Grand restructuring plans captured by optimistic tag lines have become commonplace for luxury brands that have struggled to swiftly adapt to a changing consumer and retail landscape. In this series, we’ll break down the promises and analyze the progress of the different brands’ master plans to get back on track.
Three years into its turnaround plan, Coach is proving that — with the right ingredients — a struggling heritage brand can gets its groove back.
Coach was helped by getting an earlier start than competitor brands including Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, which have launched restructuring plans in the last year. Coach kicked things off in 2014 with a plan drawn up by the company’s then new CEO, Victor Luis, to reverse sales declines and transform the brand’s reputation from one of affordable luxury to that of a more exclusive tier.
The brand reported a significant 21 percent decline in North American comparable sales during the first quarter of 2014, after four straight quarters of similar sales declines. While that’s concerning by any standard, it was intensified by that market’s responsibility for three-quarters of the company’s overall sales.
The omnipresence of the product in department stores and outlets had diluted the brand from one that was more mass than iconic, said one former Coach employee, who worked on the turnaround. Once celebrated for its classic leather handbags, the brand had devolved into being the cheapest pseudo-luxury option for the early-aughts logo-maniac. Designer Stuart Vevers was hired to remedy that in 2014, looking to the brand’s heritage pieces and New York roots, in lieu of the overly-branded product it had become known for.
Closing 20 percent of its full-service stores and five of its outlets, as well as rethinking its wholesale accounts (their location, in-store layout, etc.), was also set in motion to help the transformation. Other plans included reducing the frequency of online sales events for its outlets, remodeling stores to attract a more upscale clientele and relaunching the brand’s e-commerce site.
Coach has also made strides toward becoming the first American luxury conglomerate, in the vein of an LVMH or a Kering. After acquiring Stuart Weitzman for $574 billion in 2015, it bought Kate Spade in May for $2.4 billion. Both moves are intended to bolster the brand’s weakened equity and lend it fighting weight against its industry equal Michael Kors, which followed suit by buying Jimmy Choo for $1.2 billion in July.
With Instagram’s most popular celebrity, Selena Gomez, also brought on board as the face of the brand last year, here’s a look at how all of these changes are faring for Coach so far.
Promise 1: Scale back retail presence, while refreshing remaining stores and wholesale accounts
After opening too many stores, and cheapening its brand as a result, Coach hoped to refresh its image with a scarcity play. To do this, the company vowed in 2014 to close 20 percent of its stores, or 70 of its 354 total. It has succeeded on that front: Today, Coach has only 222 stores. Those stores have been refurbished under Vevers’ guidance, with a more modern look, which is reflected in the brand’s newest flagship store in New York that opened last year. Dubbed Coach House, the three-floor, 20,000-foot space boasts a bespoke leather workshop and a 12-foot sculpture of Rexy, the brand’s dinosaur mascot, created using vintage Coach handbags.
Also contributing to Coach’s mass-market image was the average of 13 sales events per month it had been holding in its outlet stores. The brand has since pulled back on these discounts significantly, now holding only one or two per month.
It has also been stepping back from department stores, with the goal of exiting 250 of its 1,000 locations by 2019. Coach has turned its focus to its most successful accounts, enlisting its own employees to work with individual retailers on brand set-up and product education.
Promise 2: Pivoting to the luxury market
Central to all of these changes has been the product itself, which had grown tired over time and too reliant on the handbag category. In an effort to expand on that, Vevers debuted the company’s first full ready-to-wear line in September of 2014. Alongside the vintage-inspired cross-body bags, there were bomber jackets, floral-printed dresses and shearling coats, all of which were met with rave reviews. Since then, Coach has become one of the most anticipated shows at New York Fashion Week. “Despite being British, he has a fantastic understanding of American culture,” said the former Coach employee, of Vevers. “He’s done a fantastic job of taking older pieces from the brand and making them cool for today.”
Alongside aesthetic changes, the brand increased its prices across the board, with the now-logo-free handbags retailing at a minimum of $400, compared to $200 in previous years. Handbags priced $400 or above accounted for half of the category’s sales in 2016, up 30 percent from the year prior.
Promise 3: Establishing a better connection with millennials, online and off
A year or so before Vevers joined the company, while Reed Krakoff was still operating as creative director, Coach hired a host of new creatives tasked with helping renew the brand’s image. They were looking for people with different, more tech-savvy backgrounds than those from the usual industry fallbacks like Laird & Partners and Fabien Baron, so looked to former employees of ad agencies including Huge and Droga5.
That team helped to provide Coach’s campaigns with a more street-savvy edge than its preppier precedents and worked with Krakoff to build out engaging editorial content (including celebrity interview videos and trend roundups) for the e-commerce site.
The site was relaunched in 2015, under Vevers’ tenure, using the Demandware Commerce Cloud, which allowed for more flexibility and scalability, in light of ever-changing consumer preferences across different markets. It’s paying off: A report last month from PMX Agency found that Coach now garners the third-most online market share and the most mobile-device traffic of any luxury brand today.
This may have been helped by the announcement of Gomez as the face of the brand last year. The actress and singer has 127 million followers on Instagram, compared to Coach’s 2.1 million. On top of starring in the brand’s campaigns (and regularly wearing its product), Gomez designed a limited-run accessories line with Vevers. But as the former employee of Coach points out, it would be reaching to attribute most of the company’s success to Selena: “Tommy Hilfiger uses Gigi Hadid, but nobody thinks Tommy Hilfiger is cool,” she said. “With Coach, it’s worked because its product was the first thing that changed.”
With Kate Spade now in its wheelhouse, this millennial connection is slated to grow; the brand reports that 60 percent of its consumers fall into that demographic.