have a few key executives who write monthly columns, or participate in them. We are consistent contributors to Outerwear magazine, Manuscript, and MR magazine. We also have executives who participate in a number of industry conferences; in particular, the Las Vegas trade shows and the National Retail Federation annual conference where our creative director, David Wolfe, speaks each year.”

6. Take Advantage of Global Opportunities

Over the last five years, Doneger has seen increasing international interest in its services. “Companies from across the globe are looking to the US more than ever for best practices in all aspects of fashion, including marketing, advertising, visual merchandising, and using technology to enhance their businesses,” explains senior vice president Thomas Burns. Doneger works closely with retailers in Mexico, South Africa, Australia, South Korea, and Europe. “They look to us for fashion direction and a lifestyle perspective,” Burns says. “They want to know what the trends are, and want help interpreting the trends for their businesses. We help them shift through the complexity and hone in on what’s important.”

7. Use Common Sense

“If we have strong people—good people—and we provide a good service, we’ll always have a good business,” Abbey says. “I try to lead our company with that simple, common-sense thinking, and it has served us well. We strive to be modern, relevant, and forward thinking, but at the end of the day, it’s good common-sense thinking that drives our business.”