Economic and political turmoil was deepening across the globe, demand for luxury was waning, and the all-important American department sector was under pressure like never before.
But the executive, who joined Jimmy Choo in 2012, knew that the company was in a better position than many of its competitors. “We got ourselves prepared — and so far, so good,” Denis said ahead of the company’s strong first-half financial report that showed a 27.9 percent increase in net income. Sales, meanwhile, rose 9.2 percent to 173.1 million pounds, or $248.1 million.
The CEO said there are a lot of critical factors working in Choo’s favor.
Most importantly, he acknowledged the label’s influence in the market now extends far beyond its product offering. “From the beginning, we’ve been able to tell a real story, and that keeps the brand relevant,” he said.
That story has centered on the seductive power of shoes, a category that has exploded since the company’s inception in 1996. While footwear hasn’t been immune to the overall challenges sweeping through the high-end industry, it continues to fare better than many other segments.
Denis believes it’s easy to see why. “If you look at what’s been going on in luxury during the past couple of years, there have been a lot of price increases,” he said. “Shoes are still a business where the price point is accessible and people can buy into them.” In addition, emerging designers have helped to fuel an added level of excitement, according to Denis: “There is a dynamic energy in the market.”
While Jimmy Choo is much more established than many of its younger rivals, the brand — which went public in 2014 — is still busy tapping into fresh opportunities around the world.
Much of Denis’ energy has been focused on driving the company forward in Asia, where he lived for many years during his stint at LVMH and Christian Dior. “In Asia, the luxury industry, which is young, started with [the male consumer], and then women began to take interest in apparel and bags,” he said. “Now they’re starting to discover shoes more.”
He’s also observed female consumers in the massive market gravitating toward specialty shoe brands — Choo and Christian Louboutin chief among them. That’s a noticeable shift from shopping patterns a few years ago, when the big luxury juggernauts won consumer dollars.
In addition to mainland China and Hong Kong, Jimmy Choo is experiencing momentum in Japan, the company’s second largest market after the United States. There, male consumers are leading the charge for the brand. “The success we’re having in Japan tells us that we can develop men’s more broadly,” said Denis, noting that the category has grown quickly, now accounting for 8 percent of overall sales. “Shoes are at the forefront of the change in the men’s market. Guys are passionate about cars, shoes and watches. I don’t know a lot of men who are passionate about clothes.”
The CEO and his team have the men’s business top of mind as they overhaul the retail fleet — a massive, but important, project. Overall, the brand operates 147 directly owned locations, and 71 of them are dual-gender boutiques. The company opened six doors during the first half of the year, and nine boutiques have been renovated or relocated. (Stores employing the new concept now account for 40 percent of owned locations.)
“The new concept is supposed to be like a shoe cabinet that enables us to show everything we offer, from bridal and evening to day to casual. We don’t want to send the message that Jimmy Choo is only high heels,” Denis said, adding that the environment is designed to feel ultra-luxurious so consumers aren’t overwhelmed by the amount of merchandise on display.
His focus on invigorating the company’s own stores comes as Choo continues to grapple with the sluggish U.S. department store environment.
“The problem is that there is too much merchandise compared with what the market can absorb,” Denis said. “The department stores are reducing their buys — which to be frank, isn’t so bad. If you are in too many doors with too much merchandise, you end up with a lot of markdowns. Cleaning up [the inventory] is a smart thing.”
The company is also working closely with its retail partners to more effectively tailor its merchandise by store. “We’re starting to say that what’s in Neiman Marcus is going to be different from what’s in Saks and different from what’s in Nordstrom,” Denis explained. “These stores are an important force. It’s a matter of right-sizing their distribution and quantities of merchandise.”
Denis said that while the situation in the U.S. is troubling, the rapid development of the Asian business has helped alleviate any major impact. “Four years ago, this would have been an even bigger problem. At that time, the U.S. was our biggest market by a large amount, and department stores were a big share of that,” he said.
For the exec, diversifying the business also means focusing more heavily on the digital space, a priority for every global company. “We’ve embraced technology since the beginning, and now we’re moving into the next stage,” he said, noting that a seamless connection between brick-and-mortar and the website is key.
Starting this month, Choo will roll out a program that allows consumers to buy online and pick up their purchase in store. Similarly, if shoppers visit a boutique and can’t find their size or preferred style, they can immediately order the merchandise online and have it delivered to their homes. “This is a full integration of all our different shops,” said Denis.
The Frenchman said Jimmy Choo — which has racked up an impressive 4.7 million followers on Instagram — also is pouring more energy and resources into its social media initiatives.
“It’s changing the game, and we have embraced it in a bigger way,” he said, pointing out that the company is developing specific content for all of its platforms. That’s particularly important, according to Denis, because many of Choo’s younger customers scroll through their social feeds every morning, while they might bypass traditional magazines completely.
“Instagram makes fashion more modern and helps us redefine the trends,” he said.
Digital and social will be key as the company moves forward into its next decade. “We are in a time where everything has to change. We’re in the process of reinventing luxury, and the winners will be the people who are driving the content,” Denis said.
While he’s firmly focused on the future, the CEO is also proud of what the company — now the U.K.’s second largest luxury business, behind Burberry — has achieved so far. “We have created a full universe based only upon accessories. There is no equivalent story,” he said, “and we still have so much left to do.”