Published on: January 7, 2010Now available on iTunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
I’ve long joked here and elsewhere that my favorite menswear designer is LL Bean...which Mrs. Content Guy doesn’t think is nearly as funny as I do. We were at dinner the other night and we actually had a brief conversation about how old a particular sweater I was wearing was...my conservative estimate was about 20 years, but it could be older. This struck her as amazing on a number of levels, not the least of which was the fact that it still fits. (Alas, I don’t have any pants from 20 years ago that still fit, but that’s a different story. After seeing “It’s Complicated” during the vacation, I’m now saying that I’m in my Alec Baldwin phase. It’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
But I digress...
I’ve been thinking about LL Bean this week because of a story than ran in the Wall Street Journal the other day about how LL Bean is launching a new “Signature” line later this spring that will feature somewhat dressier and more stylish clothes that will remain faithful to the brand’s classic cultural core.
The company is doing something that Sears-owned Lands’ End already is doing. Lands’ End has on its website a line called its “Canvas” collection - a little more stylish, a little more urban, yet still functional.
Now, this path does have its potential problems. In both cases, the retailers are appealing to a younger customer who likely has not been a Bean or Lands’ End shopper, people who may think of these companies as irrelevant to their lifestyles. So getting credibility with these consumers is going to take time, patience and money.
At the same time, both companies have to be careful not to alienate their traditional consumers by being so distracted with these new brands that they lose sight of their core businesses. And they cannot let the somewhat higher prices they are charging for their new lines bleed over into the perception that they have become higher priced overall ... especially because the recession and the growth of internet shopping have both been good for their businesses.
In other words, it is all about brand equity - and how to extend it without diluting it.
The Journal points out that there is some precedent for these sorts of efforts. Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic and J. Crew have all navigated these treacherous waters and managed to survive and grow. Interestingly, the Journal story does not mention Eddie Bauer, which tried to do much the same thing and, while the company survives, it is with a vastly smaller footprint of stores because of eroding brand equity that has sent it into two separate bankruptcies.
Ultimately, as always, it will be all about the customer.
I haven’t bought anything from Lands’ End in years, but even at my advanced age I find the new “Canvas” line sort of appealing - it isn’t all for me, but there are some chambray shirts on there that look pretty nice; I might order one to see if I like it.
And as a regular and highly faithful LL Bean shopper, I’m not only unconcerned about the new “Signature” line, I’m actually looking forward to its unveiling...if only because it might allow me to escape the absolutely legitimate accusation by my wife that I’ve been wearing the same styles for most of the last three decades. (I’m a creature of habit. I drove the same car for 13 years and have been wearing the same watch since 1980.)
But I think the reason that I’m not threatened by these innovations by Bean, at least, is that my connection to the brand is so strong that I am convinced that even as they expand and evolve, they’ll still be looking out for me.
That’s a powerful advantage for any retailer. My friend Glen Terbeek calls it the “agentry agenda,” the notion that the successful retailer needs to be the agent for the consumer rather than the sales rep for the manufacturer.
It will be interesting to see how these experiments play out for both LL Bean and Lands’ End, and these lessons that we learn ought to be applicable to all retailers looking to grow and change while still nurturing their essential brand equity.
For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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