Tough Retail: 7 Ways to Grow Your Consumer Brand

Seismic Changes Are Happening to Retail

Under-employment, stagnant wages, historically high school debt, credit card debt, large healthcare deductibles, staggering urban rent, first homes, weddings and new babies, is there any wonder why Millennials seek value in their discretionary purchases like apparel, accessories, footwear and home?

This is the overhang from a deep recession, the Affordable Care Act and lackluster recovery. It has given rise to the Amazon-effect, outlets, successful discounters like TJX, fast-fashion, rental, consignment and intense comparison shopping. Who can afford to pay full-price?

Practically every retailer and brand is chasing the most cash-strapped generation in decades, because the Millennial generation, ages 15-33 is now the largest population in the US, finally surpassing the much wealthier Baby Boomers and Generation X.

A quote in the Wall Street Journal on May 12, really caught my attention. “Non-discretionary spending on health, insurance, education, and housing has taken an extra 4% out of personal consumption expenditures in 2015 compared with 2000, according to Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. That has reduced the discretionary spending available for traditional retailers by $500 billon, more than the combined annual sales of Walmart Stores and Costco Wholesale combined.” No wonder  we are seriously over-stored.

Traffic is down at brick and mortar retailers, everyone is trying to explain it, but the reasons are actually quite obvious. There are huge headwinds on spending, so consumers are chasing good deals or staying home.

Online retail, even though it represents less than 10% of all purchases is the fastest growing retail channel. This reflects the ease of comparison shopping, selection and simplicity for insanely time-strapped consumers. It isn’t the best way to browse or make impulse purchases. Who goes on Amazon, just to see what’s new?

Survival Strategies in Tough Times for Consumer Brands

What should apparel, footwear, home and consumer discretionary companies do to combat intense spending headwinds? Here are seven ways to grow in tough times:

Offer brand value. Brands with a consistent, clear identity and experience will rise above the clutter and command higher prices than weak concepts and me-too products. Think Apple, Nike, Under Armour, Kate Spade, Madewell and West Elm.

Be strategically focused on core strengths. It’s necessary to test new things, but focus on your sweet spots, invest in your strengths and best brands. Don’t get romanced with low-value, expensive projects and extensions.

Value great design. Creativity and innovation create demand and pricing power. Big marketing efforts without great products to back them up, won’t fool consumers, who value authenticity.

Look for untapped markets or niche opportunities. For instance, the  underserved plus-size markets for women and men, trending activities, hot fitness trends, growing sports, hobbies, etc..

Increase DTC efforts. Many stores will close, decreasing available doors for your apparel, footwear and consumer products. Your direct to consumer efforts online, with company-owned stores, pop-up stores, partnerships, direct mail etc., will help you control your brand message and destiny.

Think beyond Millennials. Brands with cross-generational “lifestyle” appeal will weather the competitive storm better than discretionary fashion brands just targeting Millennials. Baby Boomers have the greatest wealth in the history of the US and are due to inherit even more, even though they also took a hit during the Recession.

Take risks. This is counterintuitive in bad times. Hire experienced and visionary people who can execute a well-balanced strategy of taking creative risks while covering established business.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

 

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

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7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

Great Fashion Brands Sell A Promise, Much More Than Products

It’s easy to think of fashion, consumer or retail brands that have lost substantial brand value over the decades. A great example is Talbot’s, once a venerable specialty retail force that sold customers a promise of the well-bred New England costal life. They also happened to sell preppy clothes and accessories. Over decades and several owners, the brand has been diluted to a unremarkable chain of apparel stores, a mere shadow of it’s storied past.

Great brands sell a relatable promise, values and even fantasies at an accepted value/price relationship. Products are number one, but it so much more than product. If you can’t identify and express this “magic quotient” in your fashion or retail brand, you have a serious problem. This is a big part of the “why me?” of a brand.

The “magic” is often so intangible that owners, managers, finance, merchandisers and even creative staff don’t get it. They find themselves stewards of a brand without the know-how to take it forward, without losing it’s soul. They collectively tinker with the recipe, ending up with a thin soup. Their individual actions are often random and lack a singular vision.

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

Consumer goods, especially apparel, home and footwear markets are brutally competitive today. Brand relevance and management has never been more critical in these fashion businesses. Here are 7 common fashion brand management mistakes:

  • The brand doesn’t have a clearly understood brand promise that the whole organization works from.
  • The company targets the wrong persona for the brand.
  • The products aren’t compelling and/or full of mixed messages. They extend the brand into new categories without a shepherd with a consistent vision.
  • Companies have the wrong people in key positions. Creative directors are often the brand visionary and steward for brand integrity across the organization. Hiring a poor creative leader can have disastrous results. A great creative director can get the best out of an average design and marketing team. They have to be clear , motivational leaders and able to stand up to equally senior employees in the company.
  • Companies sometimes overly-empower newly-minted designers, assuming they innately know what customers want. Experience does matter.
  • Design, merchandising and sales teams continue to repeat the same products without evolving the products for modern needs and relevance. They may be blind to demographic and fashion trends that affect the brand. Some insiders resist change.
  • Sometimes management outsources brand reinvention to branding and marketing agencies without the experience or market knowledge to make sense of the real path to growth.

Sorel,  A Perfect Case Study in Brand Evolution

Whether a brand is two, five years or many decades old, it’s value and brand promise has to be continually monitored for current relevance. It’s difficult to turn around a flagging brand, not impossible, when things have gone too far. I perfect case study is Sorel of Ontario, Canada.

Sorel was a men’s and women’s winter boot brand owned by Kaufman Rubber Company started in 1962 in Canada. At one point, they were one of the largest suppliers of waterproof “outdoor” boots in the world.

In 2000, the brand was bought out of bankruptcy for $8 million by Columbia Sportswear, of Beaverton, OR. The line plodded along until 2008, when they decided to revamp the brand. Sorel is now a big growth story at Columbia and was projected to do $200M in 2015 sales. (sales were $60M in 2009).

Sorel president Mark Nenow is quoted as saying to Bloomberg… “We’re going to make it about style, we’re going to make it about premium, we’re going to make it about design, we’re going to make it impossible to ignore.” He also said it is going to be about women, women, women.”  They started to make more feminine boot styles aimed at urban, fashion conscious women. The strategy upped the fashion ante, within the framework of brand heritage. Design and marketing delivered a consistent message. Sales grew rapidly.

They tried a pop-up shop in Manhattan in December of 2014 and it was a hit. It became their first permanent store. They recently opened a store in Burlington, MA.

This store stopped me in my tracks. It put Sorel in a whole new light for me, from “that boot brand” to “I gotta have it”.  They didn’t take the expected route of an “outdoor” store with winter and mountain references. It has a nod to heritage with their polar bear logo in a fun wall patchwork, but the brand experience is a hip, fashion store with rustic contemporary displays and lighting.

They now design a complementary  collection of innovative, “active, boot-inspired” sandals and booties that would make any fashion lover swoon, whatever the season. The newborns have the DNA of the traditional classic boots. They’re sexy, edgy and rugged.

I think about the marketing journey I travelled to see the brand as fashion, instead of functional winter boots. Fashion credibility started by seeing the boots at Nordstrom, but experiencing their store and the unique shoe collection changed my perception entirely. I can’t say I saw anything on social or other media. It was the store and the shoes that changed everything.

Sorel is the perfect example of a heritage fashion brand with a modern evolution. Genius!

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Are The Sporting Goods & Outdoor Industries in a Death Spiral

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on trends, creative direction, brand experience, business strategy, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post! 

A “Dear John” Letter to J. Crew

To Mickey Drexler

Dear Mickey,

I write you with a heavy heart. You promised me that things were going to get better between us, but you still seem to be lost. The news around town is your sales are down and your debt rating isn’t great.

For years, I have been faithful to you, buying into your ideas, filling my closet and heart with tees, shirts, pants, dresses and even suits. You were my reliable love, a high-quality guy consistently offering the expected, with enough fashion surprises, that I kept coming back for more. I could always count on you. You made my life easy.

Mark down tee shirts at J Crew.

Markdown tee shirts at J. Crew.

No one could do it better. I never missed a chance to stop by in the mall. I toss most catalogs, but always save J. Crew for my next cup of coffee. Inevitably, I would grab my cell and buy into your fantastic stories once again. You were my Svengali.

When I wrote you months ago, you promised to change, go back to the old Mickey. I think you forgot who you are, the quality, pedigreed guy with colorful new ideas. You were the diamond-in-the-rough, in a sea of mall stores with similarly dismal apparel offerings. You don’t understand the unique place you had in my mind or the mall.

Did you hang with the wrong crowd? Do you think you should play with the fast-fashion girls to be cool? You played their cheap tricks and confused me with your reckless behavior.

As casual apparel got more athletic, you missed putting a J. Crew spin on it. This revolution was about sportiness, comfort and new materials, not the same old fits and fabrics.

Your career team is on a losing streak too, poor fabrics and skimpy fits. They clearly need a new coach.

J Crew career dress.

J. Crew career dress.

Sadly, you are addicted to cropped pants, cashmere cardis and slubby tees. You don’t recognize that even classic girls evolve. Your not thinking clearly. I know you have good genes. Your kid-sister Madewell, is on track to become a star. She has a clear brand direction and a bright future.

I’m sorry to say there is someone else, named Club Monaco. I get contemporary classic fashion-with-a-twist again. I’m willing to pay higher prices for quality in a hipper environment. I’m tired of the dark-paneled woodiness and your chaotic behavior. My current love is handsome, sexy and takes me to new places. He “gets” me.

Club Monaco spring trench.

Club Monaco spring trench.

Maybe someday we will be together again? Good brand management and design is about evolution and reinvention. You need an intervention and to hang with a better crowd. Your loving family hasn’t forgotten the good man you are.

 

You may enjoy these previous posts:

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

Color Trends 2016/2017 Going Green

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on brand experience, business strategy, trends, creative direction, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

 

 

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