What Richard Kestenbaum (Triangle Capital LLC) saw – and would have liked to seen – at Retail’s Big Show, NRF 2020

Richard Kestenbaum, Partner at Triangle Capital LLC, New York, NY. Contributor at Forbes.com

Version en Français 🇫🇷


Things are moving fast at NRF. Introduced in the morning by Tony Drockton, the founder of the red-hot handbag brand Hammitt Los Angeles, here I am, a few hours later, conversing with Richard Kestenbaum, the co-founder of Triangle Capital LLC, one of the leading private investment banking firm based here in New York. It’s late, the Javits Center is getting empty, and yet, perched on our stools in the middle of the draft, Richard Kestenbaum, speaker and contributor at Forbes, gives me in person and on the spot what interested him at the Conference and – even more interesting! – what he would have liked to have found there. Invaluable insights.


:: When I met you early this morning at a private breakfast attended by CEOs held by the National Retail Federation during the Retail’s Big Show, you were talking to everyone. What exactly does your company Triangle Capital LLC. ?

Richard Kestenbaum: At Triangle Capital LLC we do mergers, acquisitions and capital raising for consumer-related companies. We do transactions between ten and three hundred million U.S. dollars. We are not principals, we are agents – clients hire us – and we complete transactions. We make most of our money when we complete transactions and only when we complete transactions. So we only focus on taking on those things we really believe we can complete. We have a very good track record that I’m super proud of getting very high value for our clients. I was previously a partner with a large company in Wall Street called Drexel Burnham Lambert, and my partner, Errol Glasser, was Managing Director at Kidder Peabody, also a very large firm on Wall Street.


:: And you write

I write about the trends we see and what they indicate we will see in a year or two or five years from now, in retail. We find that when you talk to CEOs all day as we do, they tell you a lot of confidential information. When you carve away the confiential information, what you’re left with are the things they talk about and they worry about and that’s what I write. 

When I marry that to the information we get from the rest of the industry, it informs my writing which make us better bankers and better able to explain how the companies we are selling fit into the trends that are developing in value over time. Forbes invited me to write my blog on their site and so I have been writing on Forbes for the last three and hall year.


No one has invented a better way of converting a browser into a customer than a retail store and nothing in a retail store is more important than a good sales associate.



:: What are your takeaways from this conference NRF2020?

 What I like to think about is What is everyone doing? and What is everyone not doing, that they should be doing ?  What people are focusing on here so much as NRF is about technologies? The guys at Zebra Technology put it to me best. They ask four questions :

  • What is it?
  • Where is it?
  • How is it?
  • What do we want to do about it?

And those are very important questions. But there are few things I think that technology does not address, that are important for retail, that need more focus.

No one has invented a better way of converting a browser into a customer than a retail store and nothing in a retail store is more important than a good sales associate. The sales associate of today are living in an environment where unemployment is very low in the United States, so they are very much in demand. You have to pay more to get people of lower quality. How do you deal with that? 

Those people, who are usually pretty young, interact in every relationship they have on their mobile device, except with their employers.

Why? Talen is scarce and employers need to interact with their employees in ways that work better for their employees, which means electronically and on apps and give them the kind of flexibility that the technology can give them.

There are a few people who are starting to do that but there is not a lot of focus on in the industry and I think more attention needs to be focused on the workers in the stores. 

The second thing that I think is not getting enough focus is content. There are a lot of software that helps you to manage content, but not a lot of conversations about the content itself. Content now is changing. The way it is changing is that we used to find there would be brands that create advertising and eventually social media content and that content would drive traffic and develop business.

Now what we are finding is that young successful companies are not creating products first, they are creating content first and for very specific and narrow and deep audiences. And after the content is established, then they are creating products. Instead ofproducts driving the need for content, content is driving the existence of the company and the creation of products. It is exactly backwards from what it used to be.

In the future, we are going to see content creating a second and  important revenue stream for product companies. Because if the content is relevant, advertisers will pay and it will add value and create viewers who will stay on the site and keep coming back. They come for the content, they identify with the brand and the products and they buy and the price is not the most important factor. 

When you ask the question: How do I compete with Amazon?, it is by creating identity and association and that is done through content. When you start with content, you end up with a more valuable company if it’s authentic content, because it generates revenue, it generates association, relationship and loyalty. It sell products not regarding the price. Price is not the key criterion for customer’s choice. Amazon can’t compete with that.


The show doesn’t give you the complete picture of the industry.



That is what I saw and didn’t see at the NRF. The show doesn’t give you the complete picture of the industry. Vendors want to sell technology, and that is very important and you can’t be a substantial retailer without it. But it is not all. It is infinitely complex. Because it is about people and their needs. People are the most complex thing we know.


:: What are the 3 innovations you focus right now as a leading private investment banking firm?

There are certain aspects of retail and consumers that are attracting consumers and capital. Of course the two go together. Those are pet, beauty and subscription.Those are the big things.


:: The pet industry, really ?

What we are experiencing in America is humanification in pet in households in America.

Credit: Triangle Capital LLC

Approximately 50% of households in America as a dog, and 75% of millennial households have a dog. The dog is a member of the family. It’s the same mode of thinking you have for your children, you want the best for your pets. It is not the same as having a child, but it is the same kind of thinking.  You don’t want to give your dog kibble that you buy at Walmart because of the price. You want to give them something that helps you to believe that you are giving them the best nutrition, and there is a statement about your affection for your pets. 



:: Then subscription. Do you think about models like Stitch Fix?

I think subscription is certainly the monthly box. But there are many other things that have not been developed yet. For example, when catalog businesses exploded thirty years ago, they were catalog companies but many other retailers said we should have catalogs as one of the ways we sale our products. 

The same is true for subscription. If you are a retailers selling many products, some of your products are likely to be suitable for selling by subscription. Subscription is yet just one more mode. Just as you can have a store in New York or in Paris and not care which one your customers buy in as long as they buy. Likewise you can have a store, you can have a website and a mobile app and you can have a subscription. It is a one way of selling, and because it is so broadly predictable, it is only at the beginning now and we are going to see how they may leverage their subscription in order to maintain their customer base balance.


:: So do you estimate nearly all the products can be sold by catalogue ?

Many products, yes.


:: What are the 3 retailers/brands that you think are doing great things right now ?

I think Zenni Optical is a very important company. They are the largest seller of prescription eyewear online and they have factories in China, which they own, producing more prescription eyewear than any factory in the world. They make seventeen thousand pairs every day and they are building capacities to be able to make one hundred twenty thousand pairs per day. You can buy their glasses at a very aggressive price: their average price is 50 dollars that include the frames and glasses, and that is delivered to your home.



Credit : Zenni


They have about half the market share of prescription glasses sold online today. Over the next 7 years, the eye examination, called the refraction examination, will happen online.

When it happens and consumers can have the exam in their home, there will be very little reason the online prescription not to move dramatically online and Zenni is in a leading position to capture that market and it is a huge opportunity.  It is also a threat to the existing eyewear infrastructure of thousands of individual stores which charge much higher for prescription eyewear.


 ::Very interesting. What else?

Resale. It is a very important opportunity because consumers want it and there is nothing more important than what consumers want. They want it because It open the market for luxury brands to consumers who can’t otherwise afford them and it relates consumers’ values of sustainability.

The problem with this market is that there is a need for a better authentication. I bought a Christian Dior bag on The RealReal for three thousand six hundred US dollars.  And it was fake! It is inexcusable that a brand of this caliber and a price of that level escaped their scrutiny. 

The way that can be fixed, in my observation, is that luxury brands must be more evolved. They will realize there is a big opportunity to bring resale to their customers.

Today they mostly feel that resale compete with sale of new product and they don’t want to do it. But as I started by saying, customers want it and therefore it will happen, they are much more in resale than that. So brands have to be involved because they are the one who have the depth of knowledge that can confirm authentication and stop all this fake coming into the market.


The RealReal, 80 Wooster St, New York, NY 10012, États-Unis

:: But all these platforms working on the resale market have a team working on authenticity ?

They have a conflict because they want to get profitability, and the more effort they put into authentification, the far away they get into profitability. So their shareolders’s interest is against their customers. When you had that kind of conflict, this is bad for the future of the business.


:: So you think the luxury brands have to be more involved? 

They will be more involved. There is more than one way to do it, but it will happen.




Version en Français 🇫🇷



Customer Insight repère les innovations en Digital, Mobile et Retail aux Etats-Unis, et aide les entreprises françaises à transposer avec succès ces stratégies ayant fait leur preuve aux U.S. Notre méthode, nos prestations sur-mesure. Parlons ensemble sur Linkedin, par mail ou au 06 12 83 39 28.







Écrire une réponse

Votre adresse de messagerie ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *