Issue No. 273: Modern Luxe Doesn’t Bend

Pictured: Outdoor Voices, from our Open Letter to DNVB CEOs

In November of 2016, Lean Luxe’s Paul Munford penned somewhat of a scripture to upstart modern luxury brands: promotion-heavy retailers will not last. There are few takeaways from “The Downward Spiral” that are worth mentioning as recent economic reports suggest that the retail apocalypse is coming to an end, a great sign for aspirational DNVBs that are looking to expand into physical retail.

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We are in a time of unprecedented retail brand launches, collaborations, acquisitions, and re-imaginations – much of which is online-first. This begs the question, what will separate the winners from the commodities? There are early and permanent decisions that determine a brand’s trajectory. For every Mizzen + Main or Ministry of Supply, there is a State and Liberty. For every Outdoor Voices, there is a Bandier. And for every Away, there is a Raden. Each decision matters. And no decision matters more than pricing and a brand’s promotional tendencies.

Here are the top ten takeaways from some of Munford’s best work:

  • No maneuver in retail appears to be as easy to roll out, yet no strategy is as detrimental to a retailer’s long term prospects as the heavy discount. It is a palliative pill: wonderful for the consumer in the short run, but ultimately bad for both business and shoppers over time. It commoditizes the brand, forcing companies to differentiate on price. 
  • The second problem, also related to scale, is systemic to the industry itself: The need to constantly add more and more products at regular intervals, flooding the marketplace with goods that are newer, but rarely better.
  • The lure of the discount, then, becomes too hard to resist. It provides a short term boost to the bottom line and the illusion of growth, but at the expense of brand reputation and sustainable profit — two vital arteries for a business’s overall health.
  • Modern luxury companies have figured out the formula, and it’s remarkably simple: create less merchandise than will sell (and predict, if possible, the sell-through rate, with pre-orders), keep demand high. Embrace the waiting list, as Everlane, Glossier, Caraa, and Alala, among others, often do. 
  • Never discount; preserve the standing of the brand. These tactics certainly do not work, however, or at least for very long, if product standards are below par.
  • Hermes, for instance, is notorious for never slashing prices. Its products carry a prestige because of that, and there is always a demand, no matter how frivolous the item. And they certainly are not above testing the limits of consumer devotion: It has even gone so far as to repackage its cutting floor leather scraps to sell them as high-priced gift boxes.
  • That opposition to discounting would come from founders within the emerging modern luxury industry is no coincidence. For one, it displays the trademark sense of calm confidence in the product that this group is quickly becoming known for. 
  • As for Mr. Preysman, the full price mantra feeds into his mission to constantly refine the product, to make it better, and push it ever closer to perfection according to the standards of the brand.
  • Surprisingly, rejecting the discount is also quite consumer-centric. The eternally-wise Ben Franklin said it best, of course, when he offered this observation: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
  • It takes superb maturity and a great deal of resilience to fight the urge for the temporary discount boost at the expense of preserving a long term reputation. 

Maturity, patience, grit, and perhaps temporary poverty are keys to developing the types of brands that grow to compete with age old legends and fierce (but hopefully friendly) rivals. In 2013, Brooks Brothers commented on Mizzen + Main’s influence on the shirting industry for the New York Times:

While Brooks Brothers experimented with “performance” shirts akin to Mizzen & Main’s, [Brooks Brothers’ spokesman] Mr. Blee said that customers preferred the general wearability of conventional all-cotton. The stretch fibers felt synthetic to them. Although a range of Brooks Brothers oxford shirts have moisture-wicking properties, he said, “We are known as a natural-fiber house: 100 percent cotton, 100 percent cashmere.

Just five years later, Brooks Brothers is launching a competitor to compete in a menswear world that is being re-defined by technical fabrics and other innovations.

Mizzen+Main on Twitter

we’re old enough to remember when Brooks Brothers laughed at performance menswear:

I remember the joy of that article hitting the newsstands on December 18, 2013. Not because of the notoriety that it would provide but because it had been over a year and half and we really needed the sales. We stood firm on our price while we built allegiances and Kevin worked feverishly to improve the product. And the company lasted. What Lavelle and team has done today is nothing short of spectacular. And it has allowed the brand to stand, eye to eye, in the same clubs and on the same courses as the company that invented the polo shirt (sorry, Ralph).

To achieve growth and longevity, branding cannot be viewed as a soft skill. Price cannot be viewed as an arbitrary number to manipulate. The five forces must always be considered. And patience must be paramount because great brands start slowly. In the age of modern luxury DNVB’s this is as important as the products themselves.

Read more: An Open Letter to DNVB CEOs (Issue No. 254)

Read the rest of Issue No. 273 here.

By Web Smith and Meghan Terwilliger | About 2PM

Member Brief No. 16: Patreon’s Signal

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If you’re an independent creator, Patreon is your home. The upstart has accomplished great traction in a short period of time. CEO Jack Conte and Sam Yam’s creation launched in May of 2013 after Conte grew increasingly frustrated by Youtube’s lack of monetization. As the story would go, Conte beta-tested the site with his own personal Youtube audience and began raking in $7,000+ per video. Youtube’s monetization would earn him a little more than $50 for the same work. Fast forward five years and Patreon is synonymous with patronage, as much as Kickstarter is synonymous with crowdfunding.

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Issue No. 272: A Path Forward

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Pictured: Bal Harbour Shops, 2nd Floor

The worst thing to happen to the American mall is the boom of online-first modern luxury companies. And it’s also the best thing to happen to the American mall.

There are 1,100+ malls in America and approximately 320 are graded Tier A. We have an oversupply of malls but that does not mean that traditional, anchored shopping centers no longer have a place in consumerism. We’d argue that Tier A malls have yet to see their best years. We expect their footfall traffic KPIs to grow, while B and C tiered malls continue their trends toward repurposed real estate and other methods to maintain footfall traffic KPIs (mall opportunity, sales opportunity, and store performance).

Suzanne Mulvee, director of research at CoStar, cites that “lower-quality malls in markets with smaller populations and lower incomes will continue to close” —a trend that persists today. And here’s a data based position:

Green Street Advisors, a research firm, forecast a 6.0 percent drop in market revenue per available foot (RevPaF) for class-B and -C malls from 2018 to 2022, versus a 0.5 percent increase for class-A malls during the same period. 

Private market values of class-B and -C malls have also dropped the most since January 2017, according to Green Street, plunging 27.0 percent and 25.0 percent, respectively, year-over-year. Meanwhile, the values of class-A malls declined by 14.0 percent year-over-year.

National Real Estate Investor

So what does this mean for digitally vertical native brands (DNVB), old and new? In short, online-first brands should be positioning their product offering for inclusion in Tier A malls. First, let’s look at the established. A retail presence for DNVBs varies, as such:

  • Harry’s has a prominent position in J. Crew shops (Tier A)
  • Shinola has marquee positioning as stand alone stores (Tier A)
  • Mizzen + Main has prominent position at Nordstrom (Tier A)
  • Bevel has showroom real estate at Macys (Tier A / B)
  • Warby Parker has great stand alone stores (Tier A)
  • Greats has marquee positioning at Nordstrom (Tier A)
  • Ministry of Supply has great stand alone stores in Tier A areas
  • Homage has great stand alone stores (Tier A)
  • Bonobos has stand alone stores and Nordstrom positioning (Tier A)
  • MeUndies has positioning at Nordstrom (Tier A)
  • Goop is opening sponsored pop ups (Tier A)

There are very few presences in Tier B malls and virtually no DNVB presence in Tier C malls. These brands have done a wonderful job positioning themselves as modern luxury companies. They’ve been incubated online for five to ten years and they’ve become prominent enough to live as lifestyle brands in traditional retail spaces. It’s a forgone conclusion that omni-channel operations should be a focus for DNVBs; retail real estate analysis is a skill that is becoming more and more important. And DNVB’s are well-positioned to benefit from the Tier A adoption of the online brands. Recall this quote from Issue No. 265:

2PM’s Meghan Terwilliger had this to say:

Luxury, however you define it, is a brand’s embodiment of characteristics that make it desirable. Historically, those characteristics have been more ‘What’ features like quality, exclusivity, and cost. You can still define luxury as characteristics that make a brand desirable, but those characteristics have shifted. Quality is table stakes.

The characteristics that make brands more desirable are ‘how’ features like excellent customer experience (how do I experience the brand), meaningful brand mission (how do they give back/make a difference), and community engagement. Is it artist-created and excessively expensive? Maybe not. But if it is a product, or even an entire experience that is highly desirable, it can be considered a luxurious brand. DNVBs just so happen to possess a great infrastructure to support the characteristics that define modern luxury.

There are DNVBs that are launching daily. It is important that these brands understand that online retail mechanics has its limits. For these brands to expand into $30 million or more in annual revenue, omni-channel strategy can provide longterm growth. Additionally, this can reinvigorate top funnel sales through online channels.

Here are the top five suggestions for DNVBs launching today:

  • Master the first product. Bonobos began with pants, Mizzen + Main with a single white dress shirt, and Bevel with one blade.
  • Develop a strong sense of product ambassadorship. Mizzen + Main targets millennials, but the most capable buyers are between the age of 34-45. Developing a sense of loyalty with them can pay dividends. For their peers that don’t shop online, they’ll become a top funnel driver of them to your brick and mortar locations.
  • Avoid discount promotion, even at the beginning. Price stability over time is crucial. The moment that a brand is seen as a discounter, the Tier A mall demographic loses interest (with few exceptions).
  • Emphasize advertising to Tier A mall consumers. When DNVB’s grow online, they need to focus on the customers that possess the greatest LTV (lifetime value) potential. This correlates with Tier A mall shoppers.
  • Establish relationships with non-competitive retailers. It can be a powerful signal of longterm viability when existing brands co-sign your early product. This is most often seen by way of product collaborations, cross-promotion, or merchandising your products in their flagship stores.

Retailers that appeal to…the upper class are thriving. One look at Houston’s Galleria, Columbus’ Easton Town Center, or Miami’s Bal Harbour Shops will confirm as such. This is the future that many in retail are planning for. So no, retail is not dead. But retail is leaving the middle class behind because, frankly, so are we.

2PM Member Brief No. 5

In the first sentence, I wrote that online retail is the best and worst thing to happen to malls. In many ways, this is true. The shuttering of weaker retailers and shopping centers is long overdue. Experts attribute this trend to the emergence of online retail brands (and the excessive private equity debt that these retailers accrued to compete with them).

We have more retail real estate than any developed country on earth. Malls are not dying, the bad ones are. While eCommerce efficiency is appealing to digital marketers, the brick and mortar channel is golden for brand operatives who are establishing their brands as modern luxury products. Marketing is arithmetic, whereas brand-building is more of a subjective art. If you were to ask the chief executives at each of the aforementioned brands, they would point to their brick and mortar successes as great milestones. There will be fewer malls in the coming the years, but an early bet on the ones that remain will position young DNVBs for omni-channel success.

Read the rest of the issue.

By Web Smith and Meghan Terwilliger | About 2PM