In Full Swing

North Amer­ica pres­i­dent Jöelle Grün­berg maps out the way for­ward.

Footwear News - - CONTENTS - By NEIL WEILHEIMER Pho­tographed By JOSHUA SCOTT

No­vak Djokovic, one of the best pro­fes­sional ten­nis play­ers of the last decade, has been dogged by in­juries for most of the sea­son. That’s led the af­fa­ble Ser­bian to an unusual spot: a slide in the rank­ings.

In many ways, the 12-time Grand Slam sin­gles cham­pion’s ca­reer tra­jec­tory is much like the La­coste brand he rep­re­sents: There are ups, downs and ma­jor come­backs.

“His vis­i­bil­ity and pop­u­lar­ity are amaz­ing,” La­coste’s pres­i­dent and CEO of North and Cen­tral Amer­ica, JÖelle GrÜn­berg, said about the ath­lete, who rep­re­sents the brand for ap­parel and eye­wear. “The story of what is hap­pen­ing to him, of try­ing to over­come his dif­fi­cul­ties, is very sim­i­lar to the sit­u­a­tion we found our­selves in a few years ago. But most peo­ple, es­pe­cially in the U.S., love a come­back story.”

In­deed, the French brand, founded by René La­coste in 1933, has had its share of chal­lenges. In the 1990s, the public turned away from the preppy popped-col­lar shirts in fa­vor of lesser­known names. What’s more, the brand had low­ered its dis­tri­bu­tion to out­lets and lacked fash­ion di­rec­tion.

But with the help of its cur­rent owner, Swiss hold­ing com­pany Maus Frères SA, and new lead­er­ship in the U.S., the croc­o­dile logo has found a fash­ion fol­low­ing — and siz­able sales to boot.

“Footwear is en­joy­ing huge momentum for the brand, as is ap­parel,” said GrÜn­berg, who was named CEO of La­coste’s French busi­ness in 2013 be­fore be­ing tapped to lead the U.S. in 2015. “Thanks to many mar­ket­ing in­vest­ments, cap­sule col­lec­tions we’ve been launch­ing and strong in­no­va­tion in prod­uct, we’ve been able to com­pletely turn around the sit­u­a­tion and gain more at­trac­tion around the brand.”

With the la­bel turn­ing 85 — and the French Open start­ing May 21 — GrÜn­berg weighs in on why the La­coste re­vival is real and where the croc­o­dile will go next.

In Jan­uary, La­coste en­tered a joint ven­ture with Pent­land, giv­ing you con­trol of U.S. sales and dis­tri­bu­tion. Why was this im­por­tant?

JG: “It was im­por­tant to merge the two dis­tri­bu­tions — footwear and ap­parel — in the U.S. because it en­ables us to be more con­sis­tent and aligned on what we do. We were work­ing to­gether be­fore, but it was dif­fer­ent because ev­ery­thing was com­ing from [head­quar­ters in] Paris. It was like two dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions. Now, be­ing all to­gether in the same lo­ca­tion, on the same team, makes do­ing busi­ness so much eas­ier.”

With the new struc­ture in place, where is the U.S. busi­ness headed?

JG: “For­tu­nately, the busi­ness is very strong right now. For the U.S., the re­tail en­vi­ron­ment has been dif­fi­cult for the past four or five years. When I ar­rived a few years ago, our sit­u­a­tion was not an easy one — even though our brand and its aware­ness have al­ways been strong in this mar­ket, the busi­ness was start­ing to de­crease. Like many other brands, we had gone into too many dis­tri­bu­tion

points. We had too much pro­mo­tion­al­ity, which is an easy way to di­lute the busi­ness. There was clearly a need to come back to what we wanted to do — to have a premium dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nel in whole­sale with our depart­ment store part­ners, with spe­cialty doors, with the sports doors. We needed to re­duce dis­tri­bu­tion to bet­ter con­trol the pre­sen­ta­tion of our brand, con­trol our prices and be sure the pro­mo­tion­al­ity was not go­ing to kill the brand. We led that trans­for­ma­tion. We started it three years ago. Since last sum­mer, we are start­ing to see things pay off sig­nif­i­cantly.”

What ar­eas will you fo­cus on for growth?

JG: “A lot of growth will be fo­cused on footwear. Although it’s a big cat­e­gory for us to­day, we can grow it much more. We are go­ing to re­in­force our in­no­va­tion in prod­uct and de­vel­op­ing new footwear. We are con­tin­u­ing to push the sport piece of our busi­ness — in the past few years, it has de­vel­oped for footwear and ap­parel. It is tech­ni­cally per­for­mance prod­uct meant for sport, but a lot of our cus­tomers buy them for non­per­for­mance sit­u­a­tions. Our sport busi­ness has grown from a couple of per­cent­age points three years ago to nearly 25 percent of our to­tal to­day, and it has much more po­ten­tial.”

What other cat­e­gories will La­coste more ag­gres­sively pur­sue?

JG: “We are go­ing to push on leather goods, which we haven’t de­vel­oped enough in the past for var­i­ous rea­sons. Now we have a strong col­lec­tion of men’s leather goods, bags, wal­lets. It’s a mar­ket that’s also less sat­u­rated.”

With 85 years of his­tory, how will you evolve La­coste’s her­itage?

JG: “Be­ing true to a brand through its his­tory is im­por­tant for the cus­tomer here. We are very lucky that we have a strong his­tory. We have 85 years of true story, true prod­uct and her­itage, and a his­tory of the brand through René La­coste, who had strong ties with the U.S. — the brand has been here since the 1950s. We are able to pull from that her­itage, to de­velop in­no­va­tive prod­ucts that are built on it. It’s why we just launched the René col­lec­tion for the 85th an­niver­sary. We took key styles that were strong in the pre­vi­ous decades and pro­posed them to the cus­tomer again. Amer­i­cans love when brands come back with styles that were strong at some point. For us, when peo­ple look at La­coste, they re­mem­ber what their father was wear­ing, some­times their grand­fa­ther — it speaks to them.”

Tell us about the cel­e­bra­tion plans.

JG: “There is a big fo­cus in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. We will have events in Paris dur­ing the French Open, with a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion at Roland Gar­ros, and of course on our new prod­ucts. We also did a fash­ion show in Paris in Fe­bru­ary. That was very fo­cused on the 85th.”

How else will you get the mes­sage out?

JG: “We are do­ing a lot of things dig­i­tally. We are fo­cus­ing on New York, Miami and Los An­ge­les; those are the three key cities for us. We’ll in­crease our pres­ence through so­cial me­dia, in­flu­encers and the press more gen­er­ally to get vis­i­bil­ity for our an­niver­sary and to push the 85th col­lec­tion.”

What is La­coste’s on­line strategy?

JG: “Our web­site is a huge chunk of our busi­ness, and it is grow­ing more than dou­ble dig­its. We’re also work­ing on push­ing the dot­com busi­nesses of our key part­ners: Ma­cys, Nord­strom, Bloom­ing­dale's and Ama­zon. We are do­ing that because there is huge un­tapped po­ten­tial there. We are al­ready there, ob­vi­ously, but we are fo­cus­ing the ef­forts of our teams to work in bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion with the dig­i­tal teams of th­ese part­ners and de­vel­op­ing that side of the busi­ness.”

How con­cerned are you about all the com­pe­ti­tion in the ath­leisure space?

JG: “I don’t worry about the com­pe­ti­tion because it’s al­ways ex­cit­ing to see what the oth­ers are do­ing. If the en­vi­ron­ment is good, it is usu­ally good for every­one, and some brands will per­form bet­ter than oth­ers. It is al­ways bet­ter to have strong com­pe­ti­tion than weak. In the U.S., ev­ery­body is here. [There are] sports brands like Nike, Adi­das and Puma. And then in a more ca­sual type of en­vi­ron­ment, it’s the tra­di­tional big Amer­i­can brands — Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hil­figer and oth­ers that are strong with in­no­va­tion. If the en­vi­ron­ment is strong, cus­tomers will go to stores to look for new things.”

Let’s fo­cus on col­lab­o­ra­tions. Why have they been so in­te­gral to La­coste?

JG: “We’ve al­ways been strong at do­ing th­ese types of col­lab­o­ra­tions. In fact, we were do­ing them be­fore they were trendy. It’s im­por­tant in the Amer­i­can mar­ket to have four or five col­lab­o­ra­tions a year. Some of ours are mar­ket­ing-ori­ented, where we can be a bit more edgy in the type of part­ner­ship we look for because they are meant to cre­ate buzz and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. And then we have ones that can be a bit more main­stream, more com­mer­cially ori­ented, whether it’s with artists or well-known de­sign­ers that can ad­dress a wider au­di­ence. Our plan in the next year is to have th­ese with Amer­i­can artists, de­sign­ers or singers — peo­ple who are very well­known in the U.S.”

Why is it im­por­tant to spon­sor events like the French or Miami opens?

JG: “It is a big in­vest­ment for us, but it is im­por­tant. The brand is deeply rooted in sports, specif­i­cally ten­nis and golf. For us, it wouldn’t make sense to not be part­ners with the key events of a given coun­try. France is a his­tor­i­cal coun­try; that is where the brand was born. Be­ing a part­ner to the French Open is very ob­vi­ous. And here in the U.S., it’s im­por­tant for us to be in key events in our ma­jor mar­kets. Florida is our big­gest mar­ket in the coun­try, so be­ing a part­ner of the Miami Open was and is a pri­or­ity.”

“Our plan [is to have col­labs] with Amer­i­can artists, de­sign­ers or singers — peo­ple who are very well-known in the U.S.” — Jöelle Grün­berg

Jöelle Grün­berg and Dave Grange, SVP of footwear

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.