RIMOWA & Luxury Retail Distribution | In Practise

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RIMOWA & Luxury Retail Distribution

Former Managing Director at RIMOWA and Goyard

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How Goyard built a brand presence in Asia whilst maintaining brand equity
  • The importance of frontline retail staff in pitching your brand and telling the story to the consumer
  • Luxury brand's relationship with landlords and how to build a coherent retail strategy
  • The paradox of building a brand but limiting accessiblity
  • How RIMOWA approached building out distribution in APAC

Executive Bio

Clement Brunet-Moret

Former Managing Director at RIMOWA and Goyard

Clement has over 20 years of experience in the luxury goods industry in Asia. He joined Cartier as a Retail Manager in 1997 where he managed 12 boutiques and over 80 points of sales across APAC. Clement then joined Goyard, the luxury french brand, where he built the brand’s distribution network in Asia for 5 years. He then joined RIMOWA, the luxury luggage maker owned by LVMH, where he opened new locations and built out distribution with malls and boutiques across the region.Read more

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Interview Transcript

Could you provide some context to Goyard, in terms of the performance, the brand, the heritage, from when you joined, in 2012?

Goyard, when I joined in 2012, it was a very old maison, from France but yet, relatively niche, if not unknown in some markets. The brand was just starting to pick up again, after years of silence. It had been spotted, early on, by the Japanese who are, actually keen customers and are good with their own tools, which are the departments stores, to pick up on new brands, such as Goyard.

When I joined them in 2012, it was pretty much distributed in APAC market, which was Hong Kong, Japan and a bit of South Korea. Food distributors and third parties and I’ll come back to that later. But the brand was really starting to pick up. The tote bag was beginning to be a hit in the market, years after it was launched. The brand was on the early phase of the rise that it then went through, since 2012.

It was a very small company, with a very clear vision, but no clear guidelines on how to execute it.

You arrived at Goyard in 2012. How did you approach distributing the brand in APAC?

Goyard, like any other brand, before you start to tackle the distribution, you need to clearly understand what the unique selling point of the brand is, its unique story. Distribution has, obviously, multiple possibilities and aspects. You can go very wide, you can go very niche, you can go deep, you can go e-commerce or not. You have thousands of different possibilities for distribution. So the distribution network is just an arm of the brand strategy. In order to be able to distribute correctly and to reach the brand goals, one needs to understand what the brand is about and what the brand is about to do, in the market.

For Goyard, it was fairly clear, as the brand vision and DNA is very strong. It’s quite unique. In some brands it’s not so obvious. In Goyard, as you can see in the press and as the owner – who is usually very quiet – is saying, when he speaks, the brand is a niche brand. It’s kind of a secret brand, for people who know about Goyard. That’s their strategy. They don’t want to overdistribute; the want to remain in a small number of stores, for people in the know, to target a specific 0.1% of the audience. They don’t want to become a mass brand, by any means.

The Louis Vuitton and Goyard are sometimes compared, because they had a similar history, at the beginning. But they are very different in their strategy and their distribution strategy, as well. To tackle the distribution for Goyard, first of all, I had to see what was the potential for the brand to invest. You need to understand, with your capex investment, what your capabilities for investing? Can you take over your distribution network? Can you open many stores? Basically, with the tools you have at your disposal, you have to set out your distribution strategy.

Then you have to understand, in terms of product availability, because many brands have one or two successful lines that are usually in demand and, usually, in shortage. If you open many stores, but you don’t have enough products, it will also be an issue, because you are going to lose money. You are going to be paying rents and have capex, and so on, and have no products to sell. You need to work closely with your HQ, to understand what the real possibilities of distribution are.

Then you need to tackle the relationship between the brand and the third parties, like landlords and the shopping mall management. Because, obviously, these people are key in the brand management, in the different countries. For the customer, when they stand in the shopping mall, they tend to associate the brand value and strength, versus its neighborhood. If you are next to Hermès and next to Chanel, it’s not the same as being next to Zara or H&M. They are not priced in the same way and not marketed in the same way.

Obviously, where you are located on the street, inside the shopping mall, inside the department store, is key, for your brand positioning. It’s a unique way to express your strategy and your marketing strategy, directly to the customer, every day. I would tend to say that, the brand stores, the brand corners, the distribution strategy is the only way for local teams, in the markets, to express clearly, the unique way they want to position the brand.

As for Goyard, the owner had a very clear view and we were all in agreement on the fact that, due to the niche positioning the brand, we wanted to wait for the best possible location to become available. That means that we were not going to open many stores at once, but we were going to approach specific landlords, carefully selected, and tell them, we want the best possible space, which is never available, because it’s the best possible space. But we’re happy to wait for it and whenever it becomes available, we are going to be interested. This strategy worked very well for Goyard. And quickly, as a matter of fact. I stayed with Goyard for five years, in Asia, and in the space of five years, we had reached all the targets we wanted to reach.

Why? Because the brand strategy was very clear, because it was a differentiation point for the landlord. We were telling them that we were going to be working with them, exclusively, in this neighborhood. Therefore, it was attractive for them, as well. It’s not often understood, except by key managers and by people who have a lot of experience in distribution, but the first customers of the brand or the first partners of the brand, are those landlords or the shopping mall managers. You need to convince them to give your brand, their space, which is usually very valuable space. You need to, basically, earn the right to pay the rent. It may sound strange but if a location is working, it’s usually taken by a brand, it’s usually occupied by a brand and you need to, literally, fight to get access to it.

You need to use all the tools at your disposal, in order to convince these people that your project is a win win situation for them and for your brand and then, together, you are going to build a successful story that is going to position their shop, their mall, their department store, in a unique way. That’s the initial phase and that’s, probably, the most difficult, actually. That’s where most brands fail, in their market access. But it must not be overlooked. It must be considered carefully, because it will impact your development speed, in the market. If I’m able to quickly convince you that my brand is a valuable brand and that I have a unique positioning in the market and I’m going to bring a unique story to your shopping mall, you are likely to give me, relatively quickly, a space that works for me. If I don’t manage to convince you, then you are going to have a coffee with me, very nicely – and these people are usually very nice – because we want to keep the relationship going, but I am not going to get the proposal I need, to be able to open my store.

How, exactly, did you approach that relationship with the landlords?

Unfortunately, it is something that is specific to each brand and confidential to each brand, so I cannot go into the details of it. But I can tell you the general principle. Obviously, if you manage a department store, if you manage a shopping mall, what are you trying to achieve? You’re trying to achieve the highest possible rent, because you want return on your square footage, which is fixed; you cannot extend it. Also, you want to position yourself versus your competition. Most cities, nowadays, every department store and shopping mall has two to three competitors. There is usually one leader, sometimes very clear and sometimes not. If you take Beijing, in China, for example, it is SKP. If you take Shanghai, it’s Plaza 66, which is usually recognized as leader, with the IFC close behind. If you look at Tokyo, you have, obviously, Isetan, which is a major player. So the strategy could be, very well, to interact with those first, to try to get a foothold into those very important figureheads, in terms of distribution, for the simple reason that, being there, will make you exist on the radar of all your other competitors. Just entering the Isetan will wake up Takashimaya and Hankyu and so on, because they look at them, all the time. So that could be one strategy.

Again, the strategy needs to match your brand strategy. Or you can say, okay, I cannot get access to the location I want, in SKP. I cannot get the location I want, in Isetan. So I’m going to go for the nearest competitor and I’m going to open a super-prime space. I’m going to tell them, for example, I’m a very nice, niche brand and I’m going to work with you, if you give me that floor space that I need. Ground floor, next to the entrance. If you’re convincing enough, if your product is good enough, if your brand story is good enough, some of these managers will give you that space, because they need, obviously, to try to make a difference with the number one. Everybody is trying to be number one, in their own market, including the department stores and shopping malls.

It’s trying to build a relationship; it’s trying to build a story that works for them. Over the years, many brands have developed different strategies. Some are well-known and now they are very popular, such as partnership. You have a very strong brand, but yet, you try to capture more audience by partnering with another brand. The best example, the most famous example and one of the most successful examples is Louis Vuitton with Supreme. That was one of the first ones. Hats off to Louis Vuitton management, for taking on the risk of exposing the brand to such aspects. But it helped them to change the brand image, to some customers and, also, with the distribution networks. Some other brands have applied the same technique and have done some partnerships, RIMOWA being one them. This has really been a key aspect of the negotiation with key distribution partners. By bringing an exciting product, which is already a good thing to bring to the table, but by bringing a limited edition, with another exciting brand, that’s going to huge demand, huge queues. It’s another level of excitement that is really helping these managers, these landlords, to make a difference.

That’s what they want. They want to make a difference; they want to stand out from the crowd, like any maison wants to do.

Just taking a step back, when you’re moving into a new market, is there an immediate question as to whether you want to own your distribution or have indirect distribution and how do you make that decision?

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RIMOWA & Luxury Retail Distribution

March 26, 2020

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