As online shopping gets easier and shoppers become savvier, the retail landscape is evolving so fast it can make your head spin, and driving revolutionary change throughout the industry. In our "State of Shopping" series, we're breaking down these changes with in-depth stories about what brands and retailers new and old are doing to adapt, both in stores and online.
Like many brands, Lacoste is changing things up in an effort to clarify its image, adapt to a rapidly changing retail landscape, and woo those all-important millennials who maybe don't want to wear the shirts their dads do to play golf.
The preppy, French tennis-turned-lifestyle brand co-founded by tennis star Rene Lacoste has seen some ups and downs over the years. It's been around 15 years since it began upping its fashion profile by showing at New York Fashion Week (following the 2001 hiring of Christophe Lemaire as creative director, who was replaced in 2010 by Felipe Oliveira Baptista). It's seen some missteps since then, including overexposure of its preppy crocodile polos and confusing messaging over whether it's a fashion brand or an athleticwear brand.
In 2015, it got a new CEO who's been charged with fixing those problems. Thierry Guibert's entrance into the company coincided not only with a challenging retail environment, but also with the prominence of a few trend waves that Lacoste has been well-suited to ride: athleisure, logomania and nostalgia (and even, perhaps, the more-niche dad fashion). It was nostalgia that the brand played on this past September, when it decided to stage a show in Paris in celebration of its 85th anniversary.
Also this year, the brand began working with French creative agency M/M Paris on a special new logo design, launched a collaboration with Supreme, kicked off a partnership with one of the best tennis players of all time Novak Djokovic (whom Lacoste lured away from Uniqlo) and began completely overhauling its flagships in key cities — most recently, its prime Rodeo Drive location in Beverly Hills. The morning after a blowout party on the tennis court of millionaire James Goldstein's landmark home, Guibert showed me around the new retail digs (which opened Monday) and outlined his efforts to reposition the brand for success.
For retail decor, at least, he seems to be pushing sport over fashion as the store is filled with tennis- and locker room-inspired design elements. Men's and women's ready-to-wear sits at the front, followed by athleticwear (including a Djokovic-inspired collection), childrenswear, a shoe wall and a polo bar filled with polo shirts in every imaginable color where shoppers can also "build" their own shirts by choosing the color, crocodile and adding embroidered initials. Another goal was to highlight the brand's Frenchness which can be seen in the color-coordinated blue, white and red merchandising of some of the product. "I asked my team to focus on the main assets of the brand because I thought that, before, the customers did not see exactly what we are doing," explains Guibert. "Is it a fashion brand? Is it a sport brand? We focus on two main assets: sport elegance and Frenchness."
Narrowing the focus has been a big priority for Guibert. "I joined the company three years ago and, especially in the U.S., the situation was not good," he says. "We were in more than 400 Macy's [stores] — we were everywhere — so the first decision that I took was, we cant go on like this. If you want to premium-ize the brand, if you want to be able to sell polos full-price for $90, we can't be everywhere with off-price."
Like other brands that have sought to elevate their images and bring sales back to their own stores by eliminating less-expensive alternatives, Lacoste pulled out of many of its department-store doors, including Macy's and Nordstrom locations, decreased its promotional activity and reduced SKUs to focus on core product.
"It's paying off, because I think customers now realize the brand is evolving and it's more premium," says Guibert. "You can't find a Lacoste polo in [a] very bad distribution network, like Ross." Guibert says the brand, which does not disclose sales figures, has seen double-digit growth in comparable sales as a result. Still, in directly-operated stores, in line with the market as a whole, Lacoste has seen declines in foot traffic due to online shopping. Guibert hopes customer-centric features like iPad checkout and the ability to order sizes and colorways not present in the store will increase in-store conversion, and that publicity of the aforementioned collaborations and launches will inspire consumers to come in and find new things.
Polos are still the brand's bread and butter, hence their prominent display and dedicated "bar" with customization options in the store. However, it's working to further develop its sports category, which has enjoyed increased popularity thanks to the athleisure trend. Guibert also bought back Lacoste's shoe and leather goods businesses from licensors in the hopes of building out those categories as well — especially sneakers: a "trendy product for young consumers," in his words. He hopes footwear, now 15 percent of the business, will grow to 30 percent.
Speaking of young consumers, some of Lacoste's recent efforts were meant to appeal to millennials and fuel a cooler brand image. "Lacoste was, some years ago, [considered an] old-fashioned brand, like your father wore Lacoste," explains Guibert. "But for the young guys that are cool, you need to make them think that the brand is now evolving [to become] more urban, more cool, casual, so collabs are very important to us." He said he plans to do around two per year to "fuel newness."
And speaking of things taking place twice per year, Guibert is also rethinking the brand's fashion-show strategy. September marked the first time the brand showed in Paris instead of New York, and while it was billed as a special anniversary event, he plans to continue showing there simply as another way to reinforce the brand's French DNA. Instead of showing a second time each year, he says he might reallocate those marketing dollars to other events in various markets, like Los Angeles.
But Guibert's biggest priority, above fashion shows or retail, is the brand itself, he says. "The most important thing to me [when I started at Lacoste was] to set up some values inside the company and outside the company like fair play, commitment, all these kind of values that are non-arrogant values," he says. Despite the fact that we are on Rodeo drive, a capital for exclusive luxury retail, and despite his efforts to reposition Lacoste as more premium, he emphasizes that he does not want Lacoste to be seen as accessible, and not a luxury brand. "This kind of arrogance with luxury brands — that's not Lacoste."
That balance of making a brand chic enough that people desire it, and available enough that they can get it, is a difficult — but potentially lucrative — one to strike.
Homepage photo: @lacoste/Instagram