Hot Concepts & Coming Attractions
There’s a new high-end fashion activewear brand in town, and this one speaks with a British accent. London-based Sweaty Betty opened its first two U.S outposts last year, one in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, and one in Greenwich, Conn. A third is expected to open in 2014.
With an aim “to inspire women to find empowerment through fitness,” Sweaty Betty covers all the bases, with clothing and accessories for yoga, dancing, spinning swimming, skiing, tennis and running — all under its own label. The goods are stylish and well made, featuring the latest in fabric technology. On-trend prints and quirky detailing help ratchet up the brand’s fashion quotient. Price points, on average, tend to run above lululemon athletica.
Sweaty Betty stores have an experiential bent, offering free fitness classes that can range from yoga and Pilates to dance and high-intensity training (many locations have dedicated studio spaces).
The company tailors stores to each location, sourcing props from the local area, even as it maintains its overall sporty British aesthetic. The SoHo store has an urban loft gym theme, with a focus on dance. Vintage gym equipment, authentic dance stage lighting and strong pops of color help set the mood. In a nod to the brand’s roots, the wallpaper in the fitting rooms features a graphic landscape of London, while vintage ornaments, including tea cups, flags and double decker buses, help accent the space.
Sweaty Betty founder and creative director Tamara Hill-Norton may be the brand’s best weapon. A fitness enthusiast, she has emerged as a respected figure for women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom, growing Sweaty Betty from a start-up in 1998 to a $40 million business. With 36 stores in the United Kingdom, Hill-Norton said in a recent interview that her home country has a potential for 50 to 60 stores maximum. The United States, she added, is a “massive market.”
There aren’t too many retail brands that combine old-world craftsmanship and quality tailoring with a rock ’n’ roll aesthetic. Or that can lay claim to a downtown Manhattan flagship housed in a space formerly home to one of the world’s foremost punk clubs (CBGB). John Varvatos scores on both points.
The menswear company is named after its founder, a two-time winner of the CFDA’s prestigious Menswear Designer of the Year award and a veteran of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. He launched the brand in 2000, with a collection of tailored clothing and sportswear. It has since evolved into an entire lifestyle brand whose offerings now include eyewear; limited edition watches; skincare and fragrance; and a second line, Star USA, which has a more youthful vibe.
Most recently, John Varvatos has been growing in other ways. In February, the company opened in Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto, and in March, it unveiled its third store in Manhattan, on the tony Upper East Side. It is set to open its first store in Texas, in the Houston Galleria, in late summer/early fall. A store in Beverly Hills is also expected by year-end. Specialty store concepts, including one for footwear, are rumored.
The retail push follows a change in ownership. In 2012, Lion Capital purchased a majority stake in John Varvatos Enterprises from VF Corp., with an eye to expanding its retail footprint. (Varvatos remains chairman and creative officer.)
Kate Spade Saturday
From clicks to brick-and-mortar, Kate Spade’s sassy little offshoot, Kate Spade Saturday, is poised for big things. More youthful and casual in its overall vibe and much more affordable in its price points, Kate Spade Saturday could eventually surpass its big sis in terms of overall store count.
The fledgling brand launched in March 2013, starting with a store in Tokyo and an e-commerce site in the United States, followed by a series of pop-ups. Currently, it operates four U.S. stores, in Los Angeles, New York City, Houston and a just-opened location in Honolulu, in addition to six stores in Japan. Reports have it looking for additional locations in New York and on the West Coast.
Targeting young women in their twenties, Kate Spade Saturday has an upbeat, playful aesthetic. The merchandise selection ranges from apparel and accessories to beauty products and home decor. Fashion-wise, the selection is modern and unfussy, with lots of bright colors and minimal details.
Store interiors are bright and sunny, enhanced by light wood accents and the brand’s signature canary-yellow hue. In line with its millennial target customers, the brand is tech-savvy. (It featured eBay-powered, 24-hour shoppable touchscreen store windows in four pop-ups in Manhattan last summer.)
One of the most high-profile shapewear brands is extending its retail reach. Since opening its first stand-alone store in late 2012, in Tysons Corner Center, McLean, Va., Spanx has opened three additional locations, most recently in International Plaza, Tampa, Fla. Coming soon are stores in Westfarms Mall, West Hartford, Conn.; North Park Center, Dallas; and The Mall at Short Hills, Short Hills, N.J. (There are also several Spanx airport stores, which are owned and operated by The Paradies Shops.)
From department stores to boutiques, Spanx products are sold in more than 12,000 retail stores in more than 50 countries around the world. Its product lineup now includes more than 200 items, ranging from its signature — and slimming — pantyhose and body-shapers to bras and swimsuits.
Spanx stores reflect the brand’s larger-than-life personality and its ethos of comfort, function, fashion and fun. The spaces are stylish and chic, accented outside and in with Spanx’s signature red hue. Lucite finishes and high-gloss lacquer are combined with warm, feminine furnishings for a high-fashion feel. Special attention is given to the fitting rooms, which are spacious and enhanced with flattering lighting.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Max Brenner certainly does — the company has created an entire culture and global portfolio around it. After launching its U.S. operations with a full-blown restaurant concept offering both sweet and savory meal options, the company is now rolling out a more casual, dessert-cafe concept, called The Chocolate Bar, that will define all future locations.
To date, the company has opened two Chocolate Bars in the United States, one in Bethesda, Md., and a just-opened 2,800-sq.-ft. space in Westfield Garden State Plaza, Paramus, N.J. The format is fast casual. Customers order at the counter and seat themselves, or take their order to go. The menu items range from hot chocolate and milkshakes to banana-split waffles and crepes. The space also includes a retail shop stocked with the brand’s signature chocolates.
The Chocolate Bar aims to give customers a full sensory experience, even pumping the scent of chocolate into the air. The centerpiece of the space is a long bar from which seated customers can watch the products being made. References to chocolate abound, from the rich color palette to the stylized graphics.
Starting in 2015, Max Brenner is looking to open a number of Chocolate Bar locations in the United States. Malls fall within its real estate strategy.
“Our ideal location is one that attracts heavy foot traffic on a consistent basis and has a healthy population of young adults, which comprise our target consumer,” said a spokesperson for the company.
Making the Case for Strong Brands
There is no substitute for a strong brand — whatever the sales channel. That’s the basic underlying premise of Interbrand’s annual “Best Retail Brands” report, which ranks the top 50 North American and international retailers by brand value. It’s a premise worth keeping in mind amid all the online versus offline talk. As Interbrand global CEO Jez Frampton puts it: “In the end, it is the brand, not the footprint, that will endure.”
This year’s report once again finds Wal-Mart Stores firmly ensconced in the No. 1 spot, as both the most valuable brand in North America and in the world. Even with a 6% decline in value, the chain is so far out in front, with an estimated brand value of $131.8 billion, that it’s unlikely another retailer will catch it any time soon, advised Dirk Defenbaugh, managing director, Interbrand Design Forum, Dayton, Ohio, which produced the report in collaboration with parent company Interbrand.
“Looking at the 150 retail brands that we valued from around the world, the next closest brand [after Wal-Mart] is Target, at $27 billion,” he said. “And of all the brands that Interbrand values, not just retail, Apple is next closest, at $98 billion in brand value.”
The top five North American brands remain unchanged from last year: Walmart, Target, Amazon, The Home Depot and CVS/pharmacy. But there are also surprises in the rankings, most notably a big jump by Macy’s, whose brand value skyrocketed 383%, the most of any retailer on the list.
“The incredible rise of Macy’s is most significant this year,” Defenbaugh said. “It’s a great example of a retailer that has effectively managed its brand. Macy’s has been quick to respond to shoppers’ new digital behaviors, rapidly becoming a leader in omnichannel retailing. Also, Macy’s has kept its brand well protected through the use of private label and shown commitment to elevating the store experience.”
Five brands fell off the list: Guess, Big Lots, Rent-A-Center, Radio Shack and Anthropologie. Best Buy made the Top 50, at No. 20, but its brand value plunged 41%, the most of any retailer. Defenbaugh sees the declines as an issue of “relevance.”
“Brands need to continually adapt to changing consumer behaviors,” he explained. “The brands that declined, including Best Buy, Guess and RadioShack, are all caught in a position where their current proposition isn’t as compelling to today’s customer.”
As to some of the key insights from the study, Defenbaugh called out Amazon’s goal of becoming the “everything store.”
“It’s predicted that Amazon will soon carry more than 85% of the products sold at leading retailers — including groceries with Amazon Fresh — at better prices, with more delivery methods and payment options,” he said. “The takeaway here is that retailers need to find a way to make their experiences better because Amazon is only getting stronger.”
The full Interbrand report can be downloaded at BestRetailBrands.com. More than just a ranking, the study is a great overview of the retail scene around the globe, with capsule summaries of all the leading retail brands.
New tech chief for nGage
nGage Labs, a leading provider of personalized mobile engagement solutions, has named Kyle Hollaway as chief technology officer.
As CTO, Hollaway will lead the nGage Labs Analytics Innovation team in developing real-time personalization analytics that differentiates the company’s mobile customer engagement solutions. He leads an entire team of architects, analysts, modelers, and developers in continuing to create deeper levels of individual customer insights and actionable intelligence.
"In the dynamic world of customer engagement where innovation is being introduced on a daily basis, nGage Labs stands alone as an innovator that is leveraging mobile personalization technologies to improve the ultimate customer experience," said Hollaway. "I’m ecstatic to be joining this company at this point in the personalization revolution."
Hollaway has more than 20 years of experience in the industry, most recently having directed technology at Campus Nation Network. Prior to that, Hollaway was a senior executive at marketing service providers Merkle and Acxiom, where he led the development of their customer data integration products. While at Acxiom he worked on customer insight projects for Trans Union, American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Chase and GE Consumer Finance and created ground breaking "personalization" solutions that these brands use to fuel their digital success.
"Kyle has long been a leader in creating the technologies that power leap-frog innovation in marketing solutions," said CEO Rod Ford. "He’s joining a world-class executive team that is leveraging our innovation in mobile personalization to build a world leader. Kyle will be an essential part of our future success in the mobile equipped marketplace."
Hollaway is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and holds a BA in computer science. He also served as a combat engineer officer in the U.S. Army.