Jamie Salter Wants to Turn Authentic Brands Group Into the Next Disney

In the decade since Jamie Salter founded Authentic Brands Group, the 56-year-old Toronto native has grown his brand management company from a small player focused on icons like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe to one of the most powerful operators in the fashion world, with a portfolio of 50 properties and nearly $10 billion in revenue.

Salter made big waves in the footwear space last year with the acquisitions of two celebrated names: Nine West and Camuto Group.

In 2019, his buying streak has continued with the purchase in April of Volcom skate brand from Kering SA. ABG also entered new businesses this year, by inking a deal in the cannabis industry and purchasing the Sports Illustrated media outfit.

And the entrepreneur is far from sated. “Our goal is to be a $30 billion company within the next five years,” Salter told FN in September. “Our organic growth is somewhere between 5% and 10% a year. So if you do the math, we’re going to be buying lots of companies.”

In fact, he said ABG is in the middle of seven possible transactions, one of which is for Barneys New York. “[The new lenders] have a backup bid from us for the intellectual property, but we’ve got to wait until Oct. 24 and see who comes and who doesn’t come. Based on that, we’ll decide how far we play,” Salter said, adding that his company is now targeting brands worth $1 billion or more.

This photo shows the Barneys department store in New York. The luxury retailer could be joining a growing list of retailers that have filed for bankruptcy. Barneys New York is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the latest retailer to buckle as shoppers move online. The iconic clothier founded almost a century ago will keep the doors open at its 10-story Madison Avenue store, but it has secured $75 million in financing to pay employees and vendors as it seeks a buyerBarneys Bankruptcy, New York, USA - 16 Jul 2019
Barneys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early August.
CREDIT: Bebeto Matthews/Shutterstock

The executive, who is being honored this week with FFANY’s second Influential Figure in Fashion Award, recently shared with FN his strategy for uniting his wide-ranging portfolio:

What is your overall vision for Authentic Brands Group?

“My direction for the company is to create the ABG Universe where all the brands and all the partners are in the universe. So with a subscription, you have access to every brand, every experience and every event that ABG offers before it’s offered to the general public. If you want to go to Graceland, you can go to Graceland, if you want a Sports Illustrated subscription, you can have it; if you want Airwalks, everything sits together.”

That’s quite a shift from traditional retail. How will you create something like that?

“If you look, that’s what Disney is doing and what Apple and Amazon are doing. We think that we are finally to scale now, and we can offer a subscription model as well. What does this mean short, medium and long term? Today, ABG is 75% lifestyle or product-based and 25% entertainment or experiential-based. Within the next five years, our goal is to be 50-50. When you really think about it, they work together. By converging these two worlds together, we’re giving something to our consumers that they can’t get anywhere else. So taking an e-commerce platform and making it completely interactive and giving them special access.”

When could we see this go live?

“Our goal will be to get it launched in the fourth quarter of next year, and it may launch in beta before that. This is well beyond concept.”

Does this mean you are focused mainly on the digital world?

“Today ABG is doing about 15% of our total turnover in e-commerce, which is OK, but I’d argue it should be 30% or 35%. We have almost 5,000 licensed stores all over the world — shop-in-shops, full-price [stores] and outlet stores. That is very important for the success of our brands. Simon Property Group and Brookfield are part owners of ABG, so don’t underestimate [that business]. We want to get people going out of the house and not just living this [universe experience] on a computer or mobile device.”

Frye Store Opens in San Francisco
Inside the Frye store in San Francisco.
CREDIT: Michael David Rose

ABG is not necessarily a household name, so how do you sell consumers on subscribing?

“When [your brands] have 265 million social media followers and you work with 2,000 influencers [through our Winston network] with a combined 150 million followers, my guess is that I can get the message out pretty fast and pretty easily — for the right price. Remember, [our business partner] Shaquille O’Neal has 45 million followers all on his own.”

How optimistic are you about its success?

“This is probably the most exciting thing that I’ve worked on in my career, which has been awhile. But this has been the plan since Day One. People laughed at me because I registered Virtualmall.com 10 years ago. It’s not going to be called Virtual Mall now because that’s too hard, but that was always the concept in my head.”

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