CEO Summit: Choo Moves Ahead

When the going gets tough, get going.

That’s the strategy Jimmy Choo CEO Josh Schulman is using to steer the high-end label through what he calls “the most challenging climate in the history of modern luxury.

“No one’s resting on their laurels,” said Schulman during a presentation on the final day of the summit. “We’re actively managing the situation. … The customer is the most important player in our story, and we have to be sensitive to the changes in these women’s lives.”

So what’s working in the difficult environment? Delivering exceptional customer service, managing inventory and reducing expenses are paramount, but Schulman said the company is “turning down the volume, not changing the channel.”

To drive sell-throughs, Schulman and Jimmy Choo President Tamara Mellon have evolved the footwear mix so that half of the season’s offering is sold in a pre-collection made up of a higher proportion of “iconic” Jimmy Choo styles. The label also is offering more styles at a variety of price points, from entry-level jellies and espadrilles to big-ticket exotics.

“This strategy was put in place before the recession, but we’ve benefited from stretching the pyramid up and down,” Schulman explained.

No matter the price point, Schulman said both value and the emotional connection for consumers have to be considered. “How we define value in terms of the customer experience is very important. A python sandal at $1,395 can have value for a customer, and it’s a different kind of value than a jelly at $175, ” he said.

Another success for the company has been Jimmy Choo’s collaboration with Hunter to create the co-branded croc-embossed Wellie rainboot. The waiting list hit 17,000 after the boot was featured in the April issue of Vogue.

Schulman also emphasized the importance of reacting quickly to capitalize on buzz from blogs. For example, one Japanese blogger featured the brand’s star-studded wallet, and sales jumped 26 times above normal. The company had to act fast to expedite product development in the factory, but came back with renewed supply to meet the consumer demand.

This year, Jimmy Choo plans to relaunch its own Website as part of a visual overhaul, but already online business is up 80 percent over last year.

The company also continues to expand its retail presence and will open its 100th location this year, with an updated format to accommodate new categories such as eyewear and scarves. Jimmy Choo’s recent launch of a travel retail shop in Hong Kong also has been a high point. “This store is a little jewel box,” Schulman said, “We’re selling both casual shoes and the most fashion-forward styles at the highest price points, which is counterintuitive at an airport location.”

As Jimmy Choo continues its global push, Schulman addressed the differences between the U.S. and international recessions.

“The fundamentals are just as bad, if not worse, in Europe, but consumer spending hasn’t slowed down as much,” Schulman said. The relatively cheap pound and depressed yuan have attracted customers to shop in London and Korea, respectively, but Spain, Italy and France are challenging markets, Schulman said. Japan is also very difficult, he added, but “we’re in a different cycle there, so we’re taking market share.”

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