Luxury Institute News

May 12, 2015

Niche marketers target the 1% – at their peril

Crain’s New York Business
By: Anne Field
May 11, 2015

Last year, Steven Abt decided to overhaul the business model of Caskers, his five-employee craft-spirits company in Manhattan. He focused his marketing on two segments: the original customers who bought curated spirits on Caskers’ website, launched in 2012, and new, even more affluent buyers, who would receive one-on-one, concierge-style service.

A significant portion of his higher-end clientele was interested in such an approach. “It seemed like an opportunity to tap the luxury market, which is growing in general,” he said.

Five months later, the new offering generates about 2% of the firm’s annual revenue, which is just under $10 million, according to Mr. Abt. He expects that figure to increase to as much as 15%, with pretax margins of 20% to 30%, compared with 10% to 20% for the original service.

Mr. Abt is one of a growing number of small-business owners in New York City who are embarking on a two-tiered strategy in their marketing. That’s the result of a variety of factors: healthy demand for high-end goods and services, postrecession changes in the spending habits of affluent consumers, capabilities made possible by digital technology and the need to ramp up volume.

In some cases, it means branching out into a more upscale market, as Mr. Abt has done; in others, expanding from an affluent clientele to the mass market. Regardless, said Daniel Levine, a consumer-trends expert and director of the Manhattan-based Avant-Guide Institute, “these businesses are just following the money.”

Certainly, there’s a time-honored tradition in such sectors as fashion to bring a luxury brand to a mass audience. Take Lilly Pulitzer—known for its connection to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the very rich—which recently began selling a line of clothing in Target stores.

But such a strategy can be a gamble. The premium brand that expands to a less-affluent market may dilute its cachet. Even trickier is going after a higher-end customer. Companies often are reluctant to admit to doing so, fearing they’ll alienate potential buyers in either market. And it can be difficult to convince more elite customers that their product or service is top of the line.

“It’s always harder to go upmarket,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a consumer-trends research firm in Manhattan. He points to British-based Mulberry, a maker of high-end leather bags. It recently stumbled, with declines in profits, during an international expansion that included a flagship store in SoHo; it also increased prices to an ultraluxury level.

Many factors are contributing to the two-tier trend. For small businesses in New York pursuing wealthier customers, one of the most important is postrecession spending by upper-income households. From 2009 to 2012, the total growth in U.S. consumption, adjusted for inflation, happened mostly at the higher end, according to Steven Fazzari, an economist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Two ways to grow

Among those at the bottom 95% of income distribution, there was 2.8% growth during that time period, compared with a 16% increase among the top 5%. That trend has likely continued in recent years, according to Mr. Fazzari. “Growth in consumption has been exclusively driven by the top,” he said.

Companies have also been reacting to significant changes in the buying habits of affluent customers since the recession, according to Jim Taylor, a senior adviser at YouGov.com, a Waterbury, Conn., firm that conducts surveys aimed at better understanding public views about products and current affairs. He is the co-author of The New Elite: Inside the Minds of the Truly Wealthy.

He divides the affluent into two categories: those who seek “worth” and are willing to pay a premium for the things they buy, but go through a rigorous vetting and shopping process. Others are “discounters,” focused more on price. “They derive pride from squeezing their vendors,” he said.

Using technology platforms strategically has also helped some companies expand smoothly from a premium-only service to a larger market. Kofi Kankam co-founded Manhattan-based Admit Advantage seven years ago to provide advice to graduate-school and college applicants. He charges about $200 an hour, with packages running as high as $10,000.

About three months ago, the company launched Admit.me, an online platform that is more affordable to a wide audience. It allows applicants to interact with current students and alumni at schools where they are applying and for admissions offices to search for potential recruits. The basic service is free, but customers can pay about $10 a month for additional capabilities.

“We want to build a scalable business,” said Mr. Kankam, whose profitable, five-employee company has $2 million to $4 million in annual revenue.

The big benefit of expanding to a mass audience is increased volume—especially for small-business owners who have made their name providing time- and labor-intensive, hands-on service. Take Joey Healy, founder of a three-year-old company in Manhattan that bears his name. At Joey Healy Eyebrow Studio, which provides eyebrow-shaping services, Mr. Healy spends about an hour working with each client. He charges $135, up from $85 three years ago.

More recently, Mr. Healy formed a partnership with hair-removal specialist Spruce & Bond to train eight employees in his eyebrow-shaping techniques. They were placed at all four Spruce & Bond stores (three in Manhattan, one in Scarsdale). Called Browlab, the service at the stores costs clients $50; customers also can buy from Mr. Healy’s line of products. “It brings me a new audience,” he said.

Underwriting expansion

About 10% of Mr. Healy’s total revenue, which is “just under $1 million,” now comes from Browlab, but that should increase as Spruce & Bond expands to more locations in Manhattan. Also, in October, Mr. Healy plans to move from his 500-square-foot studio to a bigger space, which will serve as what he calls “more of a flagship” for the profitable company.

In some cases, small businesses regard their premium market as a way to underwrite expansion to a larger mass clientele. Four years ago, Kim Caspare, who has a doctorate degree in physical therapy, opened PHlex Health and Wellness Studio in Manhattan, where she treated patients who were able to pay out of pocket and were mostly referred by doctors.

Since then, she has added such services as acupuncture and meditation and expanded from 1,500 square feet to about 2,200, with plans to increase to 4,600. She recently started treating a new group of patients with insurance coverage, too. Her premium clients, who pay from $160 to $300 an hour for a variety of services, “subsidize everyone else,” said Ms. Caspare. Her profitable, nine-employee company has $1 million to $3 million in annual revenue.

For those adding a higher-end tier, the key is retooling the product or service to make it attractive—and worth the price—to a wealthier clientele. That generally means not moving too far upstream from the company’s original segment.

At Caskers, Mr. Abt had already sold pricey spirits, usually in the $40 to $60 per-bottle range, to affluent buyers. Although his concierge clients have paid as much as $27,000 for an order, “moving to the high end has been a natural extension of the business,” he said.

Another notable example is concierge medicine, through which doctors provide extra services to their patients, who pay an annual fee. About a year ago, Dr. Herbert Insel, a cardiologist and internist in Manhattan, introduced this option.

He charges a $2,500 annual fee to cover services, such as a lengthy physical exam not reimbursed by insurance, longer visits and a direct telephone number to the office. So far, 10% to 15% of patients have signed on. Many of them “are very busy executives in their 40s and 50s who are used to this type of approach,” said Dr. Insel. “They were champing at the bit.”

Source: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150511/SMALLBIZ/150509841/businesse

April 22, 2015

In $10 million home sales, Miami Beach a leader

Miami Today
By: Susan Danseyar
April 22, 2015

Miami Beach is in impressive company among the nation’s top cities for luxury home sales, third highest for sales of $10 million and over.

Miami and the Beach have high rankings in The Previews Luxury Market Report for 2015, released by Coldwell Banker on Tuesday, which lists the top 20 US cities’ property listings and sales in three price points: beginning at $1 million, $5 million and over and $10 million.

In 2014, Miami had 967 closed sales for properties $1 million and over, ninth on the list just behind San Diego (976 sales) and above cities including Santa Barbara (673 sales), Newport Beach (611 sales) and Honolulu (591 sales). Miami Beach, number 14 in this category, had 704 sales.

For properties $5 million and over, Miami Beach was fourth with 89 sales compared to New York City (182 sales) at the top of the list and and above San Francisco (64 sales) and Malibu (48 sales).

There were 26 sales in Miami Beach for properties $10 million and over, behind Beverly Hills (35 sales) and New York (56 sales). Miami Beach, third on the list, had more sales in this category than Los Angeles (26), Malibu (14) and San Francisco (7).

North Miami Beach, in zip code 33169, had the third highest number of active home listings for $1 million and over (460), behind New York’s zip code 10022 (465) and Park City’s zip code 84060 (611). Miami Beach’s zip code 33139 was fifth in this category with 355 listings.

For properties $5 million and over, Miami Beach’s zip code 33139 had 115 compared with 143 in Park City’s 84060, top of the list, and above Vail’s 81657 (69) and Beverly Hills’ 90210 (68).

In the highest category of $10 million and over, Miami Beach in zip code 33139 was ninth on the list (44 listings) compared with New York’s zip code 10023 at 84, top of the list, and Malibu’s zip code 90265 at 26, bottom of the list.

According to the report, the demographics are changing in the luxury housing market. “Many wealthy homebuyers have historically looked to leisure-rich spots like Hawaii, Florida and Arizona for second homes, or waited until they were finished working to make a move,” the report states.”That’s changing, with recent trends suggesting that younger homebuyers are not waiting until they retire to put down roots in places where they would love to live.”

Technology and ease of travel are rapidly transforming the workplace for wealthy professionals, the report states, creating flexibility in terms of work locations and the ability to choose where they want to live. “Millennials have come of age in this kind of environment and are accustomed to the idea of striking a work-life balance that meets their personal needs. As they achieve more wealth, their live-anywhere attitudes are likely to become more of a force in luxury real estate.”

According to the Previews Luxury Institute millionaire survey, 73% of those under 35 say that they expect to buy a home in the next 12 months, compared to 49% of 35- to 44-year-olds and 26% of 45- to 64-year-olds. Just 11% of millionaires 65 and over say that they’re planning a purchase.

The report cites homebuyer surveys and the accounts of local realtors, stating they confirm ultra high-net worth individuals are highly mobile and flocking in growing numbers to areas once pegged as resort or second-home markets, as advances in technology, transportation and communication enable a “live anywhere” working-age population.

Florida, the report states, has a favorable tax environment that’s attracting live-anywhere high net-worth homebuyers, particularly those coming from the Northeast.

“The taxes on inheritance and estates are very high in some states, like New Jersey,” said Clark Toole, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Florida. “Florida is one of the most attractive places to live from a tax perspective, so we get quite a few people who decide to live here for at least six months and a day each year. People are saying ‘I want this money to go to my kids instead of to pay taxes.’”

Source: http://www.miamitodaynews.com/2015/04/22/in-10-million-home-sales-miami-beach-a-leader/

November 5, 2014

Luxury training becomes fashionable MBA accessory

By: Deirdre Kelly
The Globe and Mail
November 5, 2014

When Christal Agostino was pursuing her MBA a few years ago, she had a deluxe classroom – a Hermès boutique in Paris.

In the rarefied edifice devoted to luxury shopping, the Montreal native had to learn the intricacies of the high-end marketplace. But the focus was not on the legendary brand’s crocodile handbags, some costing as much as a car, nor on its famous silk scarves, produced since 1937 and coveted worldwide.

It was on the sales staff, paragons of discretion, and how they interacted with customers of Hermès’ pricey goods.

“The way they handled the merchandise – the way they wrapped it and presented it to the customer, walking from behind the counter to hand it to them – was incredibly fascinating to me,” Ms. Agostino says. “They were creating a curated experience within the luxury experience. Nothing was done haphazardly.”

Lesson learned.

Ms. Agostino had completed her one-year, full-time MBA at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston and was in France at the time to expand her degree to include a specialization in international luxury brand management at École supérieure des sciences économiques et commerciales, better known as ESSEC.

The French business school, in collaboration with LVMH and L’Oréal Luxe, launched the specialization in 1995 to provide the high-end companies with a talent pool from which they could recruit, particularly in developing markets. Queen’s became an exchange partner with ESSEC in 2006. So far, about 180 students have gone back and forth between the schools.

“The ESSEC MBA in international luxury brand management was the first MBA program of its kind to exist worldwide,” ESSEC spokeswoman Anthea Davis says.

The program is 11 months long and is offered at two campuses in France and one in Singapore.

“It is today the reference worldwide in international luxury brand management education. We now work with all major luxury groups and independent houses worldwide,” Ms. Davis adds.

Milton Pedraza is the chief executive officer of the Luxury Institute, launched 11 years ago in New York, and he says there’s a growing need for specialized training in the luxury sector.

“Luxury is different from mainstream retail – the level of design, the level of quality, the level of relationship-building are all much higher than any other business segments,” Mr. Pedraza says.

“You are dealing with the affluent and the wealthy who have special needs and requirements and who are paying a very high premium for their goods and services. So the level of expertise required to deliver that value proposition must be taught and learned.”

Since ESSEC’s program launched 20 years ago, specialized MBAs in luxury brand management have grown in popularity. They are also now offered at the Bologna Business School, in the Italian city that’s home to brands such as Lamborghini and Maserati; the International University of Monaco; the NYU Stern Business School in New York; and the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy, to name some.

Most concentrate on a single facet of luxury, such as design and marketing. Others boost technological skills. Fashion in the digital age has become instant and a luxury goods education today includes video and social media training.

“Historically, luxury has seemingly been quite old fashioned and formulaic to its approach to business. However, with swift changes in technology, social media, e-commerce and expansion to emerging markets, we are seeing that luxury is now evolving and adapting rapidly,” says Nicole McBride, office manager at Lambert and Associates, a retail network company with offices in Paris, London, New York, Milan and Florence, Italy.

“With change comes a demand for a new talent pool that can provide a fresh approach.”

Canadian fashion entrepreneur Diane Robinson is the co-founder of the Huntress jewellery and luxury handbag, which made its debut recently at the Spring 2015 edition of World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto. In advance of launching her own business with partner Ron LeBlanc, she took the year-long luxury brand management MBA at the University of Monaco, graduating in 2011.

“You need both the language of business and luxury to compete in this field,” Ms. Robinson says. “Our aim was to have a fully vertically integrated business and I needed to know every part of the business, from the rough to the runway.”

The ESSEC MBA offers several specializations within its luxury brand program: fashion and accessories; fragrances and cosmetics; watches and technology; hotels and property.

Being broadly focused is what attracted Jessica Wang, another Canadian at ESSEC, currently enrolled.

“I have always had a passion for the luxury industry in general and when I found out about this program … , I was very intrigued,” Ms. Wang writes in an e-mail from Cergy-Pontoise, France, where she has lived since September.

“I did a lot of research on similar programs offered by many other schools and found the one offered by ESSEC to be the most comprehensive. It does not concentrate on just one area of the luxury industry such as fashion and accessories; instead it also explores in detail other areas: wine and spirits, watches and jewellery, and cosmetics,” she says.

Prior to becoming a student again, Ms. Wang worked for L’Oréal Group in Canada. When she graduates from ESSEC in 2015, she hopes to work in the fashion and accessories sector. She has a good chance of meeting her goal.

Since ESSEC’s founding in 1995, its 560 graduates have gone on to work for every major luxury group and independent luxury companies worldwide, including LVMH, Kering, Richemont, Estée Lauder, Tod’s Group, Zegna, Chanel and Hermès.

“We have a 95-per-cent success rate of students finding employment in the luxury goods industry upon graduation,” Ms. Davis at ESSEC says.

Ms. Agostino took courses in all aspects of a luxury brand, including retail design, licensing, wholesaling, and the psychology behind an expensive purchase.

Her teachers included the former managing director of Giorgio Armani France: “He brought a wealth of information, a lot of real-time stories,” says Ms. Agostino.

After she graduated from ESSEC in 2011, Ms. Agostino, 30, returned to Canada and landed a job in Toronto at the global office of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, where she worked on creating luxury partnerships.

In the spring of this year, she moved to Spafax, an international media and marketing agency that works with major airlines such as Air Canada and British Airways as well as Mercedes-Benz and other luxury brands. She produces their videos and glossy magazines.

“The story-telling behind the brand is what I love,” says Ms. Agostino, crediting her specialized MBA program for giving her a heightened awareness of luxury as a layered category of consumer goods.

“A Hermès purse is very beautiful, a piece of art. But there’s also a story behind it, what it represents as a luxury good, and what it means to the person buying it. It’s a piece of their ego, a part of their personal brand.”

Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/business-education/luxury-training-becomes-fashionable-mba-accessory/article21438951/

October 21, 2014

Luxury Institute Introduces Luxcelerate, an Empirically Proven Method to Drive High Performance in Building Client Relationships

Marketwired
October 21, 2014 80763_LuxcelerateLogo

NEW YORK, NY–(Marketwired – Oct 21, 2014) – Today, the New York-based Luxury Institute announced the launch of Luxcelerate, an enhanced version of its innovative successful 7-Step Customer Culture process. Luxcelerate is designed to accelerate sales performance via a proprietary methodology that focuses on empowering the customer-facing online and offline associates, helping brands to improve both client relationships and sales exponentially.

Presently, top brands are struggling to both expand and retain their client base. Top brands have a conversion rate of 10-15%, a data collection rate of 30-40% (approximately 25% of this data is unusable) and a first time buyer retention rate of 10%.

Luxcelerate encourages the individual sales associate to learn and execute the best practices in client relationship building. The process is designed to improve sales performance via an exclusive methodology that focuses on relationship building, while improving a brand’s conversion, data collection and retention rates.

Luxcelerate’s proprietary methodology is based on shared relationship values and standards that are designed by a brand’s front-line teams, and is therefore customized to fit the unique DNA and culture of each brand. Custom education programs use empirically proven learning principles to drive retention of critical knowledge. Measurement and reinforcement methodologies are then deployed individually to guarantee consistent daily execution. The outcome is humanistic, effective client relationship building that leads to sharp increases in sales.

Luxury Institute’s CEO Milton Pedraza developed Luxcelerate’s 7-step methodology. Mr. Pedraza established this innovative methodology after being inspired by best practices from education, medicine and aviation. Using this process, a number of top-tier luxury brands have doubled, or tripled, the accurate collection of critical client data, and have significantly increased client conversion and retention rates. Luxury Institute has worked with the top brands of major luxury groups, well-known brands owned by private equity firms, and small boutique brands, to drive sales at rates of 15-30% per annum.

“The Luxury Institute was invaluable in helping Malia Mills define and implement our clienteling process. The first quarter that we implemented our program we increased sales by a significant amount.” — Carol Mills, Co-Founder, Malia Mills

“Since embarking on this project, we have seen double digit increases in data collection, conversion and a significant acceleration in retail momentum.” — Claudia Poccia, President and CEO of Gurwitch, Owner of the Laura Mercier brand

References are available upon request. For more information please email luxinfo@luxuryinstitute.com or fill out a contact form at www.luxuryinstitute.com

Source: http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/luxury-institute-introduces-luxcelerate-empirically-proven-method-drive-high-performance-1959706.htm

October 18, 2014

The Neiman Marcus catalogue

Hold the myrrh
Gold and frankincense are so two millennia ago

The Economist
October 18, 2014

NOT everyone finds Christmas easy. Some people have so much money that they cannot think what to spend it on. Every year Neiman Marcus, a posh department store, takes pity on these unfortunate souls by offering them its Christmas catalogue, stuffed with ideas to empty even the fattest wallet.

20141018_USP003_0

For example, sporty couples can buy “His and Hers” Quadskis for $50,000 each. These are jet skis that convert into quad bikes in about five seconds (pictured). And they come in a turtle print. Shoppers who wish to relax can buy an elaborate cocktail shaker for $35,000. It comes with a year’s supply of gin and a class for 20 guests with a “mixology” expert.

Many luxury brands are now ubiquitous, which robs them of their snob value. What the truly rich want is “unique experiences”, says Milton Pedraza of the Luxury Institute, a consultancy. Neiman Marcus offers plenty of those. For $125,000 you can ride a Mardi Gras float in New Orleans. For $425,000 you can attend the Vanity Fair Oscar party, having first been glammed up by a style expert so that the other revellers won’t think you are a gatecrasher.

The costliest item in this year’s book is the “House of Creed Bespoke Fragrance Journey”. For $475,000 you can fly to Paris and have a master perfumier create a scent that perfectly suits you. You also get “white-glove car service, private tours and other experiences befitting the royally amazing you”. Your correspondent tried to expense such a trip, for research purposes, but her Scrooge-like editor said no.

Ginger Reeder, who handpicks all the “fantasy items” for the catalogue, does not expect to sell everything. Selling is not the point. “They are chosen for their uniqueness and their publicity value,” she says. In 1997, for instance, Neiman Marcus was unable to offload first editions of 90 of America’s greatest novels, from “The Great Gatsby” to “Catch-22”, but Ms Reeder found some comfort when she received 600 requests for the book-list.

The shop’s most expensive gift ever was a Boeing jet for $35m in 1999. The most memorable have included a submarine ($20m), a mean-spirited camel who spat a lot (Neiman Marcus no longer includes animals in the catalogue) and “His and Hers” mummy cases for $6,000 in 1971 ($35,000 in modern money). A mummy was unexpectedly discovered in one sarcophagus, which caused a spot of bother. A death certificate had to be issued before it could be delivered. Gift wrapping was optional.

Source: http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21625817-gold-and-frankincense-are-so-two-millennia-ago-hold-myrrh

October 14, 2014

WEALTHY AMERICANS RANK PREMIUM WINES, DIVULGE SPENDING AND DRINKING HABITS IN NEW LUXURY INSTITUTE SURVEY

Market Wired

NEW YORK, NY — (Marketwired) — 10/14/14 — More than two-thirds (70%) of wealthy U.S. consumers, under the age of 50, drink wine at least once a month, and they’re willing to pay premium prices for preferred vintages — an average of $48 per bottle at retail and $64 at a restaurant. These are among findings of the New York-based Luxury Institute’s just released Luxury Brand Status Index (LBSI) premium wines survey.

Consumers 21 and older from households with income of at least $150,000 a year evaluated 20 premium domestic wine brands on the degree to which each embodies the four “pillars” of brand value: superior quality, exclusivity, enhanced social status and an overall superior consumption experience. Respondents also reveal which wines are worth paying premium prices, which they would recommend to people close to them, and which brand they will buy next.

Based on overall 1-10 LBSI scores, Ghost Pines (7.65) earns top honors, and it ranks the highest on all four pillars of value. Known for California winemaker Michael Eddy’s multi-appellation blends of grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Monterey and San Joaquin counties, Ghost Pines is also the brand consumers deem most worthy of a price premium, even though many of its bottles sell for less than $20.

Other highly ranked premium domestic brands include Mount Veeder (7.39), Meiomi (7.30), Bridlewood (7.16) and Edna Valley (6.90).

“Winemaking is the quintessential luxury business in many ways,” says Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza. “Brand value begins with the best-quality raw materials and grows with fine craftsmanship and a relentless focus on execution and consistently delighting customers.”

Contact the Luxury Institute for more details and complete survey data.

Visit us at www.LuxuryInstitute.com and contact us with any questions or for more information.

The Luxury Institute, LLC
luxinfo@luxuryinstitute.com

Source:

http://www.einnews.com/pr_news/229093149/wealthy-americans-rank-premium-wines-divulge-spending-and-drinking-habits-in-new-luxury-institute-survey

October 6, 2014

La Jolla among tops in US for luxury home sales

San Diego Source
Daily Transcript Staff Report
October 6, 2014

San Diego is among the top 10 cities with the highest number of luxury home sales, according to a report by Coldwell Banker, with La Jolla high on the list.

San Diego saw the sale of 927 homes valued at $1 million-plus from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014. The Luxury Market Report was prepared by the Coldwell Banker Previews International marketing program.

Topping the list was San Francisco with 2,485 luxury homes sold — up nearly 57 percent from the previous year — followed by Los Angeles with 2,170 and New York with 2,145.

The report included three price points: $1 million, $5 million and $10 million.

Two of San Diego’s ZIP codes saw high sales of luxury homes.

La Jolla’s 92037 ZIP code had closings on 348 homes valued at $1 million or more, the third highest of all ZIP codes in the country at that price tier; 269 homes sold in Carmel Valley and Torrey Pines in the 92130 ZIP code.

Four homes valued over $10 million closed in La Jolla, which ranked 16th, the report said. The most $10 million homes, 58, sold in New York.

The U.S. high-end residential real estate market remains strong, with 48 percent of all wealthy consumers indicating they plan to buy a luxury home within the next 12 months, according to the companion survey of wealthy U.S. consumers with a net worth of at least $5 million, conducted by the Coldwell Banker Previews International program and the Luxury Institute.

Younger buyers are the most motivated to buy; an overwhelming 81 percent of affluent people younger than 35 plan to buy a luxury home in the next year.

Source: http://www.sddt.com/News/article.cfm?SourceCode=20141006cze&_t=La+Jolla+among+tops+in+US+for+luxury+home+sales#.VDQEJSldXDQ

October 4, 2014

Williams-Sonoma returns home to celebrate heritage

SFGate
Janet Fletcher
October 4, 2014

The store that introduced America to food processors and copper fish pans has returned to its Wine Country roots.

For many decades, Williams-Sonoma thrived by being one step ahead of its customers, selling them housewares they didn’t yet know they needed. But with this weekend’s opening of its newest venue, in Sonoma, the trendsetting company is looking back to celebrate its 99-year-old founder and recall its humble debut.

The project also reflects the Boomer-fueled brand’s efforts to woo a younger generation — Millennials, who aren’t exactly rushing to buy homes and stock kitchens.

This retro Williams-Sonoma, at the site of the original store, re-creates the look of the shop that Chuck Williams opened in 1956, down to the black-and-white checkerboard floor. “It’s going to be a total doppelganger,” said Wade Bentson, one of Williams’ first employees, who helped with its design.

With a 12-seat cooking school showcasing local talent, an edible garden, vintage merchandise and museum-style kitchenware exhibit, the store is opening in a town famously hostile to chains. But the billion-dollar retailer, for the most part, is being welcomed like a hometown hero.

“I’m totally excited about it,” said Sheana Davis, a community activist and proprietor of Epicurean Connection, a nearby cafe and cheese shop. “If you’re looking for opposition, I’m not it.”

Williams, who celebrated his 99th birthday this week, operated his store near the historic plaza for only two years before decamping to San Francisco. But his later success made Sonoma itself an international brand.

Visitors still inquire about the chain’s birthplace. “I’ve been introduced as his son several times,” said Steven Havlek, who owns Sign of the Bear, an independent kitchenware store on the plaza.

Re-creating the original

When the site at 605 Broadway became available in 2012, the retailer swooped in. The property included both Williams’ original 570-square-foot shop and an attached home and garden that he had shared with his mother.

“We found enough pictures and enough from (Williams) to rebuild the store exactly as it was,” said Janet Hayes, president of the Williams-Sonoma brand. The restoration includes original signage and the clean-lined open white shelving that became the stores’ trademark.

The new Sonoma store includes an exhibit of ingredients and tools that Williams popularized, such as Fini balsamic vinegar, Maldon sea salt, Le Creuset cookware and French mandolines. Williams’ restored home, attached to the store, has been repurposed as a design studio and showcase for Williams-Sonoma Home furnishings. The store is not all retro; the made-over garden boasts an outdoor kitchen with pizza oven and lots of merchandise from the company’s new Agrarian line, launched in 2012 in keeping with a younger generation’s fascination with urban farming.

The DIY cheese-making kits and high-end chicken coops that Williams-Sonoma is betting on today were definitely not in the mix when Williams began his retailing career. The society matrons who patronized Williams-Sonoma in the late 1950s were lured by the gleaming copper saucepans, Pillivuyt porcelain and fluted tart tins that Williams discovered in France. Jackie Kennedy and Julia Child were about to make French cuisine the epitome of chic, and Williams was poised to profit.

Cooking to entertaining

Urged by his affluent customers to move the shop to San Francisco, Williams listened when one of them suggested a spot near Elizabeth Arden, the high-end salon on Sutter Street. “In those days, women had beehive hair that required a lot of attention,” recalled Bentson, who began working for the store in 1961. “It wasn’t unusual for them to go to Arden’s two or three times a week, and they went right by our store.”

Women from Hillsborough, Piedmont and Marin would have their ball gowns shipped to Williams-Sonoma, drop their dogs off at the store, and then go and have their hair done, recalled Mary Risley, who founded Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco and is a longtime friend of Williams’. They bought Christmas presents and wedding gifts at Williams-Sonoma, especially after the merchant — again nudged by a customer — created a bridal registry to compete withGumps and Tiffany.

Child’s popular television show, which debuted in 1963, also fueled Williams-Sonoma’s sales. If Julia used it, “people beat the way to our store to get it,” Bentson said. San Francisco cooking teachers like Risley andJoyce Goldstein sent their students to the store for quiche pans, flan rings and souffle dishes — equipment that department stores of the day did not stock.

“Everybody was either taking cooking lessons or giving cooking lessons,” recalledJacqueline Mallorca, an early customer and ad agency employee who persuaded Williams that the store needed a mail-order catalog. Begun in 1972 and, for years, written by Mallorca, the innovative full-color mailer put Williams’ finds and favorite recipes within reach of all Americans.

Today, the recipes have migrated to the company’s website, and the catalog copy is far more clipped and concise. The September issue still includes Le Creuset and All-Cladcookware but also features packaged mixes for Bundt cakes, quick breads, waffles and breakfast bars — a shift noted unhappily by the culinary doyennes of San Francisco.

“There’s an awful lot of tableware,” sniffed Mallorca, an Englishwoman whose polished manners don’t conceal her dismay. “People today are not so interested in cooking as much as entertaining.”

Positioning for future

Goldstein, who later collaborated with Williams on several cookbooks, concurred. “At some point, Williams-Sonoma made the shift from being an educating store to being a lifestyle store, with tablecloths, napkins and pottery,” she said.

The publicly traded company’s other concepts — among them, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm — are thriving, but the net revenue of the Williams-Sonoma brand has been stagnant in recent years and the store count is down. Branding experts and trend forecasters see both opportunities and challenges for the chain as it positions itself for the future.

Many affluent young consumers aren’t hurrying to buy homes, they say, and are more inclined to spend on experiences than on stuff.

“I’ve been invited to buy wedding gifts at experiential websites,” said Kara Nielsen, culinary director for Sterling-Rice Group, an advertising and branding agency in Boulder, Colo. Nielsen and others also point to a minimalist trend, a preference for smaller, less cluttered homes and simpler lives.

“A lot of Millennials believe in access but not ownership,” Nielsen said, pointing to the success of businesses that enable consumers to share cars or rent special-occasion clothes.

Building in diversity

Like other retailers, Williams-Sonoma needs to respond to changing demographics, marketing experts say. “Diversity has to be built into their product range and into their staff,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a consultant to high-end brands. Pedraza points to his own multicultural family, which includes Colombians, a Jewish lawyer from Long Island and a Hindu doctor.

“We make samosas for Thanksgiving with turducken and Spanish rice,” he said. “And we’re not atypical.”

Marc Halperin, a food and beverage consultant with San Francisco’s Center for Culinary Development, believes the chain is still a tastemaker and sharp observer of trends. The Agrarian line dovetails neatly with the urban homesteading wave, Halperin said. And the shift toward offering tableware, juicers and other appliances that have little to do with cooking may also be wise.

“There’s clearly a huge understanding of the consumer,” Halperin said. “The number and variety of espresso machines they’re selling is mind-boggling.”

Janet Fletcher is a food writer and cookbook author in Napa. E-mail:home@sfchronicle.com

Company milestones

1956: First Williams-Sonoma store opens on Broadway in Sonoma.

1958: Chuck Williams moves his thriving cookware store to Sutter Street in San Francisco.

1972: Williams-Sonoma mails its first cookware catalog, with a print run of 10,000.

1973: Williams-Sonoma opens its second store, in Beverly Hills. Chuck Williams introduces the Cuisinart food processor, a revolutionary French appliance.

1978: Chuck Williams encounters balsamic vinegar in Italy and begins to import it.

1983: With its initial public offering, Williams-Sonoma becomes a publicly traded company to raise money for expansion.

1986: Williams-Sonoma releases its first cookbook, starting a hugely successful publishing program.

1999: Williams-Sonoma starts its e-commerce site.

2006: Debut of Williams-Sonoma Home, a furniture and home decor collection

2012: Williams-Sonoma starts Agrarian, a line of products designed for urban homesteaders.

2014: Williams-Sonoma opens its240th store in Sonoma, at the site of the original store.

Source: http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Williams-Sonoma-returns-home-to-celebrate-heritage-5800000.php

October 1, 2014

Exclusive: Wealthy Consumer Survey 2014

Previews Inside Out
Coldwell Banker
October 1, 2014

You may picture wealthy Gen Y and Millenials as iPad-toting jetsetters who aren’t anxious to tie up their cash in a home. But they are among the most active players in luxury real estate, according to a new survey of ultra-wealthy consumers by Coldwell Banker Previews International® and the Luxury Institute.

“Young affluents recognize the value of real estate,” said Ginette Wright, vice president of marketing for Previews®/ NRT.  “And they are often bullish when it comes to real estate—they own more properties and tend to spend more on average. Their outlook on long-term appreciation is also more positive.”

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The survey found that 73% of wealthy consumers under the age of 35—the most out of any age group—are considering a purchase of additional residential real estate in the next 12 months for personal use. These buyers also expect their home to appreciate by an average of 16% in the next five years, compared to 13% for buyers ages 45-64 and 11% for buyers 65 and older. Additionally, they are among the biggest spenders, as they paid $7.8 million on average for their last home, compared to $6.8 million for buyers between 35 and 44 years of age, $2.7 million for those between 45 and 64, and $1 million for buyers 65 and older. One reason for the price difference could be due to the kinds of homes they desire. Nearly three-fourths (72%) of respondents younger than 35 said that buying a move-in-ready home is important.

“Our agents in cities like Los Angeles and Miami tell us the same thing: new construction is king right now,” added Wright. “Younger luxury buyers are not looking for a project—they want everything turn-key, right down to the décor and furnishings. All of which, of course, adds to the home’s overall price tag.”

While location and price remain the most important elements in the decision making process for the majority of ultra-wealthy buyers, younger affluents are less inclined to choose a property based on geography. Thanks to convenient travel options and the ability to work from anywhere becoming more widespread, just 25% of the under-35 group reports that location dominates their search criteria, but 75% say that lifestyle considerations drive their choice of which home to buy. At the other extreme, 88% of buyers 65 and older say that location is the most potent driver of their next property search.

Younger affluents are also interested in different home amenities than their seasoned counterparts. Safe rooms (37%), home theaters (36%), pool (34%), outdoor kitchens (33%) and “green” or “eco-friendly” amenities (29%) remain at the top of the wish list for buyers under the age of 35. Compared to the 65+ demographic, those same features ranked far lower: 7% wanted safe rooms, 12% wanted home theaters, 16% wanted a pool, 17% wanted a pool and 10% wanted a “green” home.

To find more interesting comparisons between the age groups, download the complete Wealthy Consumer Survey: http://www.previewsinsideout.com/2014/10/exclusive-wealthy-consumer-survey-2014/

Statement Sweats Have Proved Their Staying Power

October 1, 2014
By Ruth La Ferla

Rita Ora was traveling quasi-incognito when she was snapped this year at Los Angeles International Airport wearing outsize shades, a blush-tone carryall, Air Jordans and a cushy sweatshirt, its hood pulled seductively over her brow.

Olivia Wilde recently strode the same passageways, the picture of ease in a biker coat … and sweatshirt, as did Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who sallied toward the airport lounge wearing a dark fedora and … hey now, you know the refrain.

At the airport, a hub for the paparazzi, who tend to treat its fluid corridors as a makeshift red carpet, off-duty models and Hollywood A-listers have been flaunting their sweatshirts with careless élan, wearing versions embellished with eye-catching slogans, cartoons and jewels and pretty florettes or, alternately, opting for standard issue, raglan-sleeve varieties meant to signal, one suspects, that the wearer is just like you and me.

Clearly civilians relate, which may be why this cozy insignia of slacker chic, once reserved for furtive cigarette jaunts to the 7-Eleven or late nights on the sofa, binge-watching “Revenge,” has become the would-be style-setter’s trophy of choice, an item for all seasons — and occasions.

Its transition from nondescript wardrobe standby, the fashion equivalent of mac and cheese, to luxurious fashion mainstay now seems to have been all but inevitable. “The world of luxury has gone somewhat casual,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a consulting firm. “A lot of people don’t see sweatshirts as basic items anymore.”

Conversely, Mr. Pedraza noted, “a lot of basic items have gone premium.” He may have had in mind the sumptuous interpretations of this humble item that appeared on fall runways and are sold at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Barneys New York and on upscale websites. Prices veer from $30 for an orchid-printed top by Altuzarra for Target to more than $4,400 for a Fendi version ornamented with fake fur, felt, swaths of mesh and crystal, but then, who’s counting?

Such gussied-up sweats can still play down one’s wealth while conferring enough raffishness to suggest that the wearer is too young, too prodigiously gifted or simply too chic to go in for a conventional 9-to-5 uniform. Indeed, these days the only thing inelegant about this once unexceptional garment is its name. And even that has had an upgrade.

Statement sweats, as they’re known in fashion-speak, emerged on the runways over two years ago, making their debut on the runway at Givenchy in the form of a photo-collage sweatshirt, followed last fall with a Bambi-print variation that became an instant fashion hit. The look gained traction in the spring with the parade of high-end sweatshirts at Theory, Kenzo and Alexander Wang, whose white shirt, cheekily inscribed with a “Parental Advisory” legend, was a fashion editor’s favorite.

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Rita Ora moved through Los Angeles International Airport in fashionable sweats and accessories.

Sweats were reprised for fall at Rag & Bone, where a satin shirt was paired with paint-splatter jeans; at 3.1 Phillip Lim, with burnt-orange leather hoodies; and at Isabel Marant, where a lustrous camouflage shirt was shown with baggy fatigues. Surviving yet another season, they emerged for spring 2015 in a boxy version with cutoff sleeves at Jil Sander, covered in multihued sequins at Dsquared2, in a sunburst design at Fausto Puglisi, in silver at Norma Kamali and as a sleeveless top with an extravagant bow and as an evening dress at Bottega Veneta.

Like biker jackets, sneakers and skinny jeans before them, statement sweats have proved their staying power.

“Today it would be a misnomer to use the word ‘trend’ in reference to the sweatshirt,” said Tomoko Ogura, the senior fashion director at Barneys. Ever-evolving, it is now cut in sophisticated fabrics, including but by no means confined to cashmere, chiffon, organza, leather and lace, and offered in varying textures and shapes. So lavishly garnished are some that they are hard to place as sweatshirts at all. Yet consumers are responding, Ms. Ogura said, “because, while the designer’s hand is apparent, their utility is not compromised.”

Their utilitarian provenance is a talking point, indeed a boasting point, among luxury consumers who like to wear their shirts subversively with tuxedo pants or furs or, conversely, to throw on a sequin-encrusted versions to lend dazzle to their leggings or jeans. It’s like wearing a Casio watch with your Brunello Cucinelli cashmere pullover, suggesting a kind of inverse snobbery. “Like you’re playing the game without quite really playing the game,” Mr. Pedraza said.

In some quarters, sweatshirts, like sneakers, remain the great fashion leveler. Paraded this summer in men’s shows as diverse as Bottega Veneta, Neil Barrett and Lacoste, they seemed intended to mask distinctions of class and income or to render them obsolete. “Turns out,” as Guy Trebay noted in a New York Times fashion review, “Mark Zuckerberg didn’t need to outgrow his hoodie and shower shoes.” (Which is not to neglect those 99-percenters repurposing their gym togs as everyday wear in apparent deference to Gap’s recent injunction, in a series of fashion ads, to “dress normal.”)

“Sweatshirts flourish because they work for every demographic and every retail category — men’s, kids, junior contemporary and designer,” said Sheila Aimette, a vice president at the trend forecasting company WGSN. “They are cross-generational and cross-gender.”

Madeline Alford, a digital editorial assistant at Luckymag.com, has incorporated sweats into her workday regalia. Taking her style cues from the Lucky fashion staff, she may, on any given day, combine her black tubular jeans or leather midi-skirt with an oversize sweatshirt. “Instead of a chunky sweater, you could definitely wear a fleece,” she said, “something still warm and efficient.”

Function trumps showiness among Ms. Alford’s priorities. Fashion, she noted, has been gradually turning its back on the flamboyant extremes of street style in favor of a more accessible look. “Much as we love all that crazy, out-there style, it’s not for everybody,” she said.

Sweatshirts, on the other hand, merit her unstinting approval. “They’re what real women wear all the time,” she said.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/fashion/statement-sweats-have-proved-their-staying-power.html?_r=0 

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