Wrong Prescription for Coach’s Ills

Coach continues its downward slide. Sales in 3rd quarter 2015, dropped 15%. Some blame currency issues and the over-proliferation of outlet stores. Note to leadership, it’s the merchandise. Stuart Vevers strategy is stodgy, European and not much fun. The sleepy handbags are more matron than Millennial. Note to pundits, Millennials love outlet shopping. I still contend that their turnaround strategy is seriously flawed and too dependent on overly competitive apparel. I wrote this post in 2014 and not much has changed except Michael Kors and Kate Spade are hitting some headwinds, as well.

Coach’s 2014 first quarter profit fell 20%, while aspirational fashion rivals such as Michael Kors and Kate Spade continue to ratchet impressive gains. Coach experienced a steep drop in North American accessories sales. Coach’s strategy for slumping sales is a planned full lifestyle assortment, to include apparel and a greater emphasis on higher priced bags over $400, the volume sweet spot.  They recently hired a new creative director Stuart Vevers, to take over for Reed Krakoff (who is resigning); his first product introductions will be in Fall 2014.

Coach spring 2014 styles

Coach spring 2014 styles

As a Coach watcher and stock holder, this strategy goes down like bad medicine. Instead of aiming to win in the sweet spot, they are abdicating to the competition. Michael Kors’ apparel is a footnote to his successful handbags, watches and shoes. Kate Spade offers some of the most whimsical, colorful, bags, shoes and accessories and apparel is secondary. Tory Burch is a shoe and bag story with apparel paling in comparison.

Accessories are the democratic categories in which women of all ages and sizes can play, women’s apparel is stuck in a highly competitive funk.

Coach was riding high, in the early 2000’s. Their then colorful, fresh, “C” logoed bags were the “it” bags for the aspirational designer masses. Over time, they became ubiquitous, as every hairdresser and soccer mom carried them. As they down-trended, they didn’t follow with renewed  innovation, instead made the critical mistake of looking back and doing a rehash of the sturdy, vintage Legacy styles. These unrefined bags, although colorful, looked like a clunky 1980’s LeBaron instead of a chic 2013 Audi. The competition was forging ahead with exciting materials, color and patterns, like Michael Kors’ glam styles, Kate Spade’s playful totes and tech cases, the silicone Furla Candy bag and styles by Rebecca Minkoff, Marc Jacobs, Ted Baker and Longchamp.

The current assortment is sleepy at best. It feels like a lightly-veiled nod to Salvatore Ferragamo. They played it safe and sexless. There is no emotional must-have draw. Even with 25% off coupons, one is hard pressed to spend the deal. The prospect of a larger selection in the $600 plus range is a miscalculation of opportunity. They need to focus on modern, forward  materials, shapes and details in the $400 range sweet spot; then offer additional showstoppers in the $600 plus range.

Coach went too safe.

Coach went too safe.

A  key asset for Coach is their well-priced, quality shoe line. They offer slightly more wearable shoe heights than Kors and at prices lower than Kate Spade. I hope they don’t think they need to raise prices and heel heights to get a new customer. Maintain the $198 average price point and expand the selection to include more options of fashion-forward sandals, pumps, wedges, loafers and boots.

This great American brand has had a small stumble. When you take fashion risks as good brands do, you will trip-up sometimes. This brand has a cold, but certainly isn’t terminal. They just need the right prescription for renewed health.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

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