Luxury Institute News

November 17, 2015

Family friction perceived as biggest wealth management obstacle: report

Luxury Daily
November 16, 2015
By: Forrest Cardamenis

Family disputes are the largest hurdle for achieving financial goals, but communication can make things easier, according to a new report by SEI Private Wealth Management and Scorpio Partnership.

Working through financial decisions in isolation or failing to communicate effectively can disintegrate a family’s wealth far more quickly than it was accrued. As the luxury market continues to globalize and make the economy more volatile and interdependent than ever before, ultra-high-net-worth individuals will need to be smart and confident with money.

“[Wealth management is] a fundamental skill of survival,” said Jeff Ladouceur, director, SEI Private Wealth Management. “There is a secret sauce of academic skills and taught values on how to manage money, how to put it towards a good purpose or to continue to develop it.

“Without those skills, the money can be misused or become detriment, instead of an opportunity or jumping off point for success,” he said.

“Breaking The Taboo” looks at 275 individuals averaging $18 million in assets and $616,000 in annual income and their attitudes toward finance management. Among the participants, 42 percent are employees, 23 percent are entrepreneurs and 13 percent are retired.

Alone in the dark
The report identifies three major solutions to problems that impose proper wealth management: engaging more often to end conflict festering beneath the surface, introducing heirs to the decision-making process at a younger age and making decisions together.

When it comes to personal finance, people have confidence in themselves rather than family. Forty-three percent of participants said family interference stops them from achieving financial goals, compared to around one-third percent blaming their investment skills or lack of sufficient time and information.

mercedes family
Family prepares for a road-trip; image courtesy Mercedes

Accordingly, one-third said they must make financial choices alone, with the number increasing along with household net worth and higher for women and employees. However, family friction is often an indication of insufficient communication in the past, meaning more conversation and trust.

This isolationist mode of thinking might be an effect as much as it is a cause.

Only about 40 percent of UHNW parents involve children 19-years-old and under in family wealth issues and 80 percent say their heirs do not know how much they will receive. If this was true of the previous generation as well, the exclusion might have contributed to a reluctance to involve others.

Similarly, only 20 percent have given their children training or education on wealth management – this despite 85 percent believing that with great wealth comes great responsibility.

Affluent family
Affluent family

Fifty-eight percent of respondents are male while only 42 percent are female, a result of the lack of gender parity among UHNW individuals. Within the UHNW community, men and women behave differently: one-third of women lack confidence in their financial plan compared to just a quarter of men, but men are also only half as likely to trust family in financial matters.

By setting goals, teaching children how to understand and manage money and getting family and professional wealth managers involved in important decisions, UHNW families can take better care of both wealth and family.

Breaking taboos
Other studies indicate changes in wealth management are on their way.

Millennial investors have different preferences compared to their baby boomer parents when it comes to wealth management, according to a Luxury Institute report from August.

While baby boomers and older generations prefer to work with full-service brokerage firms, wealthy millennials and members of Generation X are showing an increased preference for working with private advisors. Independent financial advisors can offer a more individual approach that is often appealing to younger investors who are accustomed to personalization.

An SEI report from June suggests the same.

When the world’s emerging wealthy population is looking for financial advice, they are preferential toward relationship managers over product specialists, according to a report by SEI.

In the United States, high-net-worth consumers show an even higher affinity for relationship managers, favoring them over specialists two to one across all areas of investment. As regulations place restrictions on the client-advisor relationship and digital solutions appear poised to replace personal contact, this report shows the continued importance of human interaction in the investment process.

“People are doing more values-based than just budget-based financial education,” Mr. Ladouceur said. “People who are doing it right, the education is values-based.

“This means people are learning not only the basics of what they can spend and what they have, but also learning the relation between money and their family’s values,” he said. “Therefore, educated decision are made not on affordability but on alignment with need and values.”


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.”


October 16, 2015

Authenticity, engagement make for stronger social media presence

Luxury Daily
October 15, 2015
By: Forrest Cardamenis

NEW YORK – Any brand can create a social media account, but using these platforms to create a natural extension of the label and leverage social clout to generate sales and loyalty is another matter, according to a speaker at Luxury Interactive 2015 on Oct. 13.

Social media has shrunk the distance between brands and consumers, but bringing these parties closer together has also destroyed traditional business/customer relationships. To be successful on social media, consumers need to be treated like equals and people, otherwise social presence could, counterproductively, push consumers to competition.

“A lot of brands think ‘We have to do this, we have to create content, we have to get out there,’” said Aliza Licht, also known as “DKNY PR Girl,” former public relations executive for DKNY. “A lot of times the need or the urgency to create content is overshadowing the importance of staying true to your brand’s DNA.”

Social engagement
Establishing your brand’s DNA is crucial to creating an authentic and admired social media presence. Brands must identify their core values and ideas and set up boundaries on what topics they will and will not get involved in online.

Tweeting and posting only about promotions and new products creates an inhuman distance from the consumer’s standpoint, but getting involved in serious sociopolitical discussions could alienate those with differing viewpoints.

DKNY Scandal tweet
DKNY PR Girl often tweeted about social happenings to build authenticity

Any active user on social media will inevitably find themselves in some sort of a crisis, but that only makes it more important to engage with consumers as equals. When communication is this direct, the traditional positioning of the brand being above the consumer no longer works, and it won’t create a network of loyal consumers and defenders when that crisis comes along.

“When you’re friends with a customer you create respect and create a situation where, when you make a mistake – and we all do – you are more easily forgiven,” Ms. Licht said.

In addition, when trying to reach international consumers, the same tricks that work in one country might not work elsewhere, so international partners are crucial in helping brands find effective ways to engage. That said, there are common denominators. People all around the world want to be heard.

dknyprgirl twitter
DKNY PR Girl twitter

In one case, Ms. Licht tweeted about the 100 percent humidity in New York on a summer day. “Of course it’s a hair-wash day,” she added. By doing so, she found a natural and enticing way for followers all over the world to share their thoughts with the weather, and retweeting replies from different countries showed that DKNY listened to global consumers.

Search functions also make it easy to “listen” on social media. Users talking negatively about a brand may not be tagging that brand in their posts, but they can easily be searched, and the findings can be used to make changes that will satisfy doubters before competitors steal them away.

As it is in everything else, self-reflection and self-criticism is crucial to creating a strong social presence. A brand should examine its output to ensure it is putting forth the best version possible of itself in terms of message and attitude.

Youth movement
With millennials growing into affluence and becoming a key market, social media presence will only grow in importance.

Social media has created a unique environment that allows for personal engagement between consumers and brands, according to the creative director of Loewe at the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference April 23.

Social media allows consumers to be involved with brands on an instant basis. The stories that can be told and the people that can be reached through modern mediums change the face of the luxury industry (see story).

The genuine and personal connection that social media lends itself to is more attractive to consumers who want more from businesses than constantly being sold to.

Consumers are split on their willingness to download luxury brand applications, but when dispersed into generations, 72 percent of millennials are inclined to download a branded app, according to a report from The Luxury Institute.

Digitization of the luxury world is slowly evolving as younger generations grow into being affluent consumers. Luxury clients differ across more than just generations, but understanding the prime and upcoming consumer can prepare marketing teams for the future (see story).

“A lot of brands still maintain that position of ‘We’re up here, you’re down here, we’ll push content to you when we feel like you need to know something, we’re not going to respond to you, but we’ll let you know what is important,’” Ms. Licht said. “I don’t agree with that approach. I think being likable and being an engaging platform makes a huge difference in growing a community.

“The anti-elitist mentality is a winning mentality,” she said.


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 14, 2015

Millennials’ wealth management preferences differ from boomers: report

Luxury Daily
By: Kay Sorin
August 14, 2015

Millennial investors have different preferences compared to their baby boomer parents when it comes to wealth management, according to a new report by Luxury Institute.

While baby boomers and older generations prefer to work with full-service brokerage firms, wealthy millennials and members of Generation X are showing an increased preference for working with private advisors. Independent financial advisors can offer a more individual approach that is often appealing to younger investors who are accustomed to personalization.

“Independent financial advisors are able to do more things for their clients, because they are not working for a firm that has rules and regulations about what they can or can’t do,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, New York. “The IFA is the fastest growing industry in wealth management.”

Different strokes
Luxury Institute surveyed investors earning at least $150,000 and found that at least 46 percent used some form of advisor to help them manage their finances. Among respondents aged 65 and over, this number rose to 59 percent.

Michael Kors affluent couple car
Wealthy millennials are inclined to prefer independent wealth managers

Respondents varied in their preferences for an independent wealth manager versus a full-service brokerage firm such as Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch. Interestingly, this preference strongly correlated with age.

“A full service firm doesn’t have a fiduciary relationship with the client, meaning that they are not legally obliged to serve the client’s interests only,” Mr. Pedraza said. “They can recommend an investment in which they will make a bigger commission.”

Millennials and members of Generation X and Y, defined as those 45 and younger, showed a significant preference for independent wealth managers compared to full-service brokerage firms. Thirty-eight percent chose to work with individual advisors while 27 percent preferred a big brokerage firm.

Michael Kors case
Millennials have access to more information and are well informed

Investors over 65 were much less likely to work with an independent advisor and only 28 percent reported doing so. They strongly preferred to go full-service with 56 percent using large firms to manage their wealth.

This difference between the generations is likely a result of their upbringing. Baby boomers were raised to expect to work with a big brokerage firm, while millennials may be more wary and distrustful after the recession of 2008.

Sotheby's London Property
Financial advisors can assist in major life decisions such as purchasing a home

Additionally, millennials have more information at hand, which allows them to be more selective with their advisors.

“Millennials are so much more informed that they depend less on a brokerage firm providing them with research,” Mr. Pedraza said. “Millennials don’t need as much because they are so informed.

“They know that very few financial advisors can outperform the market in the long term.”

One way in which individual advisors often distinguish themselves is by providing a more personal connection for clients. Luxury Institute found that expertise, trustworthiness and generosity were the most valued traits in financial advisors.

Affluent family
As millennials age they are in greater need of financial advice

More than numbers
Investors looking for both a personal relationship and a full-service brokerage firm may seek other solutions to find the ideal compromise. Ultra-affluent consumers often appreciate the relationship-building culture fostered at boutique wealth management firms, according to a report by the Luxury Institute.

The New York-based Rockefeller Wealth Management firm received the highest score in the report, followed by Atlanta-based Atlantic Trust Private Wealth Management and Convergent Wealth Advisors. As wealth management firms continue to repair their reputations following the financial crisis, prioritizing relationships over transactions will be important (see story).

Regardless of the size of a firm, relationships are often the deciding factor when it comes to choosing a financial advisor. To differentiate themselves from competitors, wealth management companies must make crucial changes that will only work if the alterations are part of the company’s core DNA, according to a speaker from the 2012 Forrester Customer Experience Forum.

It is no longer enough to just return calls and give a great customer experience, since clients at wealth management companies are not even thinking about those that do not require this. Instead, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney was forced to bolster its customer service in terms of technology, getting to know the customer and its consultants (see story).

Looking forward, it is essential for wealth management companies to take personal relationships into account in order to appeal to wealthy millennials.

“Millennials will be keen to stay with those who deliver and will dispense with those who don’t,” Mr. Pedraza said. “They will choose advisors based more on the client’s experience than on the client’s return.

“The baby boomers are kind of exiting the stage. Millennials will demand a far more objective and independent metric.

“Advisors need to be completely trustworthy and very responsive,” he said. “They need to go above and beyond to make the client feel special.”


October 4, 2014

Williams-Sonoma returns home to celebrate heritage

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.

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.


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.”


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:

July 7, 2014

Used Chanel bags are worth a lot, but Marc Jacobs? Not so much

By: Erin Griffith
July 7, 2014

They’re all considered investments, but which luxury brands hold their value the best may surprise you.

There’s a reason they call them “investment pieces.” At $22,000 for a Proenza Schouler tote or $9,000 for a Ralph Lauren dress, luxury goods are meant to last a lifetime and hold their value. That’s why the market for used designer goods is the most attractive category for online consignment.

One such marketplace, a website called The RealReal, is on track to do $100 million in sales this year. (The company takes a cut of each sale.) The RealReal recently tapped its database of 500,000 luxury goods from 500 designer brands to find which brands have the highest resale value, and which ones hold their value the longest. The startup found that Chanel, Christian Louboutin, and Hermès hold their value the longest. Tod’s and Versace lose their value the fastest.

Perhaps more surprising is which brands carry the highest and lowest resale value. Items from Givenchy, Victoria Beckham, Charlotte Olympia and Alexander McQueen all sell for much closer to their original price than goods from Marni, Alexander Wang, 3.1 Philip Lim, and Marc Jacobs.

Resale values of fashion or luxury goods can fluctuate depending on buzz around a certain designer, particularly if a fashion houses hires a a new creative director or chief executive, according to Rati Levesque, Chief Merchant at The RealReal. “When Phoebe Philo joined Céline as the creative director, it added more resale value to the brand,” she says.

But more important than buzz is availability and discounting. If a luxury brand frequently discounts its goods at outlet stores or online via flash sales, consumers will perceive that they don’t have to pay full price for that brand, says Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, a luxury industry research group. While baby boomer shoppers tend to research something online and then buy it in the store, millennials do it the other way around. They “showroom,” the term for checking out an item in the store before finding the best deal for it online.

“These days you can find ways to arbitrage the brands, because you have so much information and the market is inefficient,” Pedraza says. “Brands have to be careful where they allow their product to be sold.”

For example: Chanel and Hermès do not hold sales in their stores and they have a limited number of outlet stores. Chanel doesn’t even sell its goods online, with the exception of beauty products. “In that sense, it creates a perception of purity,” Pedraza says.” The brands then “back it up with design quality and heritage,” he says. “If I buy something, I will think, ‘Wow it has long term investment value.’”

Below are some luxury brands that fall on both sides of the spectrum.

Click the link to read the entire article which includes quotes from Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute:

May 30, 2014

Affluents Don’t Want Texts from Luxury Brands

Far more affluents would opt in to luxury brand emails
E Marketer
May 30, 2014

Targeting affluents? Don’t expect to reach them through texts. In Q1 2014, Luxury Institute found that just 17% of US affluent internet users, those with an income of $150,000 or more, had signed up or were somewhat/very likely to opt in to messages from a luxury brand.

Even tech-savvy affluent millennials weren’t interested in luxury brand messages popping up on their phones: Just around one-quarter said they had or would be interested in receiving such communications, a percentage similar to Generation Xers.

Instead, emails may be the way into affluents’ digital inboxes, with 49% of respondents saying they had or were somewhat/very likely to opt in to receiving emails from a luxury brand.

While this wasn’t a majority activity among the entire group, the total percentage was skewed lower by boomers, as over half of millennials and Gen Xers were interested in receiving messages this way.

Either way, digital didn’t appear to play a major role in US affluent internet users’ research or purchase processes when buying luxury items.

Just 22% of respondents said they researched online and then purchased in-store, indicating they may not get inspiration for luxury purchases during digital browsing. Meanwhile, only 15% of respondents researched in-store and then bought online, possibly because they didn’t feel comfortable making expensive purchases digitally—or maybe they just wanted their luxury items instantly.

August 2013 research by Shullman Research Center found that online channels were where US affluent internet users—those with a household income of at least $250,000—felt least comfortable making purchases, with half saying they did not feel OK buying something via a smartphone, tablet or computer. Meanwhile, just 7% said the same about making a purchase in-store.

See article at:


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