Lauren Reinvents, Sharpens Pricing

Carole Sloan, July 20, 2009

Ralph Lauren Home is concentrating on reinventing the Lauren Ralph Lauren brand to better accommodate the needs of retail customers while expanding its Ralph Lauren designer label to fine specialty linens stores, online and interior designer showrooms.

It is a challenge that fits the times, in the view of Frank Guzzetta, president of the home business, who will mark his first year with the company next month. The quest to develop product for small specialty retailers is a key part of his business philosophy. "The industry will come back to working with small retailers again as we move out of this economic crisis. The wheel is turning once again from large to small in distribution," he said.

One key element that will present a major challenge to suppliers — including those like Ralph Lauren Home with purposely limited distribution — is the need to develop suppliers able to work on smaller minimums than now exist. Smaller quantity purchases are available, but the cost per yard or unit increases incrementally as quantity commitments are lowered.

At the same time, the entire Polo Ralph Lauren company has publicly affirmed its commitment to working more closely with Macy's Inc. across the board, including new product launches as well as better support programs from marketing to design to packaging.

"We're trying to better understand their customers and their varied markets. It's a challenge." He added, "They want the brand to succeed; they want to take the Lauren Ralph Lauren brand and build all segments in home."

As part of this joint effort, he explained, "Macy's told us what 'traditional' is today in home. They are working closely with our design team — both Macy's and Bloomingdale's — to make this happen. Today is a time of our biggest challenge for us and the industry. Everything has to be reinvented — but with a quality that this brand demands and at prices that make it more viable."

One of the problems, Guzzetta said — while noting that his years in retailing at Marshall Field's and Macy's — "is that retailers want to change everything immediately. We are looking not to change everything tomorrow, but to keep the working parts and improve."

Looking ahead, Guzzetta sees the Lauren Ralph Lauren brand having "new extensions and dynamics. We're underrepresented in the scope of what the brand should be."

As part of the new approach, Guzzetta said, "We are launching sheet sets in the fall with Macy's in one solid color program as part of the plan to be competitive in the industry." As for why, he said simply: "It is the way consumers want to buy the product." Other Lauren Ralph Lauren changes will include another price point tier — lower — "reflecting the world's price point compression."

About to debut is a new youth-oriented group for back to school, a derivative program inspired by the company's Rugby looks, called University. It features camouflage designs, stripes, denim and graphic prints for top of bed. "It all fits within the Ralph Lauren ethos and design," Guzzetta said.

In towels, the brand has been repriced downwards in two styles, "and it has helped immensely." Addison has gone from $14 to $12.99, and Regent from $25 to $19. "We're also working on new towels with a change in dynamics from just a new color palette to a category that now is more about technology and benefits like durability and softness rather than weight.

The company is also working closely on strategic planning with key customers like Dillards' and Belks.

Discussing the top-tier Ralph Lauren line, Guzzetta said, "There's a challenge to get more value in the products in terms of quantities and quality. Key purveyors of the Ralph Lauren brand are the 16 Polo Ralph Lauren stores, Bloomingdale's and ABC Carpet & Home.

"I know there's an opportunity for us in fine specialty stores as well as online," he commented. "Home textiles is one of the largest categories purchased online."

As for the namesake Ralph Lauren brand, furniture currently is represented by the October '08 launch from E.J. Victor. "We're working on a Ralph Lauren program for Bloomimgdale's that will be at the best level. We're trying to get it priced so we won't have high/low pricing. That's the biggest challenge," he noted.

As for Lauren Ralph Lauren in furniture, the company expects to announce a licensee for the good/batter brand soon, Guzzetta said.

The top tier program is doing great in furniture, Guzzetta remarked. "E.J. Victor has done a great job even though the timing is the toughest with quality and product designed for a very small dealer base for fine furniture. Because of this I see the fine furniture business going more to the trade showrooms. But the challenge is to expose consumers to the showrooms."

The Blue Label program will be expanded at Ralph Lauren in furniture with the development of a new fabric collection for upholstery — "hopefully priced from $9 to $15 a yard."

The new tabletop collection for Lauren Ralph Lauren will launch in October at Fitz & Floyd, which Guzzetta said "is terrific." The big challenge is in rugs. "We're trying to find other retail distribution and readjusting pricing without disturbing the brand."


New York Summer Markets

New York Home Textiles Market Week

Held concurrently with GLM's New York International Gift Fair. Aug. 14–20 at the New York International Gift Fair (Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Passenger Ship Terminal Piers, Aug. 15–20); at 230 Fifth Avenue (Aug. 15–20); and at 7 W New York (Aug. 14–20).

HTT Market Kick-Off Party

Sunday, Sept. 13 Penthouse, 230 Fifth Ave, 6 p.m to 8 p.m.

New York Home Fashions Market

Monday, Sept. 14 – Friday, Sept. 18 In the showrooms

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