How does a luxury brand transition to a digital-focused world?
Mark Brashear | President & CEO | John Varvatos Enterprises
I lived in Silicon Valley in the early days of the technology revolution that transformed our world. These changes continue today. In the beginning of my career, I was intrigued with technology and the possibility that faster and more accurate data would inevitably lead to better results. When I became a buyer for Nordstrom in San Francisco, I was among the first to haul my personal Apple Mac Classic II computer to the office to help manage the data necessary to run my business. This curiosity, coupled with my competitive nature, combined to reinforce my commitment to utilize technology wherever possible to better anticipate — and improve — business performance.
In leading any company, understanding and effectively communicating the fundamentals of the business objectives is key to driving successful outcomes for the long term. When I joined John Varvatos as CEO in 2015, I understood that the assets of the business were grounded in the iconic brand equity built over the (then) 15 years since the company was founded and the strong association our clients have with this men’s luxury lifestyle brand. In addition to the essential changes needed within the company, primarily focused on organization, alignment, communication and execution, the broader challenge we faced was adapting our business to the dynamic and digitally focused world in which we compete. In early 2016, we set out to make John Varvatos “Digital First”.
ADVANTAGES AND CHALLENGES FACED
Like many luxury fashion brands, John Varvatos was late to join the digital game and we learned several lessons in the initial stages of our play at traditional E-Commerce. Over the past five years, the company has built, and continuously focuses on improving, the digital expression of our brand. These efforts are business requirements to participate in luxury lifestyle retail today. The more critical evolution required has been the transformation of the company culture. This includes sharpening focus, understanding and resource allocation to drive for digital leadership in fashion, while leveraging the assets of an established lifestyle brand.
One key advantage we have is a high commitment to service for our clients. I call this our “Service Transformation in the Digital Age”. This has been present from the beginning at John Varvatos and we have worked to capitalize on this integral dimension for our long term business success. While the notion of “Service” evolves as our customer’s values and preferences change, the connection between our clients and our business practices remains paramount. We are keenly focused on providing experiences with John Varvatos that remain relevant to our current or new target consumers. No longer is the generic amenity offer sufficient to entice clients to engage with a brand. Today our customer focused activities are centered around speed, convenience, transparency and products that meet the needs of our discerning clients.
Our physical stores are integral to the success of the brand. Unlike many brands which face the challenge of being “over stored”, John Varvatos has a retail distribution network of company owned stores which are geographically balanced and not in excess of our business needs. Even in a digital first climate, our strong physical retail remains a core focus for showcasing our brand. We find many of our clients appreciate digital access to our brand while still enjoying the in-store experience. Our aim is to excel in all customer facing touch points to the brand.
In order to evolve our company culture, I had to first ensure we had a commitment from my management team to focus on digital. Then, I set out to build a team of talented digital experts, while identifying best-in-class partners with whom to work. Much of the evolution starts with gaining understanding for the mission and the context of the fast changing world of digital. Here, we took steps like subscribing to Gartner/L2 to ramp up our organizational knowledge of all things digital. I have also remained active as an advisory board member of the Retail Management Institute at my alma mater Santa Clara University, which has provided leading industry insights in terms of technology developments.
Unlike digitally native brands, we have experience in traditional brick & mortar retail and deep connections between our loyal clients and our sales professionals. These invaluable assets must be leveraged to enable us to capitalize on our strengths, while working swiftly to close gaps in our organizational competencies and business priorities. We have faced challenges such as organizational alignment and understanding of the importance of a “Digital First” focus. However, internal education and sharing of strategic focus remain important ingredients in our transformation.
Not all brands have undertaken the digital transformation with the same commitment. These paramount strategic choices undoubtedly lead to different outcomes. We look to be a leader in our space by offering fresh solutions and essentially connecting with our clients in ways that are adding value or improving efficiency in the experiences he has with our brand. One recent addition to our service offer has been the introduction of Live Chat on our website, which allows customers to engage with sales professionals in all of our brick and mortar stores for style guidance, fit counsel and general brand insights as they make their purchase decisions.
Among the many lessons we have learned thus far, appreciation for speed, data and willingness to test/learn, have likely been some of the most important for us. Creating a culture of learning within an existing business where “the way we have always done things” is a reverberating theme, can be daunting. Taking a cue from our brand heritage of rebelliousness, we have managed to streamline and adapt many internal processes and cross functional business coordination in meaningful ways.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Digital centered business is a given today. How, when and what a given company chooses for its business model is the space where so much innovation and creativity is being explored presently. From Artificial Intelligence (AI), to exploring the use of bots for many business functions, to fundamentally disrupting the way in which consumers access a given product or service are all areas where true entrepreneurship is being exploited today.
Our “Digital Roadmap” contains many subjects for us to tackle, but we are confident and focused on implementing digital enhancements aimed at better serving our clients. These are tremendously exciting times in the world of fashion and I encourage all who are passionate for the sector to not be intimidated by technology, but rather to embrace, study and apply some of the fascinating innovations available to make your business more relevant — and ultimately more successful!
Mark Brashear has been Chief Executive Officer and President of John Varvatos Enterprises, Inc. since December 2015. Before his move to John Varvatos, Brashear served as President of Menswear at Michael Kors Holdings Limited and Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer & President of Hugo Boss USA, Inc.. Brashear started his career at Nordstrom in 1985, moving his way up the ranks from store management positions to Executive Vice President of Nordstrom Inc..