Lacoste Serves Up Big Plans

Lacoste is looking to make a bigger racket in the footwear space.

The French lifestyle brand, whose footwear is licensed by Pentland Group PLC, has been focused on its stateside business to spur growth beyond tennis shoes.

In addition to diversifying the product with lines targeted to a younger demographic, Lacoste also is expanding its presence at key grassroots events such as the Coachella music festival and the Super Bowl.

“The great thing about this brand is that it is absolutely timeless,” said Dave Grange, president of Lacoste North America. “There’s a constant influx of young, cool kids who want to wear brands that are rich in authenticity.”

There have been key organizational changes within the company as well. To boost camaraderie, North American operations relocated in April to a new headquarters in New York, bringing all departments under one roof for the first time.

Lacoste also expanded the responsibilities of its sales reps to give them more overall accountability and bolstered its marketing and merchandising staff to better support retail partners.

“People are the biggest asset we have, bar none,” Grange said. “One of the reasons we’ve been so successful is that we’ve been able to nurture, train and expose our employees to wider aspects of the business.”

The initiatives are paying off. Grange noted that sales in the territory have nearly doubled over the past few years, and that trend is expected to continue this year, though he declined to reveal specific figures.

The fresh outlook on the North American market mirrors the brand’s worldwide push in footwear, according to Global President Andy Simister. “A key focus for the global business is our priority markets in each region,” Simister said. “We’re tailoring our global strategies and making them regionally relevant to best target and engage Lacoste consumers.”

Ronnie Jefferson, buyer for Indianapolis-based Finish Line Inc., said Lacoste’s elevated attention to detail is a positive sign for the label’s chances in the American market.

“I see great potential for the brand as it continues to raise the bar in terms of understanding the customer’s needs and staying true to its standards,” Jefferson said.

Here, Grange sounds off on company culture, the importance of the women’s business and why bigger isn’t always better.

In what ways has Lacoste’s footwear division evolved in recent years?
DG:
We’ve changed the whole structure of the organization. We changed the commercial sales team from traditional sales reps to well-rounded business managers who can take hold of the process from the early stages all the way through to the delivery of the product. We’ve grown our marketing department [to help] when the product hits stores. We put merchandisers on the road on the East Coast and West Coast, and their job is to make the product look good and help it sell. The updated New York headquarters and showroom has also been a huge change for us.

How has that affected the way you do business?
DG:
Bringing all the functions of the business into one place has been a massive positive. In terms of working with customers, it offers them 360-degree service from us. Anything they need, we can work out here.

With everybody under one roof, how have you facilitated company culture?
DG:
It’s not a really intense, cutthroat environment. If you manage people in that way, you don’t get the best from them. I’ve been really lucky to have an amazing mentor, Andy [Simister], who hired me 14 years ago. He has been a great role model and barometer for how to run a brand, and we mirror Andy’s way and his attitude.

You’ve been involved with both the global and U.S. sides of the business. What are the differences in how Lacoste approaches the overseas consumer versus here in America?
DG:
There are always nuances as you travel the market. Generally, the Lacoste brand is accepted globally within the same product line. If there’s a trend moving in the U.S. that we’re not participating in, we want to be part of that. So we do have a design pod that only works on North America-specific products. The global line services 97 percent of what we need. But in those areas where we need specific product for that market, we do in-market items through them. It makes us more agile and faster to respond to customer needs.

Who is Lacoste’s core consumer here?
DG:
We get asked that a lot, and it’s difficult to answer. We’ll have a 6-month-old baby in a pair of shoes, a 60-year-old guy on his yacht in a pair of boat shoes and everyone in the middle. We have a big, wide spectrum of consumers. We can take them from a really early age with our kids’ shoes all the way through the life cycle.

How do you reach that fickle millennial shopper who may not be familiar with the brand?
DG:
We have a very talented design and marketing function, which allows us to keep things exciting each quarter. And working with our clothing partners, we have some pretty cool events each year. The Lacoste Live pool parties at the Coachella music festival, along with our Super Bowl events, get Lacoste huge social media and blog coverage.

What other areas of the business are you concentrating on?
DG:
Globally, we’re putting more focus on women’s, so naturally that product is improving all the time. There’s a huge opportunity to cement ourselves as a true women’s lifestyle brand. In terms of size, I want to see women’s grow as large as men’s. But we have to get the product right, and we have to engage the right retail partners in the women’s market. There’s lots of work that needs to be done, but the talent and expertise are here to do that.

Are there any other categories you’d like to improve?
DG:
Historically in the U.S., we’ve been known for athletic shoes, but our premium lifestyle segment is growing rapidly. We want that to continue because it’s sophisticated footwear, and it’s at a higher price point. It elevates the brand’s image.

How do you balance growth with keeping the brand authentic?
DG:
We’re not obsessed with top-line sales. I don’t want to just chase bigger and bigger. I want to do the right thing with the right products in the right locations. A byproduct of that is success. If our turnover doesn’t increase, but we’re still doing the right things in the right store, I’d still say we’re winners. Success to me is building that culture where everyone buys into the vision.

What challenges are ahead for the business?
DG:
I don’t want to swerve away from the question, but I also don’t want to make something up. I actually don’t think we have a major obstacle ahead. We just have lots of little things we need to do better. But we’ve got a great brand and we’ve got all the assets we need to grow that brand.