So here I am, sitting on a banquette at the new shoe department in KADEWE, Berlin. Waiting.
It reminded me of another time I sat on a banquette at the then brand new shoe department in Selfridges, London. Or was it at Galeries Lafayette, Paris? Or at Saks in New York? One thing is sure. I had been waiting way too often, definitely too long.
In the past couple of years, shoe departments in super stores have been revived and put into real focus. They have become huge, beautiful, well-lit temples dedicated to most probably women’s favourite thing to buy. They have included confortable seating options, integrated incredible numbers of brands and so many styles. They are inhabited by smiling staff and visited by swarms of excited customers.
Yet, more often than not, if you take a good look, the majority of the customers you see around you are waiting. And the sales consultants are either out of breath or just nowhere to be seen.
Why? Because they spend their time going to some remote stock area getting the requested sizes, coming back with piles of boxes, going out again etc.
Customers get impatient and even sometimes leave, tired of waiting, wondering why the consultant doesn’t intuitively and automatically come back with half size options, other available colours…
And what should be a fabulous experience driven by a real passion becomes a terrible drag. For the customer – who feels robbed of their time and get bored. But for the consultants as well, who by the way would love to bring options and size alternatives, but they simply cannot carry all those boxes through those distances all the time.
The problem is that those stores are often built by people who don’t know anything about all this. They usually are architects who get a map of the space, a brief from a manager – or a vision from the creative director herself – and get to work. They make beautiful drawings where every inch of the space is used to sell. They show how every brand can be hosted and brought to its true expression. How the shoes can be displayed to tempt and arouse. And very often they do a very good job. And the people who commission them are very happy with the results and greenlight the projects. The only problem is that they forget the customer, the sales consultant. And the process of buying shoes – or anything else that come in sizes, by matter of fact.
The new shoe department at KADEWE is beautiful. It has niches – real shops in shop – for the big, famous brands such as Prada or Jimmy Choo. But the real fun is in the quirky, lesser-known brands that cannot be found everywhere and that are displayed at the centre. And that’s where the problem begins. For if you want to try on something you like and your size is something else than the usually displayed 37 (or 38), you have to wait. You would think that the large cubic display tables would have some storage capabilities – they are quite massive – but no. They are what they are, just displays. You would think that someone would have pity upon those consultants who spend their time hopping back and forth to the storage area – but no. And after the 5th time this person disappears to get you something, your own initial pity is replaced by impatience and a sense that your experience has ceased to be fun.
One example of a shoe store where someone has put some thought into the shopping experience is a chain called Humanic : they have a really clever store in Berne, Switzerland. They sell high street brands and their location is very central. And some clever person came up with a brilliant idea. At Humanic Berne, if you see a shoe you like, you can take it, walk towards a barcode scanner mounted on the wall and scan the reference. The scanner display immediately shows you what sizes are available and if you see yours – and maybe a size alternative – you press it on the screen. A few seconds later, the box containing the shoe you requested in sliding down a conveyor belt at the end of the store, where a large seating area has been installed. You take your box, try your shoes on and if you are satisfied, you just go and pay. What you don’t want you either leave there or hand the box to a sales consultant.
So what am I saying here? To all the managers, creative directors, architects, merchandisers, decorators and chief executives of flagship stores, department stores or any kind of store I am saying: please think.
Those huge tables/cubes at Kadewe? Turn them into cabinets and put your most popular models in there. Those empty walls? Transform them into invisible storage. The beautiful space at Selfridges? Make it work so the customer is not under the impression that their sales consultant had to take the tube to Acton to get the shoes. That central till where a line forms every Saturday way past closing time? Multiply it. Make it mobile. Make it self-checkout. There are so many things that can be done. You just need to think.
Think of the experience you want to offer your customers. Think of the way you want your staff to spend most of their time (running vs. interacting with customers) and THEN design your stores. Be ingenuous, be creative. You don’t know how? Get someone who has done this before to show you. Test your new concepts with real customers. Include sales staff into your decisions. Think of the every detail of the experience and keep in mind that it’s all in the small details.
A year ago, I was surprised by Jones New York’s campaign that portrayed stern, menacing woman ready to conquer the workplace and felt compelled to write about it (link to this post).
Today I am happy to say that they have probably understood what women in the workplace are really all about. Working but also playing. Working hard nowadays also should mean that you can also take a minute and smile – even laugh – about something. And women most certainly know how to do this. I am now working for a company that employs mainly women and believe me when I say that while they are doing an amazing job, those women never miss an opportunity to joke and laugh.
I don’t know if Jones New York took my advice (one can always hope…) or whether they did some research, but they most certainly have got it right now.
The second you enter the Six Senses spa in Paris, you feel peace.
Opened in December 2009, the Six Senses spa is a unique breed in the Parisian beauty and wellbeing landscape. Designed by architect Pierre David, it is the French dépendance of the Bangkok-based Six Senses Resorts and Spas. Managed by Nathalie Abi-Khalil, a young Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne graduate who has an innate notion of service and customer orientation, Six Senses is a venture by Sonu and Eva Shivdasani who have opened superlative spas and resorts all over the world, all spelled out according to what they call the SLOW LIFE philosophy. Besides meaning that at Six Senses customers should be able to simply unwind and take the time to enjoy the best life has to offer, SLOW LIFE is the acronym for Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning Inspiring, Fun, Experiences – eight words that dictate the way the resorts and the spas are designed and run.
The Six Senses spa Paris is located under the arcades on 3, Rue du Castiglione, the street that connects the prestigious place Vendôme to the Jardin des Tuileries.
When you walk by the floor to ceiling windows, the first thing that catches your eye is the wall garden. Designed by Patrick Blanc, the lush green strip is such an unexpected sight, a surprising element amid the urban greyness of Paris, that it somehow has the power to instantly transport you into a different world.
And once you get in, you feel this peace. No matter if you are just popping in to make an appointment, buy a Sensory Box for someone you would like to pamper (this is what their gift certificate is called and believe me it will change your perception of gift certificates for ever) or get a spa treatment, the feeling is there.
The door of the Six Senses spa does not open by itself nor do you need to push it. It’s opened for you. The second you stand in front of the sliding glass door, an attentive member of staff will let you in. You won’t see anyone, because the entrance level floor only hosts a rather confidential, eclectic retail space selling exclusive and beautifully packaged Aromatherapy Associates and Voya products and of course the wall garden, but someone has definitely seen you. And so it begins. Without you really having to say or do much, at Six Senses spa you will be served, listened to, pampered, treated with much respect and as much discretion. If you have come in for a spa treatment, you will be covered in honey, scrubbed with salt, wrapped in seaweed, massaged with heavenly oils, kneaded by expert hands, only given advice if solicited, served fresh ginger tea to complete your journey while contemplating a live feed of the Parisian landscape projected on the walls and sent home feeling happy, relaxed, peaceful.
So what is it that makes customers become Six Senses devotees, some having up to 3 weekly standing appointments? What makes them want to go there as often as they can, send their friends and tell everyone they know that there is no better place to be in order to get rebalanced, rebooted, even?
Sure it’s the structure and the architecture: the wood and paper treatment cocoons instantly make you feel safe and calm. And the live camera feed of Paris projected on the walls certainly makes the relaxation area very special.
It must be the expertly concocted treatments and elegantly choreographed rituals that also make you want to spend the day being taken care of.
Or is it this unique combination of expertise, empathy, soft voice and smiling face you encounter in each and every member of the staff?
Well, I think what makes this spa unique, what makes it a sort of surreal universe where you feel safe and intimately know that everything that will happen to you will invariably be good, is the combination of it all.
At the Six Senses Paris spa they have understood that each and every element within their space and their power has to be thoroughly thought through, meticulously designed but also designed to be part of a whole. And they really know that it’s their people that make the difference, because customers will not come back for the brand, they will come back for the person who made them feel so great.
And this is where I think that retailers can learn from Six Senses Paris – they should understand that everything they do must be designed according to their philosophy and with no compromise, that it should be done within a clear vision and while never losing the big picture. And they should really understand that no matter how great their product, their advertising, their promises, their philosophy, it’s ultimately the person who will deliver upon them who will make the difference.
If retailers do this consistently, they will necessarily create an atmosphere. And whether it is peace or energy or any other positive feeling this atmosphere is loaded with, you will definitely sense it.
This holiday season, playfulness seems to be “du jour”. A few rather clever retailers have decided that the economy and its miseries have been going on long enough and that they needed to diffuse a new mood: playful.
Selfridges in London currently looks like a giant toy store, a superlative playroom designed to fulfill the wildest fantasies of that kid who still is alive and well somewhere in each and one of us. The windows are an explosion of colors, toys are everywhere, mixed and displayed with other items such as bags, shoes, ties, clothes, books, makeup…you name it, it’s in there.
Inside the store, bouquets of glossy balloons in vibrant colors asking you to “Come & Play” are suspended or framing pink neon signs spelling out brand names – suddenly every brand seems more fun, whether it’s no-nonsense Laura Mercier, Clinique or the perenially fun Benefit, they all get that special extra dose of playfulness that makes their products even more covetable. In the Wonder Room, a dedicated section named “Play Lounge” hosts a selection of curated items that made that little girl inside me not believe her eyes: in what looks like a giant Rubik’s cube that exploded and created a multitude of fun stuff, the whole space just makes you want to stay there for hours, touch, try and buy everything you ever dreamed of as a child: colored pencils contained in wooden holders (in the same colors as the pencils they are holding), Pantone notebooks in vibrant hues neatly organized, touchable, quirky limited edition dolls , Lego jewelry, a crazy Barbie foosball table… everything is sure to make a fantastic Christmas present.
With a very similar look&feel, Kiehl’s have also decided to go playful and use Jeff Koons’ glossy art while supporting the Koons Family Institute – they definitely make your holiday shopping more enjoyable and help a good cause. Additionally to the limited edition Crème de Corps, beautiful gift boxes are there for you to fill with your favorite products and give to those you love.
Taking playful to a more personal, intimate level, Tiffany’s decided to add a pinch of magic and created fairytale tableaux, stories for you to imagine, under the “Once upon a time” theme. Every window is different and never fails to transport you to beautiful imaginary places (Richard, you are a true artist!).
And I just read a post by Heather Strang on the Retail Design Diva blog that an artist named Nathalie Wetzel designed a Christmas tree entirely made of marshmallows for Peeps&Co – talk about taking a child’s fantasy to the next level…(click here to see what it looks like)
This holiday season, all retailers are afraid that the still ongoing crisis will affect their most important shopping weeks and many have gone to new levels to ignite the desire in their customers.
But those who decided to wake up that kid in you are those who really got it right: if they can make you look at the world with the dreamy eyes of a child, you will definitely get some of that belief that the future still holds great things to come. And it won’t just make you buy, it will make you feel better, it will make you hope. And isn’t this ultimately the main purpose of the holidays – feeling joy and hope in order to kick-start that truly great new year to come?
Aesop was a slave, a storyteller who lived in Ancient Greece between 620 and 560 B.C. His stories – or fables – always contained a moral connotation and learning of some sort and they are among the best known in the world. Aesop’s fables have been adapted in many languages and dialects, by eminent poets and popular bards and have been used across many centuries for the moral education of children, because they used finesse and storytelling to explain ethical and humanistic concepts in a simple, entertaining manner. Being initially French educated, I can still remember Jean de La Fontaine’s “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (The Grasshopper and the Ant) and it has been one of my favorite fables since age 8– even though I never have managed to apply its learnings to myself…
Aesop is also the name of company founded in Melbourne, Australia in 1987 that makes beautifully packaged, great-smelling products for the face, body and hair. Mainly plant-based, Aesop products also include non-botanical ingredients that are effective while remaining safe and gentle.
The first time I saw an Aesop cream was about 7 years ago in London, at the Liberty Beauty Hall space that has now become a COS store. Amid the colorful displays and the kaleidoscopic makeup counters, the Aesop table clearly stood out: rows of dark jars and bottles bearing white labels inscribed in a clean, very modern font –to me they looked as if they contained a remedy composed by a modern-day alchemist. I was intrigued. And when the saleswoman put a dab of some heavenly scented cream on my hand, I was hooked. I bought the cream which was labeled “Relax Aromatique Body Balm – 2003-04 Vintage” and I still have a little left in the glass preciously stored in my bathroom cabinet. The cream still smells great, by the way – absolutely no signs of aging – and I dab some on my pulse points from time to time – frankincense, bergamot and an irresistible blend just make me feel wonderful.
Throughout the years I have regularly bought Aesop products from small, niche boutiques and I can safely say that it has been a brand that always attracted my eye. But what I saw a few days ago in London really surprised me and beyond simple attraction, it made me love Aesop. I was walking on Westbourne Grove, when the familiar packaging caught my eye. I saw that it was a standalone boutique and crossed the street to look closer.
It was a store with the simplest design: dark shelves with the products displayed – sometimes in rigorous order and sometimes in a calculated mess –, clean and minimalistic but as I came closer I could not repress a smile. The floor of this simple, very graphic store was literally covered with tree leaves. And the two employees were walking around organising the products and their footsteps made this unmistakable crisp noise that I could hear from the outside and that instantly made me want to talk a long walk in a forest or a park.
So I go in. And I suddenly remember that I have always wanted to try the Geranium Leaf Body Balm – and particularly after my friend Romaine had told me that the smell of Geranium kept toxic people away…-
The inside of the store is really very simple: three units of 3-tier black tables are displayed behind each other, a white ceramic sink at the far end of the store and on the right hand side the same 3-tier table with the cash register, a few glass containers filled with products and the house perfumes on it. The walls have names of writers and poets as well as quotes written on them.
The products are displayed in rows and sometimes the bottom shelves contain blank books or tubes of product in a pile. Aesop have also composed a few kits that contain series of products – those kits are named after streets where Aesop stores are located: Rue St Honoré (Paris), Oberdorfstrasse (Zurich), Westbourne Grove (London)…and they add a fresh graphical element to the whole store. In all, the store is very simple, uses no-fuss furniture and lets the products be the stars in their own, understated way.
The cream I would like to purchase is called Geranium Leaf Body Balm is in a bright green tube (and with just one other body balm in an orange tube constitute the only real colours in the store) and I spot it immediately. I tell the smiling young lady that it is what I would like, she asks if I just want the cream or the whole kit I say just the cream, she wraps it in a fabric pouch, makes me try two perfumes that I was interested in smelling, gives me a few samples to try, I pay, take a few pictures and leave. Perfect.
After spending a week in London looking at many beautiful stores in their Christmas attire, the only store I felt like writing about is Aesop. It somehow touched me. And I think many retailers could learn a moral lesson from Aesop – sometimes keeping it simple, letting the product shine and adding a whimsical idea that makes people have a happy thought and smile is all that is required to make you fall in love.
I am very excited to announce that I will be speaking at the In-Store Marketing event that will take place on 25 November in London. My topic will be: “Mystery Shopper Secrets – Uncovered”. I will be sharing some of my mystery shopping findings as well as my experience with the retailing of telecommunications and entertainment products and services.
For more details: http://www.instoremarketingevents.com/?paged=2
Make sure you don’t miss this unique event that will be focusing on the most compelling retail marketing initiatives available in retail today.And let me know if you need any VIP access.
Looking forward to seeing you all there!
Modern elegance, perennial craftsmanship
Since its foundation in 1837, Hermès has always been a staple of craftsmanship, a dedication to quality and the synonym of French elegance.What had begun as a saddle shop became a lifestyle brand – probably the most luxurious of them all -, creating products to suit the evolving needs of its discerning customers. From sports goods to handbags, from couture to jewelry to fragrance and tableware, Hermès products possess a unique combination of cutting edge modernism, timeless elegance and traditional savoir-faire.
Hermès had very quickly understood the importance of symbols. In the early 1950‘s – just before marketing and advertising boomed and became the vehicles for consumption – they created their logo and made a certain shade of orange their own, using it for its packaging and its print materials: the Hermès brand had become the unmistakable synonym of luxurious French elegance.
Over the years, Hermès products became highly coveted objects of desire, worn and carried by movie stars, royalty and jet-setters and Hermès – in a visionary marketing “coup de génie” – quickly identified this as an opportunity they could not miss.
- Created in 1937, the “sac à dépêches” handbag became the “Kelly bag” after a photograph of Grace Kelly – the new princess of Monaco – carrying it was published in Life magazine. Everybody back then wanted to be as classy and stylish as Princess Grace and the already quite popular bag became a must-have, a status it still currently enjoys.
- In 1959 the Constance bag was launched. Its sleek design was the perfect companion to the prim, sleek outfits of Jackie Onassis, who adopted it. It became otherwise known as the “Jackie O” and the waiting lists have not diminished since.
- In 1984, an accidental plane encounter between actress/singer Jane Birkin and Hermès Chairman Jean-Louis Dumas, resulted in the creation of “the Birkin”, a bag that has been at the top of the ultimate accessory list ever since.
Hermès continue to create great products to this day, innovating while stubbornly maintaining the tradition of craftsmanship.
Defining cool elegance, winning a brand new customer
Jean-Louis Dumas – who became the Chairman of Hermès in the late 1970’s – knew that, in order to survive in the post-1968 world, he had to initiate big changes. In 1978, he ran an advertisement portraying a jeans-clad young woman wearing a Hermès scarf and turned the brand image around. Hermès was no longer a brand for older people who spent weekends riding and hunting; it had also become the purveyor of fine goods for a young generation who valued quality and aspired to achieve effortless elegance.
Throughout the 1980’s, Hermès – who remained a favorite among the rich and famous – kept on catering to the younger generation. It even was integrated by name in a fashion movement that was a counter-reaction to punk and new wave, very popular in France, Belgium, Luxemburg and Switzerland : CPCH the acronym of “Collier de perles, carré Hermès” was the 18-year old version of BCBG or “Bon Chic Bon Genre” who just got her first pearl necklace and Hermès scarf…
It was also in the 1980’s that Hermès hired young up and coming designer Eric Bergère. The talented Esmod graduate held the position of creative director until 1987 and kept the brand attractive to the young without scaring off the older generations of loyal customers.
Injecting cutting-edge, avant-garde style
The next phase of taking the brand further was marked by the appointment of Martin Margiela as artistic director in 1987. Margiela, a graduate of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts (that had produced the avant-garde collective the Antwerp Six) had worked for Jean-Paul Gaultier from 1985 to 1987 before founding his own brand in 1989.
From 1997 to 2004, Margiela created a series of beautifully cut, understated clothes in incredibly luxurious fabrics. Invisible to the eye of the media and working in the shadow, Margiela and his work were only known to the edgy fashion connoisseurs. And if his time at Hermès was not acknowledged nor appreciated to its real value by the “masses”, Margiela injected Hermès with a dose of avant-garde, while keeping its heritage intact.
In 2004 generation X was already making money and generation Y was on its way, so what is better than giving them an icon of their youth, the man who brought corsets back – but this time as a piece of clothing and not underwear -, and who dressed Madonna on her way to pop queendom? Jean-Paul Gaultier the “enfant terrible” of French fashion was hired as creative director. At Hermès, Jean-Paul Gaultier stayed true to himself while assimilating the Hermès DNA and he did what he did best. He took the classics, he took the icons and transformed them into elements of fabulous cool.
Jean-Paul Gaultier created Hermès ultra-luxe versions of the clothes he did so well and re-invented the Hermès iconic pieces. Several versions of the Kelly and the Birkin were created, again attracting a whole new breed of clientele who could now express their cool difference with accessories their mothers did not possess.
In May 2010, it was announced that Christophe Lemaire, creative director of Lacoste, would replace Jean-Paul Gaultier and his first collection would be for Fall 2011, showing in March of the same year in Paris.
Below are a few examples of the iconic products that have been re-created during the Jean-Paul Gaultier era
Le carré – a legend on its own
Created in 1937, the Hermès scarf was created. The first motif was called “Jeu des Omnibus et Dames blanches”. A dedicated scarf factory was set up in Lyon. Today the Hermès scarf represents 60% of Hermès’ revenue.
Hermès wanted to have a unique product and controlled the production of the scarves from purchasing the Chinese raw silk that allowed them to weave the twill – the heaviest scarf silk on the market- to hand-printing and hand-rolling each and every piece.
From the very beginning, Hermès used the scarves as an opportunity to showcase talented artists and make their work available to the public in a new, disruptive way. Hermès currently produces two scarf collections per year and to over 2’500 motifs have been printed to date.
Similarly to what they have done with the apparel and accessories, Hermès decided to take the scarf cult to the next level : in 2003 they hired the stylist Bali Barret as creative director for silk. And Barret delivered. Whether by creating new dimensions, introducing new silks or new printing techniques, she strengthened the icon status of the carré and, in true Hermès manner, managed to keep its soul while transforming its body.
Pushing the “alternative art showcase” a bit further, Hermès produced a limited edition of 6 carrés in hommage to Josef Albers, the Bauhaus-era artist.
Hermès scarves have become collector items and the subject of a real following by millions of fans.
Hermès stores – temples of a lifestyle
The first Hermès store was opened in 1880 at 24, Rue du Faubourg St Honoré in Paris, next to the Palais de l’Elysée. This store is still open for business and the building hosts the Hermès headquarters.
The Hermès store expansion took place in the 1970’s, with Hermès opening in multiple locations across Europe, the US and Japan.
Very early, Hermès understood the importance of location and the concept of “very local marketing” combined with a real understanding of the evolution of retail and has always managed to give its stores a local touch, adapted to its surroundings and its customers while keeping them true to the brand values and philosophy.
In the 1990’s, Hermès started to reduce the number of franchises while increasing own stores, in order to better control its image and sales.
In the 2000’s, the Hermès stores were re-designed, becoming lighter, more modern, more appealing to a new generation of young customers – shopping was a main activity for generation X who now had the means to spend seriously and generation Y was not very far behind. Just in time for the unprecedented luxury brand frenzy of the noughties, Hermès was ready.
The architect of choice for Hermès was Rena Dumas. Until her death at the age of 71, the wife of Jean-Louis Dumas continuously created new Hermès shops that perfectly fit in their surroundings and maintained the brand identity, while never being the same. The legacy of Rena Dumas is perpetuated by the team that is working at her eponymous firm RDAI (Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure).
Hermès Madison Homme
In 2010 Hermès opened a new kind of shop New York’s Madison Avenue: Hermès Madison Homme.
A men’s only store, it anticipates the real emergence of the sophisticated, luxury male shopper, a shopper who wants to shop at brands that really know what he needs and give him the real space he deserves as a real consumer. In order to indulge in Hermès, he no longer has to shop in a dominantly ladies’ store do, within a small space dedicated to his presumably much smaller needs…he doesn’t even need to take the ladies with him anymore. He has become knowledgeable in the matters of style…
The store has four floors totaling 2450 square feet and gives the customer the feeling that he is perusing a beautifully executed walk-in closet…
Hermès@Liberty – pop-up magic
In 2009, Hermès ventured into a new territory. After opening a temporary summer store in East Hampton, New York from May to September, Hermès decided to totally embrace a the pop-up idea by opening a temporary store within legendary department store Liberty in London.
Opened from September 7 to October 18, the store dedicated to scarves and ties also sold a limited edition of Hermès pour Liberty scarves.
For the unique occasion, Liberty’s windows were clad in Hermès orange, filled with Hermès boxes and a miniature replica of the store was created using Hermès boxes and paper…
Above the accessories department, an installation made with the scarves created for the occasion announced the spirit…
And in a separate room, a totally new Hermès experience awaited the customers…
The whole space was arranged playfully and contrarily to the neatly colour-coordinated displays of scarves and ties you could see – with the help of sales associate – in the Hermès stores, everything was displayed in a manner inviting the customers to touch, experiment, play by themselves…
The whole Hermès universe was present and shown in an approachable, tongue-in- cheek way…the boxes were used to create 3-dimensional logos, peek a boo displays…
It was telling the customers “…sure Hermès is a house built on tradition and craftsmanship producing the highest quality scarves and ties but we love to play and we would love it for you to play with us, experience us from very very close…”
So how does Hermès do it?
Probably one of the oldest and most prestigious luxury houses in the world, Hermès has always managed to stay true to its core values, relevant and remain a staple of elegance.
What has nevertheless been remarkable is the fact that since the early 1950‘s Hermès managed to continuously attract a younger and different customer, while maintaining the loyalty of the “older” brand devotees. Hermès could achieve this by:
Storytelling - Understanding the importance of telling a story to the customers, a story that fuels their fantasy, their ideals and makes them include Hermès in their everyday lifestyle. It becomes the catalyst in making their fantasy become reality.
Streetsmart - Being always open to the trends and lifestyle happening on the streets, embracing them and including their iconic products in a contemporary picture: this strategy has brought the Hermès products closer to the new consumers of every decade.
Risk-taking - Never being afraid to take risks and move forward. By hiring young and avant-garde designers, Hermès could always re-invent itself and manage to stay authentic.
No compromise - Using a no-compromise branding policy by maintaining the brand core elements while playing with the messages – to suit the times – has proven to be one of the most successful advertising strategies. Yearly changing “themes” and taglines maintains the brand fresh and creates neverending consumer curiosity.
Super local - Living the “being global but so very local”, Hermès has built a store network always different but always vibrating with the brand spirit, making each customer visit an experience on its own.
Customer centric - Identifying new breeds of customers very early and anticipating their needs – whether creating new products, e.g. the Jypsière for young urban explorers, or a new kind of store e.g. Hermès Madison Homme – Hermès has proven that it puts the customers at the heart of everything it does.
Adventurous - Embracing new forms of retail such as pop-up stores has once again proved that Hermès wants to get even closer to its customers. The pop-up store of Liberty even took the notion of “close” to an intimate level…
New York City, July 2009. Ten months after the recession hit the city, the retail landscape had drastically changed. Legendary stores closed down, leaving prime locations empty. World-renowned brands filed for bankrupcy or came very close…
In those times of economic turmoil, more than ever, luxury brands need to reassure their loyal customers, make them believe that the money they spend on their fine goods is not just futile shopping. It is an investment. And as for their new, potential customers, those who aspire to live like the “old money” wealthy, the rich and famous, they need to tell them that by buying their goods they have made the right choice, they are on their way of having a piece of that fabulous lifestyle they aspire to…
In summer 2009, prestigious brands dressed their Madison Avenue store windows to “spell out” Heritage and authenticity in order to reassure their customers and tell them that when they buy their products, they are not merely shopping, they are investing in real values.
A few beautifully executed examples:
The ultimate in French luxury since 1837, clearly displays its origins, but with a wink…They show their saddle-making origins, combined with original artwork of horses…
…and integrating iconic, much sought after products or objects of desire such as the Birkin…
…while reminding the customer of all the dedicated workmanship it all requires, by adding “raw” and unformed pieces of leather.
And on the storefront walls and on top of the building, they always show where all comes from…
So what are they saying?
- We are a French company that has been around for over 170 years and we are proud of what we do
- We started by making saddles and we still produce the finest, using traditional techniques
- We apply the same dedication to excellence and fine craftsmanship to everything we do
- We support culture, artists and use our store windows to display their work and get the (right) public to know them without having to go to a gallery or a museum
- …so dear customers, at Hermès you are not merely shopping. You are investing in a sure value, a piece of history, in a brand that is everlasting and is the ultimate in French elegance.
Valentino Garavani, founder of the eponymous couture brand retired in 2008. In the 45 years he ran his couture house, Valentino had become the synonym of Italian elegance and had built a worldwide base of very loyal customers. His clothes had always been timelessly chic but what had made a piece immediately recognisable was its unique shade of red – the Valentino Red.
In order to reassure the loyal customers that in spite of the Master leaving, the Valentino Madison Avenue store windows show that his spirit remains and that the style, the elegance and the Red are here to stay.
The tinted glass boxes bring a modern, tongue in cheek element to the elegance. Those boxes play a game of hide and seek by showing a pair of red pumps..then hiding them…or suddenly you see a red lobster…
So what are they telling us?
- Even though Valentino has retired, his touch, his spirit remain at the heart of the brand
- Red has made us immediately recognisable thanks to you, dear customer. You like it and we will stick to making clothes and accessories in this color that you love
- Elegance and refinement are still what we do, but we are modern
- We love to play hide and seek and we have a sense of humor, like you
- In those times of gloom, beat the blues by being flamboyant, wear red!
- Perpetrate a tradition started by the most elegant women, wear Valentino Red!
What can brands learn from this?
- Use your store windows to express your values. No matter how good your campaign is don’t just replicate it but surprise and titillate your customers’ curiosity by telling them a story
- Show your brand values in a passionate way by being really emotional, fun, quirky, uncomplicated
- Integrate a heritage component to tell your customers that your brand is the right choice, especially in hard times and that you will be there for them, no matter what.
And a few more great examples…
A few days ago I was in Paris and couldn’t resist going into Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. I had not seen it since the renovations and I must say that it shone in all its glory on that gloomy April Monday.
The current theme was RED – the color. The windows displayed objects of desire in red – specially commissioned, limited edition items. The red theme continued throughout the store – every section had its declination and special items where everywhere.
After perusing the counters of the impressive ground floor and not resisting the temptation of looking up to admire the beautiful glass dome, I went to my favorite section – the designer floor.
Vibrant racks in neon colors displaying the resuscitated Carven collection greet you as you get off the escalator – designed by mmparis by the way –. Then what seemed like miles of intertwined zones of style-compatible designers: Acne, Helmut Lang and Maison Martin Margiela, anyone?
Each zone was clearly dedicated to a certain designer – except one.
At about the middle of the “balcony”, a different area caught my eye.
Called “Le Relais”, it displayed clothes from various designers but also beauty products, shoes and accessories. This was a “curated area” and the theme was “eco-friendly, recycled, sustainable, organic…”
The next stand did not contain products other than clothes but an odd, unexpected object: a “Feed Haïti” bag.
That’s when it struck me: are the marketing people from Galeries Lafayette trying to remove the guilt out of shopping in order to make people buy? Are they positioning the store in a way that takes shopping into a different, guilt-free dimension in a world that has been shaken up for over a year?
In my opinion, many signs indicated so. Here is my interpretation:
- Buying special items is not merely buying: it’s investing: The color red certainly indicates passion and incites desire (and maybe a similarity to the (red) campaign plastered across the nearby Gap store? Just a thought…), but the limited edition items are not mere clothes or shoes, they are unmistakably red collector’s items: they are saying, “Buying me is not just buying a piece of clothing or a shoe. I am a rarity. My value is greater. Invest in me like in a piece of art. It’s not shopping, it’s collecting…
- Buying eco-friendly, organic, recycled products is not shopping: it’s being responsible. The curated area is telling the customers, “Everything here is special and it is destined for special people who care. Buying those items makes you special, you are different from the polluting, negligent consumers, so indulge…”
- And the “Feed Haïti” bag is saying “Buying while helping Haïti is not buying, it’s contributing to alleviate the suffering: if you buy the bag you can make a difference. It’s not silly consumerism, it’s caring…”
What the Galeries Lafayette are doing is not an isolated case. It’s where retail is heading, if it wants to distance itself from the bad reputation it had gained those past years. Shopping can no longer be a selfish activity. It has to be an act of responsibility. Right.
In the present troubled times, if they shop, consumers would rather spend their money on “sure values” – products of high quality that are trend-proof. This allows them to not feel guilty about buying stuff in times where “careless spending” seems so last decade.
Today, tradition and heritage are a brand’s most valuable assets, as they are reassuring and make each spent cent feel like an investment – people are not spending money, they are investing in timeless pieces that can be used/worn/carried/driven… for a lifetime.
But what does a brand do, if does not have a long tradition and heritage in order to attract customers driven by “safe spending”?
In my opinion, the best answer has been delivered by J.Crew (I won’t be mentioning Oprah or Michelle Obama, I promise).
The April J.Crew men’s catalogue and derived campaign feature products with a history, with heritage, products that are not originally J.Crew, but that have been commissioned and curated by J. Crew and introduced to their April’s men’s catalogue: Levi’s®, Ray Ban®, Alden®, Timex®, Superior Labor, Baracuta® , Adidas® and many more.
With this brilliant move, J. Crew have proven that in order to project authenticity and heritage you don’t necessarily have to be an old company with a tradition in manufacturing high-end goods. You just need to tattoo your brand with the heritage of others. Brilliant.