Trump’s mer­chan­dis­ing em­pire is nearly fallen

Al­most all of the items that bore his name are no longer for sale

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ZANE AN­THONY, KATHRYN SAN­DERS AND DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD

Be­fore he ran for of­fice, Don­ald Trump made mil­lions by sell­ing his name to adorn other peo­ple’s prod­ucts. There was Trump de­odor­ant. Trump ties. Trump steaks. Trump un­der­wear. Trump fur­ni­ture. At one time, there was even a Trump-branded urine test.

Now, al­most all of them are gone.

In 2015, Trump listed 19 com­pa­nies that were pay­ing him to pro­duce or dis­trib­ute Trump branded con­sumer goods.

In re­cent weeks, only two said that they are still sell­ing Trump branded goods. One is a Pana­ma­nian com­pany sell­ing Trump bed linens and home goods. The other is a Turk­ish com­pany sell­ing Trump fur­ni­ture.

Of the rest, some Trump part­ners quit in re­ac­tion to cam­paign­trail rhetoric on im­mi­grants and Mus­lims. Oth­ers said their li­cens­ing agree­ments had ex­pired. Oth­ers said noth­ing be­yond con­firm­ing that they’d stopped work­ing with Trump. Their last Trump goods are be­ing sold off, of­ten at a dis­count: One cologne is marked down to $9.99 from $42 for a one-ounce bot­tle.

“Suc­cess by Trump,” the web­site says. And, be­low that: “Clear­ance.”

The de­cline of the Trump mer­chan­dise em­pire is an­other sign of how pol­i­tics has changed the pres­i­dent’s busi­ness. On one hand, it has al­lowed his Mar-a-Lago Club and his D.C. ho­tel to mon­e­tize his po­lit­i­cal al­liances, rak­ing in money from evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian groups and Repub­li­can cam­paigns.

But it has also driven away cus­tomers and part­ners who were drawn to the old Trump — a hus­tling icon of os­ten­ta­tious wealth who sold golf mem­ber­ships to the truly rich and $42 cologne to those who merely wanted to be.

“Once the po­lit­i­cal cam­paign started, the wall went up,” said Mar­shal Co­hen, who mea­sures re­tail busi­ness trends for NPD Group, a mar­ket re­search firm. “The wall that he [built] was more around his mer­chan­dise than it was around Mex­ico.”

The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion did not re­spond to ques­tions about its li­censed-mer­chan­dise busi­ness. Trump has said he has given up day-to-day man­age­ment of his com­pany while he’s in the White House. But he still owns it.

The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion sells its own branded mer­chan­dise. Last year, it opened an e-com­merce site, TrumpS­tore.com, with an in­ven­tory of Trump T-shirts, teddy bears and key chains.

But the li­censed-mer­chan­dise busi­ness was some­thing dif­fer­ent. It al­lowed Trump to make money off other peo­ple’s work, other peo­ple’s prod­ucts, other peo­ple’s mar­ket­ing.

All Trump had to do was sell some­thing that he could never run out of. His name. Trump first pur­sued the idea in 2004. His emis­saries con­tacted an ex­ec­u­tive at Phillips-Van Heusen, the menswear giant now known as PVH, with a propo­si­tion.

How would his com­pany like to pay Trump for the right to put his name on their clothes?

The menswear ex­ec­u­tive wasn’t in­ter­ested.

“He laughed,” Jeff Danzer, who was a mar­keter work­ing for Trump, re­called later.

At that point, Trump was still emerg­ing from the long, low years of the 1990s: huge debts, cor­po­rate bank­rupt­cies, tabloid di­vorces. What cus­tomer wanted that on their shirt col­lar?

But then, “The Ap­pren­tice” took off — and re­branded Trump as a sharp-dressed board­room ti­tan.

Af­ter that, the idea of Trump shirts wasn’t laugh­able. In fact, it wasn’t enough. “Suits, dress shirts, ties, even down to shoes,” Danzer re­called. “Any and ev­ery­thing that you would wear in the board­room is what we were go­ing out to li­cense.”

By the end of 2004, Trump had a deal with PVH and a Don­ald J. Trump Sig­na­ture Col­lec­tion of clothes at Macy’s. But that wasn’t enough, ei­ther. Even­tu­ally, Trump was a smell — a “mas­cu­line com­bi­na­tion of rich ve­tiver, tonka bean, birch­wood and musk.” Trump was a chan­de­lier. Trump was a mat­tress. Trump was a steak. “The meat cat­e­gory rep­re­sents Mr. Trump’s power,” an un­der­ling told the me­dia when Trump Steaks launched. Trump was a urine test. “Take a snap­shot of the most crit­i­cal metabolic mark­ers in your body’s nat­u­ral waste flu­ids,” said the web­site for the Trump Net­work, a vi­ta­min com­pany that sent its cus­tomers urine-sam­ple kits with the Trump logo on them. The tests would be used to de­ter­mine what vi­ta­mins the cus­tomer needed, ac­cord­ing to archived ver­sions of the Trump Net­work web­site.

The rest of the mar­ket­ing busi­ness shook its head. But, for a time, it worked.

“A car­i­ca­ture of what wealth is — as op­posed to what real wealth is,” said Mil­ton Pe­draza, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Lux­ury In­sti­tute, a con­sul­tant to lux­ury brands. Trump sold to those, he said, “who didn’t know the dif­fer­ence.”

How­ever, Pe­draza said, Trump be­gan to un­der­mine his own suc­cess by “la­bel-slap­ping” — stick­ing his name on any­thing he could, even the far-fetched and ridicu­lous. Emeril La­gasse sold pots. Greg Nor­man sold golf shirts. Trump sold . . . ev­ery­thing.

“There was no strat­egy,” Pe­draza said.

In 2009, Trump re­ported that his li­cens­ing part­ners had sold $215 mil­lion worth of Trump-li­censed goods world­wide. That ranked him 80th on Li­cense Global mag­a­zine’s list of the top 125 mer­chan­dis­ers. In some years, PVH alone paid him more than $1 mil­lion.

For Trump, the ben­e­fit wasn’t just the money. The items brought his name into clos­ets and kitchens around the coun­try.

“It’s ties, shirts, cuff links, ev­ery­thing sold at Macy’s. And they’re do­ing great,” Trump told David Let­ter­man in 2012, dur­ing an in­ter­view in which he’d also com­plained that China was over­tak­ing the United States as an eco­nomic power. “Num­ber-one­selling tie any­where in the world.”

“The ties are made in China,” Let­ter­man said.

By 2015, when Trump en­tered the pres­i­den­tial race, some of his more far-out ideas — steaks, urine tests and vi­ta­mins — were al­ready ka­put. But, ac­cord­ing to his fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures, the 19 re­main­ing li­censees were still pay­ing him a com­bined $2.4 mil­lion-plus a year just to put the Trump name on their goods. Then Trump ran for pres­i­dent Within a few weeks, the num­ber was down to 14.

“We are dis­ap­pointed and distressed by re­cent re­marks about im­mi­grants from Mex­ico,” said a cor­po­rate state­ment from Macy’s, af­ter Trump called Mex­i­can im­mi­grants crim­i­nals and “rapists” at his first cam­paign event. “. . . We have de­cided to dis­con­tinue our busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Trump.”

Los­ing Macy’s meant los­ing all the Trump mer­chan­dise that Macy’s had sold. PVH, his first big deal. Peer­less, which made Trump suits. Par­lux, which made his colognes. An­other com­pany, Randa, made Trump leather goods. All gone.

Serta, which made Trump Home mat­tresses, had been one of Trump’s most lu­cra­tive part­ners. Trump lost it, too.

“They’ll all be back,” Trump told Forbes mag­a­zine.

A few months later, Trump called for a “to­tal and com­plete shut­down” of Mus­lims en­ter­ing the United States.

He lost an­other part­ner, a Dubai-based com­pany that had a li­cense to sell Trump fur­ni­ture in the Mid­dle East, Africa and In­dia. That left 13. What hap­pened to the rest? To find out, The Wash­ing­ton Post and the In­ves­tiga­tive Re­port­ing Work­shop at Amer­i­can Univer­sity tried to con­tact all the re­main­ing com­pa­nies that Trump listed as li­cens­ing part­ners on his 2015 fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure forms.

In one case, the com­pany was mys­ti­fied to have been listed at all.

“We haven’t done busi­ness [with him] for a long time,” said Jim Ehren, an ex­ec­u­tive at a sign­mak­ing com­pany in the Los An­ge­les sub­urbs. His fa­cil­ity had once made in­spi­ra­tional posters, which paired Trump quotes with scenes of Wall Street or a golf course. But not re­cently.

Two other part­ner­ships — one to sell Trump-branded shoes in Mex­ico, the other to sell Trump home or­ga­ni­za­tional prod­ucts — had ap­par­ently ended be­fore any Trump-branded mer­chan­dise was sold. That left 10. Trump vodka also seems dead. It had sur­vived in Is­rael, af­ter the prod­uct fiz­zled else­where. But Trump’s own fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures don’t list it af­ter 2015. Trump cof­fee, also, is no more. “It was a lack of sales,” said Sam Blaney at Two Rivers Cof­fee, which stopped mak­ing its Se­lect by Trump cof­fee pods last year. “Not ev­ery idea was a good idea.”

At Down­lite, which had sold Trump-branded pil­lows, the com­pany said it had let the li­cense ex­pire in 2015.

“Purely a busi­ness de­ci­sion,” said Josh Werthaiser, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. “It had noth­ing to do with the elec­tion.” That left seven. Of them, five com­pa­nies said that they weren’t mak­ing Trump prod­ucts any­more — but gave lit­tle de­tail be­yond that.

Wonu, which made Trump-branded bed­ding in South Korea, said sim­ply that its li­cense had ex­pired. Ditto for the mak­ers of Don­ald J. Trump eye­glasses. A French com­pany that once made Trump mat­tresses has been sold. Its new owner said it didn’t make them any­more.

At the com­pany that once made Trump-branded throw blan­kets, ex­ec­u­tives did not call back. When The Post vis­ited its of­fice, a re­cep­tion­ist said she didn’t know of any Trump prod­ucts be­ing made there now.

At Elk Light­ing, a staffer said the com­pany has stopped mak­ing Trump-branded chan­de­liers and sconces. On its web­site, the com­pany’s Trump Home Re­gency chan­de­liers are now sold as just “Re­gency.”

Since Trump be­gan his cam­paign, the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site has not added any list­ings of new man­u­fac­tur­ers, to re­place those it has lost. In Trump’s 2017 fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure, he re­ported that his roy­al­ties from li­censed mer­chan­dise had fallen to over $370,000 from more than $2.4 mil­lion. The forms do not give ex­act num­bers, only a range of val­ues that the fig­ures fall be­tween.

Only two com­pa­nies are still pay­ing to put Trump’s name on their prod­ucts.

One is HomeS­tu­dio, which pro­duces Trump-branded bed linens and house­wares for the Latin Amer­i­can mar­ket. It de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle, be­yond con­firm­ing that it still makes Trump goods.

The other is Do­rya, a Tur­key-based man­u­fac­turer of Trump Home Col­lec­tion fur­ni­ture.

When a re­porter vis­ited the com­pany’s Chicago show­room re­cently, there was a room full of sleek, mod­ern, ex­pen­sive chairs and ta­bles. But the Trump name it­self was hard to find, un­less you knew where to look

On one $4,000 end ta­ble, for in­stance, the sil­ver name­plate read­ing “Trump” — the name Do­rya was pay­ing to use — wasn’t on the out­side of the piece at all.

To find it, cus­tomers had to look in­side the drawer.

“A car­i­ca­ture of what wealth is — as op­posed to what real wealth is.” Mil­ton Pe­draza, of the Lux­ury In­sti­tute, de­scrib­ing Trump’s mer­chan­dis­ing

SAL­WAN GEORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Don­ald J. Trump Sig­na­ture Col­lec­tion of clothes at Macy’s ended af­ter Trump called Mex­i­can im­mi­grants crim­i­nals.

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