The teen’s fashion scene is swept by howling whirlwinds.
Lonely riders, deadly duels, high noon’s: it all reminds too well of Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, the last and, to my modest opinion, best installment of his so-called “Dollars” trilogy of “spaghetti westerns”.
Should we then rightfully tag the turbulent young fashion scene a “spaghetti fashion”?
In the original motion picture, Clint Eastwood (the Good) is a taciturn, enigmatic lone rider, searching for a cache of stolen gold against rivals Lee van Cleef (the Bad) and Eli Wallach (the Ugly).
"The real West was the world of violence, fear, and brutal instincts," claimed Leone. "In pursuit of profit there is no such thing as good and evil, generosity or deviousness; everything depends on chance, and not the best wins but the luckiest."
In the turbulent unfolding of the teen fashion market, we believe it is not the luckiest who wins, but the one with the soundest strategy. We believe failures come from poor strategic decisions, precisely from flaws in the strategies themselves, as the following facts and brand stories clearly demonstrate.
1. Abercrombie & Fitch’s turnaround
We’ve learned from last month’s rumbling news that A&F’s controversial CEO, Mike Jeffries, abruptly exited the stage.
The coup de scene followed 11 (!) straight quarters of same-store declines; 180 stores to be closed by end of 2015; one major brand, Gilly Hicks, shut down; same store sales down by 10% in 2013 and another profit warning issued for 2015, as the outlook for the current fiscal year dooms.
Much has been written on the many excruciating reasons why the teen retailer has been struggling to attract customers who have increasingly turned their backs to the brand: its weak inventory management, its premium prices through times of economic instability to mention a few of the most frequently mentioned causes.
More significantly we must introduce two crucial factors, which alienated their audience:
· Lack of understanding and response to changing fashion and market trends: reducing logo presence or removing shutters from the storefronts is not the radical, strategic change required for a turnaround business situation.
· Fierce competition from fast-fashion-forward brands: we’ll expand on this fundamental factor in the following.
2. The crumbling of a crowded group of troubled teem retailers: Wetseal, Delia’s, Deb Shops, and more (and maybe more to come?).
· Just a few weeks ago, adding up to a too long list of casualties, fashion teen retailer Wetseal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
· On the lower end of the chain, part of an unstoppable chain reaction shaking the teen’s market, Delia’s and Deb Shops shared the same dusty road to oblivion.
· The downtown LA vibe is not rescuing American Apparel from a progressive, inescapable brand appeal and identity crisis.
The list might become longer in the near future, as we witness the static, ineffective reaction of most of these brands to the irrevocable changes taking place in the teen’s marketplace.
3. The winner of the gold cache: H&M (and a victorious cluster of fast fashion brands, the likes of Zara, Forever 21, and more).
The advent and overwhelming expansion of the so-called fast fashion or fashion forward retailers is unanimously deemed to be the devastating force shaping the teen fashion market (the other crucial factor being the increasing relevance in the teen’s purchasing set of indirect competing products, such as technology).
· Cheap-and-chic is the new fashion credo, which has converted millions of young consumers to the stylish, fashion-forward, eclectic and, significantly enough, accessible product offers from these (mostly European) brands.
· The business models on which these retailers operate are phenomenally modern, and successfully aligned to consumers’ lifestyles on the one hand, as well as to the fast paced digital world on the other: a marvelous case of cultural integration.
· These brands create, develop and deliver fresh, up to date merchandise to the sales floor every three weeks, rotating their sales floors more than twelve times per year, hypnotically attracting and engaging customers with their fashionable collections.
· Their product offerings cater to a wide array of consumers, with different body types and needs. And their pricing strategy is accessible. In a word, their approach to fashion is democratic: how striking the contrast with the Abercrombie’s of the world, exclusively and narrow-mindedly targeting the “beautiful people” (to use Jeffrie’s words) of the world.
In the original film, though dubbed "the Good, Eastwood’s character is not much better than his opponents -- he is just smarter and shoots faster.
The same applies here to the fast fashion retailers in our “spaghetti fashion”. Smarter and shooting faster: which is the difference between life and death, in the wild, wild, West (read fashion?).
On a sunny but bitter cold December weekend in New York City, my 10 year old son and two friends of his excitingly set on to an epic yard sale. Their state of excitement strikingly clashed with the total lack of enthusiasm on my side, since I was appointed to be the accompanying parent.
But, to my surprise, I was totally wrong: at the end of the day that triumphant sales event (because it was phenomenally successful) opened my eyes on so many sales tasks, behaviors and dysfunctions we experience on a daily basis in our field work with accounts and sales forces.
And this sales effectiveness lesson was not coming from one of the many award winning specialized sales books bookstore shelves abound with, nor from the copious slide decks we all ingurgitate from strategic planning sessions and motivational off-sites once or twice a year, when the sales troops are rallied for the incumbent sales campaign: they were candidly coming from my son’s first ever yard sale.
The event was preceded by a feverish preparation work, the strategic planning session, sitting on the sidewalk curbside: I witnessed a structured, almost disciplined sequence of the most important facts and activities of a classic preliminary situational analysis:
1. Merchandise selection: a pile of Rick Riordan books so new I wondered whether they’d actually read them before the drastic decision to part from them; and a hodgepodge of miscellaneous toys and card games. Though partly determined by inventory, it was clear that the key drivers for their core assortment were (a) target consumer and (b) product knowledge
2. Pricing strategy: participated discussions, at times heated, as to what ideal price positioning would result in the highest sell-through at the end of the day (and the greatest profits for the partners). Again here the “partners” showed solid knowledge of what the perceived correct price points would be for their target and they had clear talking points as to how to support the competitiveness of their proposition
3. Micro-location for the pop up shop: they had eyed a corner in the playground across the street, usually a “high traffic” area, and, most importantly, with highly qualified footfall, in terms of target consumer relevance.
4. Roles & Responsibilities. My favorite part: the “partners” aligned on roles and responsibilities each one of them was to perform in the collective enterprise (prospect outreach, merchandiser/visual merchandiser/product knowledge, closing the deal, etc.)
Objectives scope and advantage coherently articulated: in an intuitive way indeed, still clear strategic statement formulation.
The shop doors opened shortly after and the inception couldn’t be more successful: great footfall and great conversion, through a concerted effort from the three salespeople: Percy Jackson was a great hit, as their product strategy had clearly pointed out.
But soon the footfall started declining and, as we’ve seen much too often in real life sales, quota and budget panic assaulted our three little salespeople, who fell into the trap of randomly reaching out to each and every “prospect” in the playground: from sleepy guarding Grandma’s to crawling two year old children.
How often have we deviated from our target customer or consumer, thus misaligning strategy and sales, for the sake of making quota or saving a budget in extremis? As the adage says, “Every customer is not a customer”: and my son and his friends had the unfortunate experience of it, as their sales per minute started suffering after the initial hype of the new opening.
At the end of the day the sales was successful whatsoever: again intuitively, they turned their focus on re-merchandising their product offer (with replenishments from their best sellers) as well as improving the visual component of the shop, attracting more potential customers and – hail to the power of brand advocates – non customers who ended up shopping for their grandchildren and friends’ children.
It was indeed a successful yard sale, which made a lasting effect on the protagonists as well as on myself.
My personal sales effectiveness learning from the event is threefold:
1. Business strategy is key: I feel this is never enough said. Strategy is about he choices we make in the attempt to achieve competitive advantage in a market. What appeared even more important to me is that many key choices are implicit in the many decisions we take in the flow of running the business.
2. One of the key determinants of effective sales tasks is customer selection and profiling: the value proposition you create for your brand must be delivered to the customer set you have identified as core to your strategy, if you wish your growth to be sustainable and profitable over time.
3. Strategy must be aligned with sales and vice versa: success is decreed in the marketplace and needs us to bridge the gap between the big-picture strategy and the field execution.
It was a cold December day in the city: many hours later, my son and his friends were excitingly counting their earnings and planning on the next yard sale, building on the experience and learnings from their first event.
And I can’t wait to be part of it again.
I was recently interviewed by Mark Kersteen, Editor at Incite, on one of my favorite themes: Multichannel Brand Experience. Well, actually, you might argue, one of everyone's favorites…
Lingerie Goes Multichannel
Sep 2 2014
Triumph, the nearly 130 year-old multinational lingerie and undergarment company, is going through some changes. I recently had the chance to sit down with their Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, Mario Pace, and talk about them. You’ll be able to hear Mario expound on this topic in person, along with marketers from the Weather Company and Hiscox Insurance, at Incite Summit: East.
Triumph is a venerable, well-established, and hugely successful brand throughout Europe and Asia. Recently, they’ve begun moving into the North American market. As they’ve been expanding into the US, they’ve also taken a thorough look into how they run their marketing.
“Right now at Triumph, we’re in a very delicate and important transition phase from marketing 1.0 and 2.0 into marketing… something else.”
You see, most lingerie marketing hasn’t been quick to adopt new practices.
“Traditionally, lingerie marketing is about a flawless picture of a woman under a spotlight, and nothing else. Traditional print is what most of the brands do, if they do it. Most of the time they don’t even do that.”
Mario and his department are trying to be different.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do at Triumph today, specifically with the launch in the USA, is to develop more of a multichannel, 360 degree marketing approach. Trying to shift resources, efforts, and energies to the digital space, big time. Trying to engage in conversation. Trying to make content that promotes and is a vehicle for that conversation.”
“We need to engage with what we believe is key to the consumer. We have identified a brand pillar: the fit. Not sexiness, not seductiveness. It’s the fit.”
And if anyone has the experience and know-how to do that, it’s Triumph:
“We’ve been around for 130 years. We know women, we’ve been shaping women since 1886. We’ve been seeing and fitting women from corsets to modern bras. We want to entertain that conversation on fitting issues and fitting needs, because that’s the background and foundation of our company.”
However, this shift or return to a fitting focus didn’t come from just anywhere.
“In the past, it was all studio shots under beautiful lights. Kind of aloof, kind of distant. We started asking ourselves the question: ‘Is this what women really want?’ That woman looking for self-confidence, for advice from a brand, is that what she really wants?”
That question was the beginning of a comprehensive, organization-restructuring customer first initiative.
“Last year, we interviewed, 10,000 women from 6 different countries, and we asked them: ‘Are you happy with your underwear?’ We discovered 69% of them were wearing the wrong sized bra. From there, we started an ongoing listening report, which triggers from digital and feeds all the way down into the customer experience.”
This has led to a demand for completely new roles in Triumph’s marketing department.
“What we need in-house are digital strategists, people who know how to intercept and listen to what the conversations are, what people are asking on Google, what they’re saying on Twitter, and from there building the proper strategy to own that space.”
Mario and his team are finding that, with these new roles, they’re able to be a part of a growing conversation.
“When we bring in people with these competences and explain what the needs of the brand are, we’re finding it’s a wonderful match. People with no experience in our industry—but with experience in engagement and listening—discover the potential of the conversation.”
By listening to their customers and finding this new discussion space, Triumph is trying to change not only the way people look at their brand, but at how they look at their own bodies.
“We’re trying to morph a taboo: talking about your body, talking about the ‘glitches’ in your body, the intimate, difficult moments. We’re trying to change that from being a weakness to being a point of differentiation and strength. Up until a few years ago, we would have thought that this was too intimate a place, that we couldn’t even get there. But now we’re untapping great potential.”
With this new focus, Triumph is looking towards an entirely different marketing future.
“I believe in the future, with this multi-channel, omni-channel business approach, the marketing department here in Triumph in the US will have to grow to include and incorporate a more multifaceted marketing department. We’ll definitely need to have an experiential marketing expert who can weave that brand experience through our different channel—be they brick and mortar, online, or in different departments. As the business grows, the content and editorial side needs to grow as well. The conversation will go on as we uncover new areas, even within the fitting topic itself. For that we definitely need content specialists, and the people who know how to editorialize the brand message.”
So as Triumph expands across the US, you’ll be able watch in real time as an old brand learns new tricks, and see what happens when a company that’s been around for over a century makes listening to and engaging with their customers in new ways its first priority.
“It might not sound like new music for people working in other categories out there. But for us, it’s a radical revolution. It’s a Copernican revolution.”
The Retail Game Has Changed
Very interesting read from The Business Insider: a sharp analysis on how the retail game is changing, which explains some of the recent shifts in consumption patterns and shopping behavior in the USA.
November 1st 2013 marks the official launch of triumph.com in the USA: consumers across the nation can now shop the Maker of Lingerie's iconic collections 24/7 on the online store www.us.triumph.com.
After the first two brick & mortar stores recently opened in Long Island, NY, Triumph reaches out to American women across the nation, offering its variety in lingerie, loungewear and swimwear, from the classic, evergreen Amourette to he fashionable shape wear, from its seductive Helena Christensen for Triumph collections to the recently launched Accessories lines.
Another milestone in the expansion of the brand in the USA!
Enjoy (and shop) on www.triumph.com!
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Triumph's second store in the USA!
Triumph, the Maker of Lingerie
Consumers Prefer to Get Intimate with Cotton Innerwear
From August 1, 2013 online edition of WWD, excerpts from my recent interview on trends in Intimate Apparel.
The article focuses on materials and fabrications, namely the importance of cotton and the challenge to make it glamourous and attractive beyond its undisputable natural comfort.
Today's intimates are so varied in color, style, sexiness and fun they bear almost no resemblance to underthings of even the recent past. But one thing has not changed: how much consumers appreciate the comfort of cotton in their underthings, which presents a growth opportunity for makers who incorporate it into their collections.
Triumph International is entering the U.S. intimates market later this month without its men's collections, instead focusing on women's to start. The Munich-based innerwear company, which generates $2.1 billion internationally, will launch here with two stores in New York.
Triumph's cotton offering includes its Body Make Up Cotton-Feel collection, which was introduced with the fall/winter '13 collections.
"Our consumers like that it is a natural fiber against the skin," says Triumph's Mario Pace, vice president of brand and marketing. The cotton-rich material is blended with stretch, "which over time maintains the durability and fit. The cotton has a very compact texture with a shine to it, which adds to the glamour of it. In other words, we made cotton glamorous."
Meanwhile, Pace says Triumph's Body Make Up bra is the perfect for every day. It was customer preference that persuaded the company to add more natural fibers and fabrications.
"The logical next step was to incorporate cotton into the offering of everyday ranges," Pace says. "The Cotton-Feel collection has the same benefits and features of the best-selling Body Make Up line. It takes natural fibers and the latest technology in terms of material and workmanship to create everyday garments with a luxury feel."
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