The New Luxury Consumer? Think: Multiple Consumers

atk_luxuryThe luxury industry may have lost a bit of its luster lately: in 2014, Prada’s third-quarter profits sunk 44%; LVMH sales growth has slowed down; and the share prices of recently listed luxury companies have fallen by a quarter.

There are several reasons for this. First, weak economic performance in parts of Europe and Asia is deflating consumer demand in those areas. Second, societal shifts, including a crackdown on corruption gift giving in China and last year’s protests in Hong Kong, are stealing some of the industry’s cache. At the same time, a lack of truly innovative products has failed to energize consumers.

But there is a big and most important reason is that the luxury consumer base has changed. It’s not your grandmother’s luxury market today, which brings tremendous growth opportunity for the luxury brands that can evolve with the changing face of affluence and market to these new customers based on their individual needs. [Read more…]

Tory Burch. Doing Almost Everything Right

Women AccessoriesAbout a dozen years ago, sitting in her blue and white David Hicks and Billy Baldwin design-inspired kitchen in her 6000-square-foot Pierre Hotel co-op overlooking Central Park, Tory Burch set about to create an affordable clothing line that she and her friends would like to wear. By this time, Tory Burch was already something of a socialite and had appeared in the pages of Vogue and on the cover of Town & Country. Not entirely to the manor born, but close enough, Tory, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, had worked in the fashion industry, not in design, but in advertising and public relations. Perhaps this is where she learned about marketing and branding, or perhaps she just has very good instincts.

The first Tory Burch boutique opened in 2004 on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan’s Nolita, now a fashionable retail stretch, but a somewhat more pioneering location at the time. With a $2 million dollar investment from then-husband Chris Burch and additional funds from friends and family, the store launched with multiple categories of clothing and accessories. In 2005, Oprah Winfrey discovered a Tory Burch tunic and pronounced it the next big thing. With Oprah’s endorsement, a unique fashion point of view that struck a chord with a certain crowd in Manhattan in its early days and some good exposure on Gossip Girl, fashion history was made. [Read more…]

Canada Goose – Keep Warm, Be Cool

gooseLike most New Yorkers I made it through last winter’s Polar Vortex with many layers and ‘Hot Hands’ in my pockets, but going into this season, I knew I had to replace my very well worn 10-year-old Bogner and 12-year-old Moncler down jackets. I asked a friend, younger and hipper than I, what she recommended. “Canada Goose” she said, “cheaper and cooler than Moncler.” I’d never heard of Canada Goose, but, once aware, the red white and blue Canada Goose expedition patch logos were suddenly everywhere in New York City. The parkas are more function than fashion, many trimmed with coyote fur around the hood. PETA has objected, but celebrities, including Matt Damon, Daniel Craig and Claire Danes have been photographed in theirs. Last season, Canada Goose was featured in the US Magazine “Who Wore it Best” section. Was it Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Maggie Gyllenhaal or Emma Stone? Kate Upton wore a white Canada Goose parka over a white bikini bottom on the cover of the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Photographed in Antarctica, the headline reads, “Kate Upton Goes Polar Bare.” [Read more…]

A Holiday Fable

‘Twas the day after Christmas, when all through the mall,
Every shopping creature was stirring in a big free-for-all.

The sale banners were hung in the windows with twine,
In hopes that black ink would show up on the bottom line.
The merchants were hunkered down like well-tailored elves,
West Coast dock slowdowns having bared all their shelves.

Warren_saleCheap gasoline gave the season a boost,
Proving to be many a retailer’s surprise golden goose.
Walmart trotted out Kelly & Michael clones in their TV attack,
Having decided the entire season could now be called Black.

Target did its usual mix of cheap and chic kerfuffle,
Trying to forget the ghosts of breaches and Steinhafel.
Macy’s ran a record number of one-day sales with flair,
Doing enough business to never muss up Terry’s hair.

Sears and Kmart were largely invisible,
Eddie’s vision rapidly becoming a sinking dirigible.
Mike Jeffries & Dov Charney were two December casualties,
Undone by H&M, Zara & all the other fast-fashion casual Ts.

Radio Shack watched as the clock wound down tic by tic,
It couldn’t be saved by a bizarrely retro Weird Al Yankovic.
Kohl’s tried kash and koupons in every denomination,
Making sense of them caused customer consternation.

And Amazon finally opened an in-town warehouse sorter,
Promising deliveries even before a shopper places the order.
Best Buy had all its consumer electronics at the ready,
Hoping not to go the way of Circuit City and Crazy Eddie.

Luxury brands kept their stores all orderly and neat,
Waiting for those big bonuses to come in from Wall Street.
JCPenney was still suffering from its Ron Johnson hangover,
Though the trouble was still too much merchandise holdover.

But no matter the channel, the site or the store,
The customer would only respond to more and more.
Now 10 percent off, 20 or even 30,
It took 40 or 50 for shoppers to get down and dirty.

In fact, only one store was sale-less and unflappable,
It bore the image of a fruit, of course, it was Apple.
So the endless sales and promos from very far to quite near,
Promised to stretch through well into the New Year.

It’s just how business is done in retailing these days,
Sadly, executives and customers are no longer fazed.
And longing for the good old days is just a wasted gesture,
Trying to do it any other way is meaningless conjecture.

So as the season ends and the stores turn out the light,
We wish you Happy New Year, it was one hell of a fight.

Where Has All the Luxury Gone?

Coach StoreWe in the industry have been bandying about the term “luxury” pretty freely of late, but there is growing realization that if a product or brand is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive, it’s not really a “luxury” product. And the minute you add the term “affordable,” it becomes an oxymoron.

As the ever-widening income inequality gap illustrates, the rich are still getting richer. According to Pew Research, the top 1% of households in the US, or those making $400K or more annually, earn 23% of the total income in the country, and control 35% of the net worth. Both figures have been steadily growing for more than a decade.

One ever-present behavior in the spending habits of the superrich of any generation is opting for the special over the mundane. Makers of high-end jewelry and electronics, cars, exotic vacation hotels, and other products and services target this group of discerning consumers for a reason: They value, and are willing to pay a steep premium for, that which is appreciated by and accessible to only an elite few.

Milton Pedraza, CEO of The Luxury Institute, a research firm that tracks and advises the global luxury goods market, says that consumers consistently define luxury as the best of design, quality, craftsmanship, and service. Brands that always deliver against these attributes, including Audemars Piguet, Chanel, and Buccellati, also tend to have a compelling brand heritage story. [Read more…]

Sleepless Nights

mattress isolated on the whiteI am not sure about where you live, but around here in southeastern Pennsylvania, it seems like wherever I drive, I am never far away from a mattress store, and a discount one at that.

It makes me wonder how these stores can keep their lights on. Can there really be that many people in this community of half a million that, give or take, need a new bed? I don’t have the answer for the mushrooming growth of retail banks, but do I understand Americans have been buying mattresses in record numbers making the mattress category the fastest growing segment in the $164.4 billion home furnishings business in 2012, according to HFN’s State of the Industry report. In 2013, the mattress segment posted slower but still good growth to reach $9.4 billion.

Mattress Madness

Obviously Americans are sleeping better—or at least investing in record numbers in better beds. And with recent double-digit growth in the category, mattress retailers are trying to squeeze every bit of spring out of the mattress business. Sleepy’s tops out at over 900 stores, and 1800Mattress.com gives ‘showrooming’ mattress shoppers access to deep discounts for most of the leading brands. The leading television channels and even Walmart are getting in on retailing beds. [Read more…]

Are You Trapped in the Past?

shutterstock_176490206Think you are a Retail Guru? Student of the Industry? Current or former Master or Mistress of the Universe? Or have you just been around the business for at least 25 years? Well, wherever you were in 1989, were you capable of foreseeing what retail would be like in 2014? Some of you who were part of the industry in 1964 may in fact still be alive and kicking. If you are a member of that rarified group, did you envision then any of the changes that have occurred in our industry over these past 50 years?

Change is a concept that most of us say we understand and readily embrace. Yet, in reality, we have little or no capacity to conceive of, plan in support of, or manage change.

Past as Prelude

In 1964, retail was principally focused on downtown business districts in either overlarge emporium like local department stores and/or mega-catalog houses. Downtown specialty retail was invariably local. Few, if any, shopping malls existed; there were no strip or power centers, and no big box players or discounters of any consequence. Local city-based Woolworth’s and Woolworth-like stores that blanketed downtowns were more the norm throughout the country. Technology then was embodied by mechanical cash registers in the front of the house and manual comptometers and handwritten ledgers in the back room. [Read more…]

Luxury Needs a New Story

luxneedsnewHow Alex and Ani, Saint Laurent and STORY are doing just that

Recently, cracks have begun to show in the “same old story” that serves as the traditional luxury marketing platform. For years, for decades, and in some cases for centuries, luxury brands have been doing the “same old song and dance” for their current and prospective customers. The luxury story, which describes how brands are positioned and marketed, goes like this: exclusivity, design excellence, exceptional workmanship, top-quality materials, and aspiration for brands that one aspires to own and to show off. Things are changing.

In July, Hermes reported a slowdown of sales in its fiscal second quarter 2014. In the same month, LVMH reported first-half year sales were below expectations; and Kering, owner of the heritage Gucci brand, reported a 2.4% decline in the brand’s sale in the second quarter 2014. The only bright spot for Kering was their Saint Laurent brand … but more on that later.

While many fingers point to slackening demand in China as the culprit, American affluent consumers have undergone a dramatic mood swing regarding luxury since the recession, reflected in those disappointing results. That change in attitude is illustrated in Unity Marketing’s Luxury Consumption Index, our measure of affluent consumer confidence based upon quarterly surveys. [Read more…]

Lessons in Luxury From the Middle Eastern Souks

Gold_SoukWhy is buying fine jewelry in the Western World such an intimidating and utilitarian experience? A beautiful piece of jewelry is sensual, romantic, seductive. Why do we feel like we’re purchasing expensive light bulbs instead of a circlet of dazzling diamonds? We can learn a lot from the bazaars and the souks in the Mideast.

Two of the most magical places in luxury retail are the Gold Souk in Dubai and the jewelry section of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The window displays are opulent. There is nothing restrained about the presentation, unlike the minimalist Tiffany windows or vitrines at Bulgari. These Middle Eastern bazaars are the meeting grounds of testosterone and estrogen, resulting in a unique mercantile representation of desire. There is a sheer physical smell of the power to buy here, and there is a visceral joy in being the retail host for luxury and craftsmanship. Contrary to Western stealth wealth, the souks exhibit a certain sensuality; part dress-up, part princess-complex; and an explosion of both insatiability and satisfaction. The whole experience is wrapped up in life’s emotional punctuation marks. Acquisitions from the bazaars celebrate milestones, even those as simple as adding another gold bangle to the collection for no reason at all other than the ability to do so. [Read more…]

Goldman Sachs 21st Annual Global Retail Conference Key Takeaways

The traditional September back-to-work event for investors, marking the end of the summer lull (after a hectic wrap up to Q2 earnings in August and prognosticating about the back-to-school selling season) is the Goldman Sachs annual conference. This two-day affair is chock full of investor presentations and Q&As with 50+ public companies, private equity investors and the GS team. There was no real breakthrough news at the event, and our stalwart retail leaders seem to be soldiering on working hard to create compelling customer experiences as a point of differentiation. But it’s tough out there on the retail battleground front, and omnichannel is settling in as the strategy of choice for survival.

I believe the overriding takeaway of the conference was put forth in Robin Lewis’s recent blog, The Forecast: Share Wars For Rest of 2014, that ran a week ago, which quoted Macy’s CEO, Terry Lundgren, who kicked off the conference on the first day. The blog forecasted zero growth based on Mr. Lundgren’s quote: “The rebound that we were all expecting in this year hasn’t happened. The consumer has not bounced back with the confidence that we were all looking for. And so the performance I think we had in the second quarter, and we expect to have in the second half, is going to be a continuation of what we’ve been able to do over the last several years — and that is to capture market share and get the most out of the consumers that are in our stores.” [Read more…]

Rise of the Machines

DV1035356What if you could find a new retail outlet—yet another piece of the omnichannel puzzle to enhance the in-store experience? Well, how about a vending machine?

Admittedly, it’s not the first avenue of growth that comes to mind in our high-tech, high-touch world, and not exactly the kind of impersonal customer service image that most retailers want to project. But it’s the wave of the future.

Condoms and Holy Water

The first documented vending machine showed up around 215 BC at a temple in Alexandria, Egypt. You inserted a coin in a slot at the top of the machine. Levers opened a valve and out spritzed holy water. It was designed to prevent people from taking more then they paid for and, for all you historians, an early solution to portion control and shrink. It’s been pretty much downhill from there with vending machines mostly denigrated as low-rent purveyors of cigarettes, stale chewing gum on subway platforms, and restroom condoms.

On a more personal note, I admit to having fond memories of the Coca-Cola machine at the local candy store dispensing ice-cold bottles for ten cents that cooled the body and the soul on those sweltering summer days. Or, my father tossing me a quarter during his weekly poker game in back of the hardware store to get him a pack of Luckies from “the machine.” [Read more…]

Luxury Retail: Turning Affluent Austerity into Retail Prosperity

lux_retailI got a call earlier this month from a freelance reporter who follows my beat – research on the affluent consumers and the luxury market. As she walked through the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle on her way to the subway at midday, she found the halls and high-end boutiques unexpectedly empty. The only store seeming to do any business was Whole Foods. She wanted to know, “What’s up?”

I shared a similar experience visiting the Tysons Galleria, in McLean, Virginia, located in one of the nation’s highest-income counties. Walking through the mall on a weeknight, there was a remarkable lack of customers. The most active shop in the whole place that evening was the Starbucks café. [Read more…]