Luxury Institute News

October 27, 2015

Relationship building critical to luxury retail: Luxury Institute CEO

Luxury Daily
October 27, 2015
By: Sarah Jones

LONDON – The human element is going to be the top differentiator among luxury brands going forward, according to the CEO of Luxury Institute at Luxury Interactive Europe 2015 on Oct. 26.

As consumers increasingly experience the world through screens, they will come to crave the now-rare human connection. Here is where luxury brands can help themselves stand apart by outperforming their peers at relationship building and delivering a worthwhile personal touch.

“As consumers are more sophisticated, and as products become more commoditized, it’s the delivery of an optimized experience across channels that is critical and that high performance client relationships are our differentiators,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, New York.

Brand image
Brands are struggling to define themselves, especially as they bleed into more affordable price points. For instance, a representative from an Italian jeweler told Mr. Pedraza that his brand does not know its own identity anymore, after a move down market left it straddling premium and exclusive.

Luxury Institute client Nordstrom now makes half of its sales via outlet stores. Recognizing that the customer retains a level of mystery, Nordstrom similarly remains ambiguous. Despite this non-specific label, the retailer still scores first in customer service in surveys conducted by the consultancy.

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale
Nordstrom heavily promotes its anniversary sale on social media

Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, and brands need to optimize their user experience for their requirements.

Across channels, brands in the luxury space are struggling to connect the dots between policy, procedure and system to deliver a rewarding customer experience.

While 37 percent of men and 49 percent of women find browsing without help from a store associate to be most effective, this does not remove a brand’s place in the process. For brands to guide consumers’ exploration, they should include signage in an on-brand way or have store associates communicate with the shopper to help them find what they are looking for.

Valentino Rome store women
Valentino store in Rome

Even in the digital space, which tends to be thought of as a do-it-yourself shopping channel, the human element cannot be entirely removed. Walmart might be able to automate and take out that the personal interaction from the buying experience, but for luxury brands, the relationship is everything. It is especially important to invest in this personal approach for top tier clients.

Therefore, sales associates should be taught interpersonal skills, such as trustworthiness. While often thought of as innate, these can be learned. Ensuring that all associates are pulling their weight will also help to retain top frontline employees over time.

For best practices, Mr. Pedraza suggests looking outside of the luxury industry rather than studying peers. Those that excel at relationship building are within the military, medicine and airline industries. For instance, brands can look to the military, which has developed successful methods of empowering soldiers, to gain insights on store associate education and guidance.

Making a connection
Mr. Pedraza asked each of the tables to discuss what changes they would make to their organizational structure, front line associates and compensation to help foster strong client relationships.

Ideas from around the room included rotating employees within roles to develop empathy, looking at the company from the consumer’s perspective and empowering sales associates with access to technology and a CRM system. Other suggestions included new roles, such as a customer information officer, which would span sales and marketing.

After hearing from the room, Mr. Pedraza shared his suggestions. These include empowering employees by shifting the organizational structure from a top-down management style to one where individuals are self-managed.

Milton Lux Int Europe
Milton Pedraza

On the same note, employees should be educated rather than trained, with the focus on ideas for creative relationship building rather than delving out a strict formula to follow.

Associates should be compensated for their actions, such as messages sent and appointments booked, rather than their sales results.

Brands should also make sure that each and every member of their team fits the culture. For many companies, this would mean eliminating employees who do not want to talk to anyone.

In addition, brands should ensure that the technology they are providing their staff with is up-to-date. Ineffective systems are often a dealbreaker for associates, particularly younger employees, and they will take their talent elsewhere.

While technology can help to deliver a high-touch experience to consumers, data and automation cannot replicate the level of engagement that a salesperson can create with shoppers, according to an executive from Moda Operandi at Luxury Interactive 2015 on Oct. 13.

Moda Operandi employs stylists, who work with its most valued consumers to provide personalized recommendations and one-to-one communications, but the process being used to deliver this service was tedious. Keeping the same human touch business model, Moda Operandi built a new platform to help its stylists deliver more relevant, visually appealing messages to the most important customers (see story).

“The key is that we’ve created these great channels, but we haven’t connected the dots,” Mr. Pedraza said. “And that I think is the critical issue.

“It’s not that we’re not innovating in each of those channels. It’s that we have not connected the dots to the point where, for example, a sales associate is empowered and inspired and maybe incentivized to send the client online,” he said. “Or that when the client buys online, the sales associate reaches out with a thank you card and a follow-up.

“We haven’t figured out those little basics that really create realtionships. Today we are very digital, very technical, we’ve disempowered the people in the stores, is one of my premises. We haven’t connected the dots, as simple as they are to connect, whether it’s technologically or humanistically, we haven’t figured out the policies, the procedures, the systems yet.”


October 22, 2015

Tesla, Musk shine from free celebrity marketing, but will it last?

Automotive News
October 22, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (Bloomberg) — When “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” debuted on CBS last month, the host chose Tesla CEO Elon Musk as one of his first guests.

Colbert, who commutes into Manhattan in a Model S sedan, took his enthusiasm for Tesla Motors Inc. one step further in an episode last week. He spoke for almost six minutes about his car’s latest autopilot features, the march toward self-driving vehicles and efforts by competitors Apple, Google and Uber.

“I love my Tesla — it’s so fast, it’s all electric,” he told viewers. Comparing his car to a laptop computer on wheels, he said that with the company’s latest over-the-air software update, “Tesla owners woke up to find their cars could drive themselves.”

That glowing Colbert report shows how Tesla benefits from celebrity enthusiasm — for free, from customers that include Oprah Winfrey — to promote the brand. Throw in some viral Internet clips, test drives and customer referral programs, and Tesla is able to spend money on developing products instead of on marketing. In stark contrast to other automakers, Tesla doesn’t currently pay for traditional media such as television, radio or print advertising or celebrity sponsors.

“The Colbert segment was amazing because it was so long, it was Colbert, it was Colbert’s new show and instead of being playfully sarcastic he was overwhelmingly positive,” said Lincoln Merrihew, senior vice president of client services for Millward Brown Digital in Boston, who first watched the Colbert clip on YouTube. “The magic of a celebrity evangelist is that they love a product so much that they will talk about it for free. It was more than a simple endorsement; it was more like a commercial.”

That air time is valuable. On average, 30-second spots on the “Late Show” will average $38,400 from Colbert’s debut through the end of the fourth quarter, according to media-cost forecaster SQAD Inc. It helps, of course, that the 44-year-old Musk is a brand and a celebrity in his own right — making him a worthy guest — as well as a deft user of social media.

Stock decline

At the moment, Tesla can use a little extra fan love. Its once high-flying stock has fallen to the low $200s from its July peak at $282 in the wake of last month’s long-awaited introduction of the company’s Model X SUV. Three analysts have cut their price targets amid concerns that Tesla, which aims to deliver at least 50,000 vehicles this year, faces a steep production ramp in the fourth quarter.

On Tuesday, the Model S lost its recommendation from Consumer Reports after owners complained about quality issues as mundane as a squeaky sunroof to major issues like the electric motor needing to be replaced, the publication said in its forthcoming December issue. The Consumer Reports news sent shares tumbling 6.6 percent to $213.03, its biggest drop since Aug. 6.

Musk has pushed back on Consumer Reports via Twitter, saying the publication’s reliability survey “includes a lot of early production cars. Already addressed in new cars.”

Fan power

The auto industry already is also legend with celebrity ads, from Matthew McConaughey’s oft-parodied commercials for Lincoln to Clint Eastwood’s two-minute “It’s Halftime in America” spot for Chrysler, a hit of the 2012 Super Bowl.

For Tesla, the celebrities do the work on their own accord, not for a paycheck. Stars such as actress Alyssa Milano, director Jon Favreau, and Teller, the silent partner in the magic duo Penn & Teller, have praised Tesla or promoted the brand to their social-media followers in an increasingly fragmented media market.

Teller’s “customer story” is one of several that can be read in full on Tesla’s website. Oprah shared photographs of her recently purchased white Model S with her millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter. Colbert talked in detail about autopilot — a Tesla product announcement — just as it came out.

“On a daily basis, Stephen brings a smart comedic voice to all types of topical issues,” said CBS in a statement. “We don’t tell him what to say, but we certainly enjoy it.”

Automotive advertising

Other automakers usually have to rely on traditional marketing. General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles all rank among the top 10 advertisers in the U.S. in terms of money spent, according to Advertising Age, an affiliate of Automotive News. In 2014 alone, GM spent almost $1.7 billion on advertising in the U.S., according to Kantar Media; Ford spent $841 million and Fiat Chrysler spent $1.1 billion. Those figures are just from the manufacturers and don’t include the vast millions that dealerships spend as well.

In its annual report filed earlier this year, Tesla notes that “we have been able to generate significant media coverage of our company and our vehicles, and we believe we will continue to do so.” But the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company also notes that “to further promote our brand, we may be required to change our marketing practices, which could result in substantially increased advertising expenses.”

For now at least, Tesla’s strategy is working.

“Colbert benefits from talking about Tesla, because it’s a brand that his millennial audience associates with,” Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, said in an interview. “It’s a massive multiplier effect that is equivalent to spending tens of millions of dollars on media. Tesla doesn’t advertise: They are playing the game of not playing the game, and you win by that. They are doing it brilliantly.”


Women neglected by marketers despite making two-thirds of household purchases

Luxury Daily
October 22, 2015
By: Staff Reports

Brands in the apparel, personal care and footwear sectors are among the best at marketing to affluent women, according to research by Luxury Institute.

The best industries targeting affluent women through advertising and social media do not come as a surprise, but it does shine a light on the sectors that are not doing well at focusing their attentions on this demographic of wealthy consumers. Survey respondents felt that the industries doing the least to target affluent women include insurance, liquor, consumer electronics, banks and brokerages and transportation including automobiles and private jets.

Luxury Institute surveyed women ranging in age from 21-years-old to more than 65-years-old with a household income minimum of $150,000 per year. The respondent pool’s had a reported average household income of $289,000, and a $2.9 million average net worth.

A battle of the affluent sexes
When it comes to marketing to a female demographic, brands in apparel (75 percent), shampoos and conditioners (74 percent), fragrances and cosmetics (72 percent) and footwear (72 percent) unsurprisingly fared the best.

In regard to the industries that are failing at capitalizing on the purchasing power of affluent women, each had an approval rating of less than 5 percent. This approval rating has continued to fall since 2012.

Efforts put forth by automotive brands, for instance, have only impressed 6 percent of the female respondents. Although traditionally associated with a masculine culture, the auto industry should expand its marketing efforts to cater to the sentiments of its female consumers, especially those with families, by touting the safety of high-end vehicles.

On the corporate side, automakers have made strides in being more inclusive of females in general. For instance, British automaker Aston Martin looked to close the gender gap in engineering by teaming up the Royal Air Force to introduce female students to various career routes (see story).

Sectors improving outreach to female consumers include the jewelry and watch sector, which has seen the largest improvement over the past three years. Sixty-two percent of respondents felt that these brands do a good job marketing to their demographic, a 53 percent increase from 2012.

In addition, department stores are listed sixth, with 60 percent of affluent women appreciating the efforts put forth by retailers.

Lux institute.womens marketing graph
Graph provided by Luxury Institute 

Across the board, older affluent women aged 45-64 felt that brands across industries are doing well when marketing to their demographic. This response was much more likely from the older age group than it was for women 45-years-old and under.

But, 25 percent of women 21- to 44-years-old felt that the wine industry is not doing enough, or not marketing to them well enough. This propensity decreases with age, with 21 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds, 16 percent of those between the ages of 55 and 64 and 12 percent ages 65 or older approve of the wine category’s marketing efforts.

In a statement, Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza said, “Married women tell us that they make two-thirds of all household purchasing decisions. Women maintain huge economic power and it is a necessity for companies to step up marketing and how they connect with affluent women regardless of industry. Research that includes speaking directly with these women about what appeals to them and what turns them off removes much of the guesswork in making marketing decisions.”


October 15, 2015

Selling and service as terminology is dead: Luxury Institute CEO

Luxury Daily
October 15, 2015
By: Staff reports

NEW YORK – While luxury brands typically know the best practices in client building, most are not practicing these strategies for their own customers, according to the CEO of the Luxury Institute at Luxury Interactive 2015 Oct. 14.

The traditional training program for sales associates is out of date, as the focus should be on education that can be applied in a creative way rather than a rote set of rules and checklists that take the human element out of interactions. Additionally, these important members of a brand’s team should be rewarded more for their actions than their results, putting the emphasis on client retention and engagement, which will lead to sales over time.

Consumer behavior
In a survey of wealthy consumers, 68 percent of men and 64 percent of women say that their spending on luxury or premium products revolves around bricks-and-mortar. The frequent conception today is that consumers have conducted such detailed research prior to their store visit that they cannot be swayed or influenced by an associate, but Luxury Institute found 45 percent of women and 30 percent of men do not do any searching before they head to the store.

With 37 percent of men and 49 percent of women noting that they find browsing without the help of a salesperson to be most effective for finding new merchandise, brands may want to rethink their store strategies. Displays with product information or signage that assists with navigation or points out new items can help aid this independent exploration.

This eschewing of a sales associate’s assistance is even more prevalent online, where only 8 percent of men and 3 percent of women say they find new products best with the help of an associate via live chat or other online communication.

The sales associate does still have a place, but ensuring that the interaction is relevant and effective now comes down to technology. Retailers should be ensuring they are giving their salespeople the best tools since associates may think of taking their talents elsewhere if technology proves a deal-breaker.

According to a new study by Yes Lifecycle Marketing, many retailers are still unwilling or unequipped to tailor customer service to the individual.

The study looks at retailers in a variety of different sectors and finds that many have not sufficiently tracked clientele and are thus unable to provide sales associates with the personalized data that will help initiate and close a transaction. With consumers navigating freely between mobile, Web and in-store shopping, and brands therefore able to gather more information than ever before about frequent shoppers, properly cataloguing clientele has emerged as a way to provide the best possible customer service and showcase a great branded experience (see story).

Other trends shaping the luxury industry are the spending power of women, who will control the majority of assets. Seventy percent of women who inherit from their spouses change their financial advisor within a year, wanting to move on from someone who has mistreated them.

The only sectors that are successfully marketing to women are beauty and skincare.

“Beyond leaning in, you have to jump into the deep end of the pool,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute.


September 30, 2015

Ralph Lauren hires Old Navy executive to replace him as CEO

By: Siddharth Cavale and Kylie Gumpert
September 29, 2015

American designer Ralph Lauren, who built a fashion powerhouse on luxury designs inspired by country club chic, announced Tuesday he is stepping down as chief executive officer and named the head of Gap Inc’s populist Old Navy brand to the position.

Ralph Lauren Corp, founded by 75-year-old Lauren in 1967, appointed Stefan Larsson, the global president of Gap’s Old Navy division, as CEO effective in November. Lauren will continue to serve as executive chairman and head its design team, the company said in a statement.

Lauren, who got his start designing neckties, plans to stay active at the company and Larsson will report to him.

“When they start designing things I can’t understand, I’ll quit,” Lauren told the New York Times in an interview.

Ralph Lauren shares rose 3.79 percent to $108 in trading after the bell. Gap shares fell 3 percent to $29.30.

The company has been struggling to boost profits as a stronger dollar reduces the value of sales from overseas. Net revenue in its first quarter ended June 27 fell 5 percent, mainly due to currency fluctuations.

Odeon Capital analyst Rick Snyder said the company had grown to a size where it needed more “systems and controls.” The change in CEO “is just a natural progression,” Snyder said.

Milton Pedraza, a fashion industry analyst at the Luxury Institute, said Larsson’s appointment follows a trend of luxury brands hiring leaders from mass-market companies in recent months. He cited the appointment of Grita Loebsack, a former vice president at Unilever Plc, as CEO of Kering’s emerging brands, which include Stella McCartney and Gucci.

Larsson, 41, is credited with reviving sales at Old Navy, successfully implementing a model of offering trendy clothes at low prices.

Annual sales at the division rose 8 percent in 2014 and became Gap’s biggest business. Sales for the division were $6.62 billion, or 40.3 percent of Gap’s total.

Lauren’s fashion empire includes some 25 brands including Polo, Club Monaco and Denim & Supply, and the company makes clothing, accessories, furniture, home decor items and footwear under its labels.

Larsson, a Swede who before joining Gap was global head of sales at Hennes & Mauritz, brings experience of managing a fast fashion business with a supply chains considered to be among the most efficient within the apparel industry.

His appointment would be a good fit for Ralph Lauren which is seeking to reorganize and centralize business units and brands, Snyder said.

“If he comes from a place like H&M, he understands global supply chains and that’s one of the things that Ralph Lauren is trying to implement right now,” Snyder said. “It’s going to be very positive for them.”

Despite the aura of Anglo-Saxon elitism around his company, Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx in 1939. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Belarus, and he changed his name to Lauren at age 16.

Lauren’s designs drew inspiration from elite and exotic realms including East Coast prepsters, the Wild West, colonists on African safari and czarist Russia. He designed the wardrobe for the 1974 film version of “The Great Gatsby” including a pink suit for star Robert Redford.

The Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, which debuted in 1972, became a signature item for the company with a tiny polo player embroidered on the chest.

His designs have been worn by presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and actor Johnny Depp.

Lauren was also, perhaps surprisingly, influential in the hip hop world. His bright colors and bold clothing became staples for some New York gangs, and rappers such as Kanye West and Lil Wayne have mentioned Lauren and his designs in their rhymes.

The company also said that Jackwyn Nemerov, chief operating officer, would retire in November at which time she will become an adviser to the company.


September 17, 2015

What The Apple Watch Hermès Tells Us About the Future of Tech and Luxury

By: Eustacia Huen
September 17, 2015

Last week, Apple unveiled Apple Watch Hermès, a new collection of Apple watches that links the tech giant with French fashion house Hermès for a striking opening act to fashion month. The new watches in stainless steel feature an etching of Hermès signature and a customizable face with three exclusive dial designs inspired by Clipper, Cape Cod and Espace Hermès watches.

Joined by the brands’ mutual focus on design, the Apple Watch Hermès is a result of what Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès called “an alliance in excellence; like horse and carriage, a perfect team.” Beyond the obvious strategic move of two companies at the top of their games, the partnership holds implications about the future of tech and luxury.

First of all, there is the obvious progression of tech products becoming more luxury-oriented, and luxury products becoming more tech-oriented. The Apple Watch is unique for having no visible Apple logo when the product is being worn. Giving Hermès the limelight, Apple is able to reach out to an affluent yet fashion-centric audience that was not previously reachable. Coupled with the fact that Apple shelled out for plenty of advertising pages in Vogue and delivered devices to models, the brand sends a clear signal that it’s trying to sell the Apple watch to the fashion world. As for Hermès, a 178-year-old brand famous for its iconic handbags and leather goods, entering any partnership like this is a rare yet strong statement that it wants to be viewed as contemporary.

With Apple wanting a luxurious edge, and Hermès hoping to branch out from their ‘wealthy grandmother and mother’ clientele, the Apple-Hermès partnership also informs us about the millennial demographic targeted by both companies, according to Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute.

Perhaps the best way to understand the demographic, as the luxury expert noticed, is the pricing of the watches. Ranging from $1,100 for the 38mm stainless steel case with the Single Tour (single band) to $1,500 for the 42mm stainless steel case with the cuff, the Apple Watch Hermès is not the most expensive watch for either brands.

While I think the Apple Watch Hermès could benefit from more refined elements from Hermès and more technological features from Apple, it’s a decent first attempt nonetheless. According to Pedraza, the collaboration is significant as it marks the transitional period before millennials become fully capable as primary consumers. And during this “period of positive disruption and innovation,” there are a few things he said we should expect: “Even fewer people will visit actual stores, and future products—whether they are in the tech or luxury market—will become more experiential.”


August 24, 2015

Affluent Millennials Setting Their Own Pace

U.S. News and World Report
By: Mallory Hughes
August 20, 2015

Chris Beauregard, 25, recently found himself at a chic rooftop pool party in Washington. With the Capitol dome in the background, young professionals watched an exclusive Dar Be Dar by Tala Raassi summer fashion show while sipping complimentary DeLeón Tequila cocktails.

“I brought seven other friends with me,” says Beauregard. “Everybody had a blast.”

It’s a setting that is becoming common for a subset of the Millennial generation known as the “affluent Millennials.”

The 6.2 million 18- to 34-year-olds who report annual household incomes of more than $100,000 are acting out the aspirational lifestyle of their cohort because they have the financial means to do so, said Leah Swartz, a content specialist at FutureCast, a marketing firm focused on Generation Y.

“It’s not that they’re so different from Millennials,” says Swartz. “It’s that they’re acting on these aspirational trends that we see take shape in the general population.”

Many among the 80 million Millennials say that they eat organically and travel frequently, but a majority still live on a limited budget, hitting up big retailers for bargain prices.

Rather than focusing solely on what they can buy, Millennials create experiences and “shareable moments with friends,” Swartz says.

It’s a generation that was the first to embrace trends like going digital and using social, but it is the affluent among it that have more impact because they’re the ones commenting on review sites and engaging with brands on social media.

“We’re seeing them take on the influential role among the Millennial population,” she says, adding that affluent Millennials are 10 percent more likely to participate in online rating sites than their non-affluent peers.

“It’s likely because they can do more and because their budgets allow for it,” Swartz said.

Business and finance are the most common career paths for these people, but affluent Millennials are shifting post-graduate educational trends.

The research found that 44 percent of the 6.2 million affluent Millennials did not graduate from college. Of those that completed college and went on to graduate school, nearly 4 percent didn’t complete that education. While these numbers are high, affluent Millennials still graduate from college and grad programs at higher rates than their non-affluent counterparts.

“When you think of Boomers or even a little bit Gen-X,” Swartz says, “money was very much linked to degrees and higher education.”

But these Millennials don’t necessarily see the connection. FutureCast researchers in Kansas City found that young adults in the affluent subset are more interested in quickly putting the knowledge gained in their undergraduate programs to use in the workforce.

“They’re seeing more value in entrepreneurialism rather than continuing education,” Swartz says.

Billy McFarland, a 23-year-old tech entrepreneur, began his undergraduate education at Bucknell University planning on studying computer engineering. He dropped out after a year.

“I never really focused on school the way I should,” McFarland said in a phone interview. “But I finally went to college, I was living alone, and realized I could start companies full-time and not worry about school. It was an easy decision.”

Most recently, McFarland founded two companies: Spling, a tech-driven advertising platform, and Magnises, a mobile concierge app geared toward Millennials.

Magnises, McFarland says, has nearly 7,000 members stemming from 25,000 applicants. Approximately 90 percent of members using the app are 21 to 35 years old, with self-reported annual incomes of $50,000 to $250,000.

The $250 per year membership comes with a black metal membership card, a community hangout out and the concierge app with recommendations on what to do with one’s free time and the ability to make a reservation at a suggested place.

This generation travels more and values events, services and experiences over goods, says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a global research firm focusing on luxury goods.

One example is SoulCycle, the trendy New York City-based fitness company hosting 45-minute spin classes that feel more like being on a dance floor than in a cycling studio. Millennials aren’t buying the expensive bike so they can go cycle the hillsides outdoors; they’re buying the experience.

Pedraza says he thinks Millennials are drawn to events they can share with “people who are their peers, who share their values, who share their standards of living and who share their tastes.”

But if Millennials are trendsetters, don’t they want to find the best places to go — and be first ones on the scene? Isn’t an app, such as Magnises, that suggests the hottest hangouts in some of America’s biggest cities and sends 20-somethings flocking in that direction kind of, well, mainstream?

“I think there’s recognition that that’s going to inevitably happen,” Pedraza says. “If something’s really good it’s going to be swarmed—Millennials swarmed.”


August 10, 2015

The Death of the Swiss Fine Timepiece Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

The Lilian Raji Agency
By: Lilian Raji
August 10, 2015

Late last month, Edward Faber, co-owner of Aaron Faber Gallery and author of  American Wristwatches: Five Decades of Style and Design,  Gary Girdvainis, editor of WristWatch magazine and AboutTime magazineand Jeffrey Hess, CEO of Ball Watch USAMilton Pedraza, CEO and Founder of The Luxury Institute, and Jason Alan Snyder, Chief Technology Officer of Momentum Worldwide reconvened Aaron Faber Gallery’s annual Watch Collectors’ Roundtable to debate the question, “Will Smartwatches Disrupt the Swiss Watch Industry?” The Roundtable was moderated by Eleven James CEO, Randy Brandoff.

With the recent  release of a report by market research firm Slice Intelligence announcing that Apple watch sales have declined 90% since their initial launch, the unanimous predictions of the Roundtable panelists has been proven accurate:  no, smartwatches will not disrupt the Swiss watch industry.

What the panelists couldn’t agree on, however, was if smartwatches would impact the industry in any way.

  • Jeff Hess, who also owns Hess Fine Art, noted his customers have been coming in wearing a smartwatch on one wrist and a fine Swiss timepiece on the other.  In this, there seems to be the possibility of harmony between the two types of watches.
  • Edward Faber asserted that a smartwatch will never seem as prestigious as walking into a boardroom wearing a Rolex Presidential or other high status watch.  Smartwatches will only be a gadget.
  • Milton Pedraza agrees on the novelty factor of watches, but didn’t dismiss that smartwatches could ultimately be more a fashion statement than a power statement.
  • Gary Girdvainis predicted that smartwatches would ultimately become gateways for the millennials who gave up watches for their smartphones to now begin entertaining the idea of wearing a watch.  When these same millennials reach their 30s, after spending the last few years wearing a smartwatch, graduating to a Swiss timepiece will be their next step.
  • For tech industry expert, Jason Alan Snyder, smartwatches are about functionality and features.  They are about advancing technology to make our lives easier. The debate shouldn’t be about smartwatches vs timepieces, they should be about smartwatches and all the major advancements going on in technology.

As Randy Brandoff moderated the panel, addressing such issues as the future of the watch industry for collectors, what future technological functions make sense for wristwear and Swiss watch manufacturers pursuing their own smartwatches, panelists made predictions and gave insights that will make many watch, technology and luxury industry people “wait and see” over the next few months as smartwatches set the stage for the evolution of how people tell time.

Click the link to watch the video of the roundtable for quotes by Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute: The Watch Collectors’ Roundtable – Will Smart Watches Disrupt the Swiss Watch Industry?

To learn more about the Roundtable at or contact The Lilian Raji Agency at or (646) 789-4427.

May 29, 2015

All this $500 million “house” needs is a buyer

By: Jonathan Berr
May 28, 2015

Although media reports have called the $500 million property that real estate investor and film producer Nile Niami is developing a “home,” that doesn’t really do it justice.

While it does have a 74,000-square-foot main residence, it also includes three smaller residences on the four-acre property in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel Air neighborhood. The property features sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean along with 5,000-square foot master bedroom, a “Monaco-style casino” and four swimming pools. Bloomberg News, which first reported this story, calls it “one of the biggest homes in U.S. history.”

In an interview with CBSMoneyWatch, Niami argued that the asking price on a square-foot basis is competitive with smaller luxury homes in the area. He purchased the hilltop property two years ago and doesn’t have a buyer lined up yet, though “we do have a couple of people who have been circling,” he said.

He added that he thinks the Southern California real estate market is undervalued. “There is a demand,” he said, “These guys need the space for their staff.”

As Gawker noted, the property has almost twice the square footage of the White House and is 100 times the size of the average Brooklyn apartment. Jonathan Miller, president of appraiser Miller Samuel, told Bloomberg that he broke out laughing when he heard Niami’s asking price.

“I am skeptical,” he told the news service. “But we’re in this perpetual state of surprise as new thresholds are broken.”


It’s more than double the second-highest priced property on the market, the $195 million Beverly Hill estate being offered by billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene.

Niami’s timing could be auspicious. The luxury real estate market is hot, with prices in 33 cities now about 33 percent higher than they were in 2009, more than doubling the 14 percent increase seen in the rest of the market.

Although a $500 million home may strike some as overly pricey, it might be a good investment for someone who lives outside the U.S. and is looking for a safe haven for their cash, according to Milton Pedraza, the head of the Luxury Institute, which analyzes the spending habits of the well-to-do. He figures about 1,000 people in the world can afford Niami’s property and probably 10 of them would be willing to write the big check needed to buy it.

“Stocks are overvalued by any measure. Bonds aren’t yielding much,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “Real estate is an asset that may lose value, but the downside to it is limited.”

In a nod to California’s severe drought and other environmental problems, Niami noted that the lush green grass on the property will be artificial and that he’ll use energy-efficient LED lighting.


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, 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, 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.”


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