What It Takes for a European Comfort Brand to Break Into the U.S. Market

Jan Brinkmann, U.S. president of Germany-based Tamaris, shares what he’s learned about selling stateside.

Tamaris is a 50-year-old brand, but you launched in the States just three seasons ago. Why was this move important?
Jan Brinkmann: You’re not global until you’ve made it in the U.S. Far and away, it’s a different market [compared with] the entry and development mechanisms we have in Europe; it requires different logistics, customer service, back office and marketing. It also requires stamina and endurance. But within five to 10 years, the U.S. should become No. 1 of the 71 countries we sell to. [However], these ideas mean nothing if the product isn’t properly centered for the U.S.

What’s been the biggest learning curve so far?
Brinkmann: Understanding the logistics and dynamics. Although the U.S. is so diverse — urban to suburban to rural — with varying climates, I’ve found a successful product can sell in all regions. If your brand has a specific core competency and DNA, it can resonate from Miami to Bend, Ore. We are working on building a core U.S. line for Tamaris and have reduced the offering by almost 50 percent, from spring ’16 to spring ’17, and have increased sales by 100 percent. So less is more.

jan brinkmann tamaris
Tamaris U.S. president Jan Brinkmann.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

What defines the American consumer?
Brinkmann: She’s spoiled by the service and choices available at retail, making it challenging for a brand to enter this market. You need to play on the same level or be better than the competition. However, the fashion gap is closing. Tamaris now has trends developing in a super-short time that spread quickly. You can have something develop and be available in Paris, Hong Kong or New York simultaneously. The speed to market is incredible.

Which marketing techniques have been most successful in the States?
Brinkmann: Product and word-of-mouth. It’s about shelf appeal, quality and, lastly, the fact that the shoes won’t break the bank, retailing for $79 to $120 for spring styles and $89 to $220 for fall. We then play on all levels of social media such as Facebook, as well as our own website. We also do corporate co-op marketing with our retail customers at the point of sale.

Tamaris
A Tamaris sandal.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

Tamaris has more than 1,000 partnership stores globally. Is that a business model that will be replicated here?
Brinkmann: It will be very important, but first you have to get the product right for this market and find your core competency. Secondly, you have to establish the brand with your wholesale partners and give them a chance to open up the next level of partnership — shop-in-shops and then standalone shops. That’s how we’ve grown in Europe. Currently, 98 percent of our global shops are partnerships. 

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