October 29, 2007,
And now we see that the world's largest retailer is about to embark on a brand marketing exercise in home furnishings with a true pro in the business — Better Homes & Gardens.
Based on early reports, the BH&G program with Universal Furniture is a winner and the retailers involved — typically local furniture retailers — have been impressed with the merchandise, and more importantly, the marketing acumen of BH&G.
Whether the Wal-Mart program — which is ambitious for any retailer, but especially for Wal-Mart, which has been struggling to execute any number of increasingly complex changes — will succeed is a question that many are already asking.
But it also raises an ever more significant question — what is a brand, who owns it and how is it presented to the public?
In the world of home textiles we have been seeing a proliferation of brands being featured at retailer after retailer. Cases in point: Chaps and Very Vera Wang at Kohl's; Fieldcrest and Waverly at Target; Martha Stewart at both Kmart and Macy's; and next year's relaunch of Royal Velvet at Bed Bath & Beyond — as what their proponents are calling national brands — and then Chris Madden and soon-to-come American Living aka Ralph Lauren at JCPenney, and on and on.
With few exceptions, these names are not truly brands but labels. And their execution at store level ranges from dreadful to pretty good.
Creating a brand, especially a national brand with staying power, requires major energy, monetary investment and a divergence from the current pattern of demanding increasing amounts of markdown monies, guaranteed sales and a host of other financial benefits for the retail “partner.” Heaven only knows what parameters Wal-Mart has put into the equation regarding all of its requirements.
But more important will be what the ground rules are that the two parties agreed upon. When you have to police 2,000 plus stores, monitor the presentations and advertising as well as the quality and appearance of the product, it's more than a full-time job.
More than any of the above-mentioned programs, this will be the one to really watch.