Gucci’s Luster Fades in Tough Luxury Climate

calflu

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From WSJ


http://m.wsj.com/articles/guccis-luster-fades-in-tough-luxury-climate-1414117772?mobile=y




Gucci’s Luster Fades in Tough Luxury Climate
The iconic brand finds it harder to excel at a time when smaller competitors are gaining ground.



Over the past few years, Helen Nonini, a 35-year-old executive in Milan, has sold off most of her once-beloved Gucci handbags and accessories. She even got rid of a roomy Gucci travel satchel she received as a gift.

“I just don’t want to be categorized,” says Ms. Nonini. “I don’t want someone in the street to look at me and know right away who designed the bag I’m carrying or how much I paid for it.” Lately she has been favoring other big-ticket, albeit logo-less, labels like Bottega Veneta.


Winning back customers like Ms. Nonini—many of whom are unexcited by the luxury brands that provided a thrill for so long—is an uphill battle for Gucci, whose red-hot growth has sputtered.

On Thursday, Gucci’s parent, Kering SA, said third-quarter sales for the brand declined 1.6% compared with the same period a year ago. Overall sales at the luxury conglomerate rose by 3.3%, to €2.6 billion ($3.29 billion).


Those results are part of a continuing trend. According to Bain, global sales growth of accessories such as handbags and shoes has been decelerating. They grew by 7% last year, compared with 16% in 2012, and are expected to rise 5% this year.

The travails of Gucci, whose sleek stores and coveted goods helped fuel the rise of luxury megabrands 15 years ago, illustrate some of the problems facing fashion’s iconic brands today: How to maintain a tony aura while still ringing up the volumes that investors crave.

Luxury shoppers are a fickle bunch; and nearly every brand at the high end of the spectrum faces the challenge of keeping its products both exclusive and readily available—concepts that seem to be less and less compatible. Gucci’s efforts to play to both sides of the equation, for example, have resulted in a wide range of prices and assortments that have diluted the brand’s exclusivity, analysts say.

A series of factors, including the end of eye-popping growth in China, Russian sanctions and Europe’s protracted economic malaise, are partly to blame for the problems at some luxury brands. And fresher haute labels, such as Delvaux and LVHM-owned Celine, are attracting sophisticated customers who prefer an alternative to the obvious logo look.

For the oft-cited triumvirate of luxury power brands—Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada—the wear and tear is becoming evident as their sales growth has ebbed.

Louis Vuitton, a division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton , posted near-flat sales in 2013 after years of 10%-plus growth. At Prada, the main brand of the Prada group, sales were almost flat in the first half of this year, compared with 32% rise for the full year ending January 2013.


Gucci started feeling the pain last year. Sales at the brand fell 4.5% in the first half this year—far from the 17% annual growth it posted in 2010. Last year, Gucci reported €3.56 billion in sales, down 1% from 2012.

“Gucci right now has too many products, too big stores and its price range is very wide compared with other luxury brands,” says Pierre Francois Le Louet, chairman of French consultancy Nelly Rodi. “Its products are not as unique as they were before.”

In an interview, Gucci chief executive Patrizio di Marco stressed that the house has been drawing more inspiration from its archives.

Gucci was founded in 1921 as a genteel leather-goods maker—a pinnacle of “Made in Italy” craftsmanship. By 1953 the brand had opened its first store abroad, in New York City. Its butter-soft leather handbags and loafers were worn by the likes of Audrey Hepburn. But in the 1980s, a family feud precipitated a stunning decline of the brand, when an expansion into everything from key chains to mugs left it nearly bankrupt.

In the 1990s, new management led by Harvard-trained lawyer Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford, a model-turned-designer, was installed. The pair served up generous dollops of sex and celebrity sizzle. Those collections turned Gucci back into a megawatt name by the mid-1990s.

Along with Louis Vuitton and Prada, Gucci began pitching expensive wares to a whole new class of arrivistes willing to plunk down $1,000 or more for a new bag with a recognizable emblem. The profits on leather goods were huge, and the brands poured that money into hundreds of swanky new stores. Gucci spent €77 million for just one Milan emporium in 2001.

Gucci’s sales rose by more than tenfold between 1991 and 2004. The brand’s success was such that LVMH attempted to take it over, launching a protracted battle with the company that was resolved when PPR—today known as Kering—took a major stake in the house.

Messrs. De Sole and Ford clashed with PPR executives and left the company in 2004—a move that shocked the fashion word.

By the time Kering’s owner Francois Pinault drafted Mr. di Marco as CEO in 2008, the stores were overflowing with merchandise bearing the double-G insignia. The entry-level price on bags was just €500. Those cheaper products accounted for 32% of total sales, according to the company.

At the same time, Kering was nurturing its previously-acquired brands like Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta—brands that have increasingly been gunning for Gucci’s coveted high-end consumers.

“Gucci made the big mistake of snubbing these new brands,” says Mr. di Marco. “If you’re too confident about your own strength, you risk to underestimate this phenomenon, which in real terms is market shares that you could lose or new consumers that others win because they’re better than you.”

Kering said Thursday that sales at Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta rose 28% and 10%, respectively.

Even as the smaller labels offer growth, the conglomerates like Kering and LVMH ultimately need the likes of Gucci and Vuitton—which contribute the lion’s share of the groups’ overall sales—to deliver the volumes and results that keep investors happy.

Mr. Pinault hoped Mr. di Marco could work some of the same magic he had at the company’s Bottega Veneta division, famous for its logo-less intrecciato woven bags and the slogan “When your own initials are enough.” Bottega, which also makes clothing and other accessories, had grown tenfold during Mr. di Marco’s seven-year tenure.

Before taking the helm at Gucci, Mr. di Marco summed up his view of the brand in a 150-page manifesto. Among other things, he said that the emphasis on the logo and an overreliance on cheaper entry-level products were endangering Gucci’s allure. At that point, 90% of the handbags sold by Gucci bore logos. “If you use the logo as if it were the only thing you’ve got, it’s wrong,” he says.


Once in the job, Mr. di Marco established clear goals: Clean up the midrange products and the surfeit of logos, while still offering something affordable to draw in new customers. Currently, logo products make up 37% of Gucci’s range.

Gucci continued to push midprice items and increased the number of more exclusive products—priced between £2,000 and £3,500, or about $3,200 and $5,610—by just 1% between September 2013 and May 2014, according to Sanford C. Bernstein. Some analysts say the push isn’t enough to appeal to higher-end customers.

By contrast, Louis Vuitton expanded its higher-end bag offerings by 6%. And it has slowed new store openings—adding about 30 new doors in the last five years compared with nearly 200 at Gucci.

While Kering and its conglomerate cousins have served as incubators for brands such as Bottega Veneta and Celine, Mr. di Marco believes that the surge of the smaller labels has exposed the weakness of the big houses’ dependence on their iconic logos.

Some marques have lost credibility among the superrich and celebrities due to their ubiquitous logos as well as their resonance with reality-show personalities like Kim Kardashian.

While the problem isn’t exactly new, it seems to be more pronounced. “There’s a continuous trade-off between short term profitability and long-term reputation,” says Armando Branchini, chairman of Altagamma, an association of Italian luxury brands.
 

calflu

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Brands like Gucci are increasingly straining for the attention of consumers like Valeria Battaglia, a 38-year-old Italian living in Abu Dhabi. She is drawn to luxury—but in discreet forms. “I often think: this [product] is amazing just because I have never seen it before,” she says. “It suddenly becomes much more attractive.” After buying a small no-name $1,000 handbag in a boutique in Capri, for instance, Ms. Battaglia says that her friends “went crazy and kept asking me where I got it from.”

The big houses have different strategies for managing logo malaise. An upcoming slate of Louis Vuitton bags, for example, sports the famous LV monogram. The quirky, limited-edition creations, designed by the likes of artist Cindy Sherman and architect Frank Gehry, are rarefied by definition—some with price tags of $20,000 or more. In past years, Vuitton has realized success by similarly “celebrating” its monogram.

Analysts like Mario Ortelli, of Sanford C. Bernstein, say that the limited-edition series and the pricing strategy are helping to recast Vuitton’s image while some other new logo designs appear promising.

Gucci, meanwhile, is trying to find its logo sweet spot. Most of its new and priciest offerings are subdued and completely logo-less. But brisk-selling patent and metallic bags with giant interlocking Gs are still essential to attract lower-spending luxury customers—badly needed for sales results.

Mr. di Marco notes that Gucci’s average retail price has increased. (According to BNP Paribas, it ratcheted up by 41% since 2009). But he believes Gucci’s repositioning must be prudent. “All customers start somewhere on the luxury ladder,” he says. “We need to talk to these people too.”

Within the industry, the company’s distribution strategy has also raised some eyebrows. Gucci has opened new stores at a rapid clip, for a total of about 480 today. As a result, some retail executives and consultants complain that certain Gucci products, particularly handbags, are over-distributed.

Mr. di Marco defends the brand’s push. “Who says there is a magic number of stores that a luxury brand can have?” he says. “Yes, maybe 5,000 are too many, but 500 or 600 is OK.”

One move drew particular scrutiny. In 2012, Mr. di Marco struck a deal to sell Gucci shoes, bags and other accessories in several Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s —emporiums synonymous with coupons and DoorBuster events. The stores, both owned by Macy’s Inc., offered Gucci prime real estate to display a broad range of products, recalls Mr. di Marco.

But over at Bergdorf Goodman—the vaunted Manhattan specialty store owned by Neiman Marcus Group—executives swiftly demoted Gucci. The brand was stripped of its favored spot on the grand rotunda entrance. As a result, Bergdorf’s and Gucci parted ways. It was an ignominious defeat for a brand that had battled its way back into Bergdorf’s in the 1990s. A spokeswoman for the store, which unlike Macy’s Inc., doesn't carry Louis Vuitton bags, declined to comment.

On Thursday, the luxury brand named Merinda Yeung, its Taiwan division chief, to run its faltering operations in China—a market that accounts for about one-quarter of the Gucci brand’s sales.

Luxury-goods sales expanded by just 2% last year in China, down from 20% in 2012. Gucci was hit especially hard. Its sales in mainland China, which grew by 19% in early 2012, fell by mid-single-digit percentages in the second half of last year, according to Barclays estimates.

One culprit: the 2012, central government crackdown banning civil servants from using government funds to buy luxury goods, which were commonly used to smooth over business deals. One Gucci store, in Beijing’s financial district, had been a favorite for businessmen—some of whom paid for gifts with large wads of cash.

At the same time, Gucci’s double-G logo—wildly popular in China where logo bags made up 95% of the house’s sales just a few years ago—was tarnishing. One survey conducted by market research company Millward Brown found that only 9% of 300 consumers said they intended to buy Gucci products in 2013, down from 14% of 400 consumers polled in 2008.

Mr. di Marco says the house is currently revamping its global store network, including relocating some boutiques. The company says the China business is stabilizing.

“It takes a significant effort to shift the positioning of a giant like Gucci and still continue to grow,” says Mr. di Marco. “It will take time to get to a point where we can manage several types of consumers.”
 

gail13

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What's kind of interesting is that Gucci gets singled out here, but what about the double C's, or the LV's all of whom use their logo too. If you look on the handbag forum, you'll see threads on other emerging brands whom aren't so logo centric.
 

calflu

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It doesn't single out Gucci only.

It talks about LV too in the second half of the article as well as Prada

LVMH and Gucci/Kering are public traded while Chanel isn't and WSJ was responded to Gucci's earnings report out yesterday

Chanel doesn't have mono bags unlike LV and Gucci. And this article touches on Celine and BV under the same Gucci/Kering umbrella who have been doing very well.
 

BgaHolic

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Brands like Gucci are increasingly straining for the attention of consumers like Valeria Battaglia, a 38-year-old Italian living in Abu Dhabi. She is drawn to luxury—but in discreet forms. “I often think: this [product] is amazing just because I have never seen it before,” she says. “It suddenly becomes much more attractive.” After buying a small no-name $1,000 handbag in a boutique in Capri, for instance, Ms. Battaglia says that her friends “went crazy and kept asking me where I got it from.”
^^ This is my dream too!!!! I purchased two Gucci leather bags, where the only identification is their horsebit design on the strap of the bag and on the other, two GG's hanging on the tassles and the majority of people have no idea what bag I am wearing unless they are an avid Gucci consumer. My feeling is, at the premier pricing market we should be able to obtain as individual a bag as possible and not one that is worn by the masses and this includes the double C (Chanel) and LV. When I see the "labeled" bags coming and going I can't help but think, celebrity or "wish I could be". I love gorgeously made leather bags and would love a designer to come out with one of a kinds instead of the easy way out and putting their initials for everyone to advertise.
 

papertiger

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It doesn't single out Gucci only.

It talks about LV too in the second half of the article as well as Prada

LVMH and Gucci/Kering are public traded while Chanel isn't and WSJ was responded to Gucci's earnings report out yesterday

Chanel doesn't have mono bags unlike LV and Gucci. And this article touches on Celine and BV under the same Gucci/Kering umbrella who have been doing very well.
I had a GST and I always felt like the CC logo covered the entire bag
 

papertiger

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I agree that Gucci make too many products, too many lines and all at the same time.

I think Gucci have too much emphasis on sales and outlets. Whilst it might attract some people, it puts a lot of other people off, people who dismiss Gucci because they never get to see just how amazing the quality is on most things. BV has a few outlets and sales but it keeps quiet about them, Chanel and H have sales too but they don't trumpet about it.

Gucci's leather, hardware, design and attention to detail is amazing. Their aftercare service is also great. Unless those things are affected I shall always be a fan. But after 30+ bags and everything else I can't just keep buying for the sake of it, I only need what I need :shrugs:.
 

gail13

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So, I 'm thinking at the 30% off sale for Gucci next month, most of the big logo bags and monogram things will be on sale...I wonder how long before they come back into style...

I think I liked the big logo items when I was younger and didn't know alot about designer merchandise. As I became more knowledgeable and appreciated the quality, I didn't feel a need to advertise things as such. Having said that, some of my bags that have held up thru thick and thin and the Coach bags I got in the 80's that look amazing and are not logo'd to death.
 

averagejoe

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I agree that Gucci make too many products, too many lines and all at the same time.

I think Gucci have too much emphasis on sales and outlets. Whilst it might attract some people, it puts a lot of other people off, people who dismiss Gucci because they never get to see just how amazing the quality is on most things. BV has a few outlets and sales but it keeps quiet about them, Chanel and H have sales too but they don't trumpet about it.

Gucci's leather, hardware, design and attention to detail is amazing. Their aftercare service is also great. Unless those things are affected I shall always be a fan. But after 30+ bags and everything else I can't just keep buying for the sake of it, I only need what I need :shrugs:.
I feel the same way. Gucci has far too many different handbag styles each season and too many price points. This makes it difficult for Gucci to have many classic styles that can be carried over from one season to the next. To solve this problem, Gucci has to discount their huge stock of seasonal bags during the sale season.

While I get quite excited during each sale because it makes their items much more affordable, it makes it difficult for me to ever consider paying full price for Gucci items. I have a few times, and every time I have, I hope that the item doesn't go on sale until at least two seasons later (or that it sells out completely at full price).

Gucci does revisit classics like the Jackie and the New Bamboo, but they modify the bags so heavily each time that they are almost completely new bags. A classic should look almost the same years and years down the road, like the Chanel 2.55, the Hermes Birkin, and the Lady Dior. The Jackie was revised a few years ago with some whip-stitch and braided details and tassels, and I thought that it would be a permanent design. Now they have a minimalist grained leather version with a very discreet logo and no tassels. It certainly looks more "modern" with a sharp clean look, but it's an indication that the Jackie bag is not a true classic, because it needs to be updated to match the times.
 

saligator

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Thanks for posting this, it's interesting. I tend to collect mostly very classic Gucci and no logos if I can help it. The most I'll do are iconic things (like the horsebit loafer), but no GG bags or anything like that. I'm in love with their clutches at the moment. Last year I bought an oversize clutch with a double horse clasp and it has been my go-to bag for ages now...
 

beekmanhill

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You can't appeal to the mass market and still retain luxury status. You can pull it off for a few years, but then the bubble bursts. Its happening to LV and I believe Prada too.

Thanks for the article.
 

BleuSaphir

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I think if Gucci doesn't offer to much sales...it could provide relief to the brand image. I feel like most of their stuff are good deals at full price already compared to their competitors!!!
Like, look at the crocodile coin purse! It was $420...now $600 with a price hike, but still Good deal!
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I also feel like they need to change the material for the interior of their bags! A bag that cost 1.6k-3k and beyond shouldn't have Lenin interior. I should be microfiber or something to feel more luxurious.
 
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