Two years after joining the Tapestry Inc. family, and following years of heavy discounting and lackluster sales, all signs point to a successful turnaround for Kate Spade.
On Thursday, Tapestry Inc., owner of Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman, reported third-quarter earnings that were better than expected. Net sales for the quarter came in at $1.33 billion, versus $1.32 billion one year prior, across the portfolio. For Kate Spade, specifically, net sales totaled $281 million for the quarter, compared to $269 million in the same quarter last year. Same-store sales for the brand fell 3% from the previous year. All in all, analysts see the latest report as an indication of a positive turnaround for the Kate Spade brand.
“Kate Spade is a shining piece of good news for Tapestry,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce. “It’s very tricky to get any luxury brand back on track after any transition of leadership and ownership. It’s a juggling act between the right product, the right design, the right merchandising and the right price. The fact that they were able to generate some positive earnings growth is good news.”
On the earnings call, Tapestry Inc. CEO Victor Luis said he is confident “in the growth opportunities for the brand, supported by the successful integration of [it] onto the Tapestry platform where it can leverage core capabilities.” Luis said some of the key accomplishments in the past year include, “migrating the Kate Spade brand to the Tapestry supply chain,” as well as, “attracting and retaining key operational and creative talent across the organization.”
At the start of 2018, Kate Spade hired former Gucci and Micheal Kors accessories designer Nicola Glass to take on the role of brand creative director. Luis said he attributes some of the brand’s growth to Glass’ designs resonating with consumers globally. Additionally, Kate Spade has seen “accelerated international growth,” he said, across Greater China. Luis pointed to a recent handbag brand-tracking survey in China , which found unaided awareness for the brand was up from 2% to 4%, while aided awareness jumped from 11% to 16%.
In China, as well as across the rest of the globe, Tapestry is implementing similar tactics for growth that were most recently used to turn the Coach brand around. That includes moving more in-store inventory online to make stores feel a little less cluttered, as well as buying back operations of Kate Spade in China specifically to get a better hold on the region. That focus on China is key to the brand’s success, said Syama Meagher, chief retail strategist at Scaling Retail.
“Looking at the international market, Kate Spade, and even Stuart Weitzman, have a very strong Americana brand. They are known for being classic, modern American brands, and the Chinese market is really ripe for these American exports. Now that there is this stronger middle class in the Chinese market, there’s going to be a need for some of these aspirational price point brands that aren’t necessarily in that luxury price point,” she said.
While the strategy of replicating Coach’s turnaround plan is paying off for Kate Spade, for the time being, some analysts suggest relying on a singular strategy for all three brands in the portfolio could be an unwise decision.
“If it was all as simple as following a playbook or formula, every luxury brand would be going through the roof. You can follow the right formula and still come out empty-handed,” said Adamson. “The challenge for any luxury holding company is that it’s a game of whack-a-mole: You fix one luxury brand by focusing on it, then the other one falls off. It’s really hard to manage a portfolio of luxury brands.”
On the other hand, others believe following what’s working is the best course of action.
“You have to do what works. In retail, the name of the game is to continue to do what works, and then be agile and pivot as needed, as things change. Tapestry should absolutely replicate the model and approach it took with Coach for Kate Spade,” Meagher said.