Luxury Institute News

June 19, 2015

Will nearly 3M Apple Watches sold hurt Swiss watch industry? Meet some non-worriers

New York Business Journal
By: Teresa Novellino
June 18, 2015

It was meant to be a “debate “over whether the Apple Watch would impact the Swiss watch industry, but even the futurist on a Watch Collectors’ Roundtable panel assembled at the Aaron Faber Gallery in New York confessed to being a Rolex man.

Jason Alan Snyder, chief technology officer at global branding agency Momentum Worldwide, says he has tested out many versions of wearable tech, but tells time with a Swiss-made Rolex Datejust his father gave him which, combined with his smartphone screen, he considers to be “ample” for his day-to-day activities.

“The sort of capital you derive from wearing a timepiece is different from the sort of capital you derive from wearing a smartwatch.” Snyder said Tuesday night during a roundtable at the midtown Manhattan jewelry and vintage watch gallery. “Right now it’s the difference between luxury and utility and they’re very different ideas.”

According to a report just out today from Slice Intelligence, utility is selling to the tune of 2.8 million Apple Watches sold so far, with multiple bands being a popular add-on. Apple itself has never shared sales results on the watches, but yesterday it began allowing customers to actually buy the watches in store through a “reserve and pickup” service versus ordering them online.

The roundtable for watch enthusiasts, moderated by Randy Brandoff, founder and CEO of luxury watch subscription site Eleven James, was assembled to hash out concerns among collectors, retailers and others in the watch industry about the disruptive new entrant in a watch industry dominated by traditional players. Before the AppleWatch was released, the company’s design chief Jony Ive reportedly predicted the Apple Watch would mean trouble for the Swiss watch industry. Indeed, Apple stole a marketing page from the industry when stars like Beyoncé were shown wearing them. She posted a selfie of the gold version on Instagram.

Snyder pointed out that the functionality of the Apple Watch, particularly its ability to let people pay for items without out a credit card via Apple Pay would appeal to consumers seeking convenience. The health-related functionality is another lure. Wearables, in general, will evolve to become more incorporated in our lives, he said.

“I think the things we wear will become a part of ourselves in ways we can’t imagine,” he said. “The form it is taking now is a wristwatch, but it could also be something else, like a [miniaturized computer screen that you wear as a] contact in your eye.”

Some brands exhibiting in Switzerland at this year’s Baselworld, the world’s largest watch and jewelry show, met the Apple Watch challenge by saying they would be rolling out their own smartwatches. TAG Heuer, for instance, is partnering with Google and Intel on its version.

“I think it’s a huge over reaction, I don’t think there’s a place for it,” said Jeffrey Hess, CEO of Ball Watch USA. “There are a lot of watch brands that are afraid to not be on the boat.”

Hess, who ran an ad for his watches in Wired magazine, said he got a great response, which he interprets as proof positive that tech geeks like luxury watches too.

Others on the panel seemed similarly skeptical that the Apple Watch would actually eat into their sales. Among them was the roundtable’s host Edward Faber, co-owner of Aaron Faber Gallery, who said Millennial customers seek out the unique and collectible vintage mechanical watches that he sells.

“People want to distinguish themselves whether they’re in a business environment or social setting,” said Faber, author of American Wristwatches: Five Decades of Style and Design. “Soon, the Apple Watch will be everywhere but the luxury watch will continue to stand out.”

Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer and founder of the Luxury Institute, said he wouldn’t “discount the possibility of a surge,” in sales for the Apple Watch, but the first version didn’t seem like something that could compete with a Swiss timepiece. He sees it more a subcategory within the industry.

“The Apple Watch will evolve into something compelling. Today, it is not,” Pedraza said. He also predicted that Millennials, as they age, would become watch collectors, just like their Baby Boomer parents, even if they also own a smartwatch.

“It won’t be this or that, it will be this and that,” Pedraza said. “I see an opportunity to make this luxury [category] larger and I’m not worried about the watch industry at all.

But if the fears of Apple Watch competition have the Swiss watch brands concerned and reacting defensively, he sees it as good thing.

“If TAG Heuer fails, so be it,” he said. “They’ll be better off for it because they tried.”


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June 18, 2015

Smartwatch debate has strapped timepieces back on wearers’ wrists

Luxury Daily
By: Jen King
June 18, 2015

NEW YORK – Panelists during the Watch Collectors’ Roundtable discussion agreed that the introduction of the smartwatch, though originally daunting, may be the best thing to happen to the traditional Swiss watch industry since the quartz.

Held on June 16 at the Aaron Faber Gallery, the “Will smartwatches disrupt the Swiss watch industry” panel debated whether or not the smartwatch will have lasting impact with different perspectives from timepiece sellers, collectors and manufacturers to proponents of wearable technology. Although not agreeing on all fronts, the panelists expressed a sense of gratitude toward Apple, and others in the tech space, for putting traditional watches back into the conversation.

“I cannot even count how many hours of debate [smartwatches have] sparked in our offices, with our members and prospects,” said Randy Brandoff, CEO and founder of Eleven James, New York.

“No matter what one thinks about the technology of today, and where one thinks it’s going in the future, if you’re a lover of wristwatches, mechanical or otherwise, I think the aggregate takeaway is that this is a good thing,” he said. “More than anytime I can remember everyone I know has sparked up a conversation about watches, what this means, where are they going and how useful are they.”

Mr. Brandoff acted as the moderator for the panel discussion.

Ticking talk

The panel discussion delved into the fundamental issues and questions surrounding the wearable category and how, if at all, the technology will affect traditional Swiss watch brands.

Each panelist said that mechanical timepieces have been worn as a way to distinguish someone from a crowd, but Apple Watch, and others like it, will become commonplace with only the high-end model, the Edition, being seen as unique.

But, the wearable model is not as practical or as sound of an investment as a mechanical watch because the technology within will become outdated. In comparison, the technology in a timepiece has gone relatively unchanged for hundreds of years, resulting in a time-tested science that has yet to become obsolete.

The general consensus among the participants was that watches, smart or otherwise, have placed wearables on the wrists of consumers who otherwise would not have considered a timepiece. This consumer sector is made mostly of millennial consumers who have grown up in a virtual era where timekeeping is predominantly done by mobile and smartphones.

Comparably, the introduction of quartz timepieces in the 1970s had a similar outcome with consumers gravitating toward the new technology and away from traditional mechanical watches. As with in the past, consumer sentiment changed as the first wave of interested wearers matured and returned focus to tradition, but not without testing the technologically advanced waters first.

Also, the panelists felt that the disposable nature of the smartwatch also plays into the quartz comparisons. The quartz watch went from cutting edge technology to available as a free prize at the bottom of a cereal box, thus making the innovation diluted.

Just as with a smartphone, the smartwatch will be void of emotional ties while traditional timepieces can have profound meaning for wearers because they can mark a personal milestone or be passed down along generations.

“I think the whole thing is a bit of an evolution right now,” said Jason Alan Snyder , chief technology officer of Momentum Worldwide, New York. “Horology as the science of measuring time really has nothing to do with wearables.

“Wearables are fundamentally an extension of a smartphone at this time,” he said. “But, really beyond that it’s a small visual signatures of what’s happening on your smartphone right now.

“I think that the social capital derived from wearing a fine Swiss timepiece is very different than social capital derived from wearing a smartwatch. I think those two things may converge at some point in the future, but for right now it’s the difference between luxury and utility, and they’re very different ideas.”

Tech as craftsmanship
For the luxury industry, whether it is timepieces or leather goods, the panelists noted that longevity propels the industry through style, and it is that combination that results in consumer desire.

Additionally, luxury goods are described as made by the hands of skilled artisans, but Sir Jonathan Ive of Apple argued at the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference April 22 that all devices, even those in the technology space, have handcrafted elements.

Whether the Apple Watch will prove disruptive to the traditional watch industry has yet to be fully determined, but the degree of quality behind Apple’s first wearable technology is clear (see story). Apple extensively researched the materials for the watch, especially its gold components, and feels that it is a false assumption to assume those in the technology space do not dedicate the same sense of quality to products as traditional luxury houses (see story).

Regardless, mechanical watchmakers have melded traditional horology with technological innovations ranging from synced mobile applications, strapped adaptations and fully connected timepieces.

For example, Swiss watchmaker Breitling is taking the smartwatch concept to new heights with its flight-ready B55 Connected timepiece.

Smartwatches are often synced to a smartphone application that tracks the wearer’s physical activity and sends push notifications (see story). Breitling has taken the opposite approach by having the smartphone service the B55 Connected chronograph to enhance functionality and conviviality.

Also, LVMH-owned Tag Heuer announced its creative partnership between its manufacturer, Google and Intel at Baselworld 2015.

The partnership signifies a new era of collaboration between Swiss watchmakers and Silicon Valley to escalate the expertise of each brand whether it be watchmaking, software or hardware. From the first utterance of wearables, many horologists agreed that collaborative efforts between tradition and technology would yield competitive results (see story).

Since watches are statement pieces of movements and mechanisms, sparking innovation aligns with the heritage of horology and is worth exploring. But, as it stands today the Swiss watch industry will prevail, even becoming more collectable due to wearables.

“I think the category will grow because of Apple’s new entry into the category,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO and founder of The Luxury Institute, New York.

“The Apple Watch will evolve into something more compelling, today it’s not,” he said. “I don’t think we have anything to worry about, however I terms of the luxury Swiss watch industry not only prevailing but thriving as a result.”


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June 16, 2015

Meticulous Attention to Detail Elevates Craftsmanship of next Lincoln MKX

Business Wire
June 16, 2015

Overall quality is the top purchase reason for the Lincoln MKX, matching a study that shows 74 percent of wealthy consumers believe superior quality is a luxury product’s most important attribute

The new Lincoln MKX medium crossover, on sale this summer, reflects increased focus on attention to detail and improved craftsmanship in subtle executions.

Advanced models along with a state-of-the-art virtual reality lab are complemented by Lincoln craftsmanship engineers who meticulously pore over vehicles.

Craftsmanship helps define the overall quality of any luxury product. Customers of the Lincoln MKX, for example, cite overall quality as their No. 1 purchase reason for the medium crossover.

“Part of the role of the craftsmanship team is to address the intangible elements of quality – how the space makes you feel, your reaction when you get in and experience the vehicle.”

This desire is seen beyond automotive as well. A study by the Luxury Institute and Epsilon finds that 74 percent of wealthy consumers believe that superior quality is the most important attribute of a luxury product, followed by superior craftsmanship.

The new Lincoln MKX, on sale this summer, elevates craftsmanship by subtly fusing form and function, sometimes in areas not immediately seen or felt by the customer.

“Craftsmanship sits between the worlds of engineering and design,” said Stacy Swank, Lincoln craftsmanship supervisor. “Our role is to bring those worlds together to enhance the experience for the customer. We like to think that if you don’t notice what’s been done, then we’ve done our job.”

Some “hidden” improvements to the 2016 Lincoln MKX include:

  • Foam was added to the wrapped console side panels, providing a softer area for the leg to rest, and also added to the door armrests and steering wheel
  • Extra strength was added to the dead-pedal area – where a driver rests his/her left foot – to make the area more firm
  • Scuff materials in the door and tailgate were upgraded to stainless steel, which is more resistant to scratches and helps maintain a beautiful appearance

The 2016 Lincoln MKX offers available Bridge of Weir® Deepsoft leather, created specifically for Lincoln seating surfaces. Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather goes through a 16-hour softening process, which is a considerably longer process than most automotive leathers. A hand-sewn and -stitched Wollsdorf® leather-wrapped steering wheel is available on higher-series vehicles.

The center console was redesigned to improve functionality while elevating craftsmanship.

The armrest includes a two-button clamshell execution. This arrangement allows for one button to open only the flocked storage with the tray and the other to open the main bin, creating a versatile storage option.

To increase the crafted appearance, the gooseneck hinge arms that connect the armrest and clamshell tray to the hinge are hidden.

Throughout the interior, the smallest areas were upgraded to higher levels of craftsmanship. To create a cleaner appearance where the A-pillar meets the headliner, for example, a 2.5-mm indent (the thickness of a couple of dimes) was created on the inside of the joint. This allowed the materials to align better.

Lincoln craftsmanship engineers review data at computer-aided-design stations, experience the vehicle in a virtual lab and pore over prototypes to help ensure quality. In the interior of the new Lincoln MKX, for example, there are more than 1,200 interfaces.

Reducing margins and eliminating sharp edges, cut lines, parting lines and visible fasteners – while using genuine wood and metal – drives fit and finish.

“The data, the science and the math help ensure everything fits together correctly and address the tangible elements of quality,” said Swank. “Part of the role of the craftsmanship team is to address the intangible elements of quality – how the space makes you feel, your reaction when you get in and experience the vehicle.”


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June 11, 2015

Hotels Offer Luxury Shopping Inside Your Rooms

The New York Times
By: Shivani Vora
June 10, 2015

Luxury hotels are increasingly partnering with high-end retailers to give guests insider shopping experiences and perks. Many of these collaborations are at properties in New York.

The Mark Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side has teamed with Bergdorf Goodman: Guests are ferried to and from the Fifth Avenue store in pedicabs and have access to shop before and after hours with Bergdorf’s director of shopping. Those staying in a suite receive a $500 gift card and a facial in the store’s beauty department. Rooms from $725, suites from $1,200.

The Quin in Midtown is also working with Bergdorf’s. The phones in each of the hotel’s 208 rooms have a direct-dial button to the store’s personal shopping team, which can set up appointments for a store visit and can order items to be delivered to guests. Terrace suite guests also receive a $300 gift card. Rooms from $499, suites from $2,000.

Travelers who stay three or more nights in a suite at the WestHouse in Midtown receive a $500 gift card to the online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter and can talk with the company’s personal shoppers by pushing a button on in-room phones. Suites from $999.

The St. Regis Washington, D.C. offers guests an opportunity to stock their room closets ahead of time with items from Neiman Marcus. Those interested answer a questionnaire about their style preferences and arrive to a find a customized wardrobe. The service is free, and guests can try on the clothes. There is no obligation to buy them unless the clothes are worn. Rooms from $395.

International hotels are also participating: Travelers staying a minimum of five nights in a suite at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai until the end of July receive a free pair of shoes from Harvey Nichols as well as a pedicure. Suites from $800.

These relationships are a way for stores to generate traffic and also appeal to travelers, according to Milton Pedraza, the founder of the New York-based luxury research and consulting firm the Luxury Institute. “Retailers and hotels assume that if you’re staying at a pricey property, you have the means and inclination to shop, and these partnerships give you an incentive to do that with a specific name,” he said.


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June 10, 2015

Pedraza Defines Seven Peak Performance Rules for the Luxury Retailer

The Industry is Rife With Self-Inflicted Wounds

By: Jeff Miller
June 9, 2015

RAPAPORT. Jewelers have tremendous opportunity to grow their operations as long as they do not fail to execute rules of peak performance for customer relationships, according to Milton Pedraza, the CEO of the Luxury Institute. Pedraza defined operating results at luxury retailers so far this year as “dismal”  in large part because the  industry is “rife with self-inflicted wounds” including, clinging to outdated management practices. 

Retailers that do stand to capitalize on future growth are approaching the business from the customers’ perspective and creating systems — and empowered associates — that  together cultivate relationships rather than a rallying cry for a simple sales transaction. Pedraza created seven “Rules For Peak Performance” based upon more than a decade of consulting luxury brands and leading them through  internal transformations. 

The first rule of performance, Pedraza said, is to abandon the corporate silo mentality and create a company culture and mindset that brings all parts together to achieve strong client relationships.

“Luxury brands are broken, literally. Despite all the omnichannel chatter you hear today, brands are broken up into departments and functions more fit for the factories and universities of the industrial era than fashion and luxury retailers of the digital age,” he wrote.

Even if departments or divisions compete for internal interests, Pedraza advised retailers to  place all those silos that touch the client “under one client relationship executive and base compensation — at all levels – on achievement of relationship targets such as client data collection, conversion, recovery, retention and referral rates.”

While competitive benchmarks (and performance metrics) do play a role in business, Pedraza’s second rule is to use that data effectively to create “competitive breakthroughs.” Any situation that involves creativity and human behavior requires differentiation and efficiency, he said.

“One reason that the luxury industry is stalling is a lack of breakthrough innovation. If you want your luxury brand to be highly valuable and profitable you need to move beyond benchmarking. Luxury brands need to go from continuous improvement to discontinuous improvement, which demands breaking the rules through innovation,” he said.

The successful retailer of today has adopted Pedraza’s third rule of performance  and dispensed with  “top-down” management in favor of “front-line empowerment.”   Today’s retail leaders actively engage and empower people in the organization to apply their own talent and passion toward the company’s goal and they recognize that “strong human relationships harness collective wisdom and innate genius to adapt and shape the future,” he noted. Pedraza said that  leaders must “relax into success” and trust people “profusely, to adapt continuously. 

It is an imperfect process, but it works,” Pedraza said, citing three luxury brand executives who trust front-line colleagues to achieve success, while providing the resources needed to deliver:  Angela Ahrendts of Apple Inc., Natalie Massenet of Net-a-Porter and Marco Bizzarri of Gucci.

Pedraza’s fourth rule advised luxury retailers to turn “big data” collection into “actionable wisdom.”  Data itself is not information — without human thought.

Wisdom remains the domain of humans. Injecting human wisdom and empowering your store and call center associates to use their judgment, along with data, to create appropriate one-to-one client communications might not be as sexy as developing an algorithm, or pushing a mass campaign button, but it can be far more effective in building client relationships,” he said. Leverage staff knowledge and know-how to use data in a way that benefits the client and “finally go from doing the wrong thing right, to finally doing the right thing right.”

Pedraza said that selling is not human because, in practice, it reduces “associates to being clerks ringing up transactions instead of brand ambassadors building long-term relationships.” In the fifth rule of performance, he advised retailers to toss the robotic “sales ceremony” concept and focus on three major over-arching qualities: expertise, trustworthiness and generosity.

Let the mass brands do what they will, but luxury brands should immediately discard the aggressive selling playbook and embrace the art and science of high-performance client relationship building, where value is created not from transactions, but from consistently and continuously outperforming and out-behaving the competition,” Pedraza said. “Creating clearly measurable functional and emotional mutual value through a relationship is inherently imperfect, but alternative forms of selling are surely dead.”

Has your store incorporated elaborate, old-school training programs? Rule number six  urges retailers to create master associates.

“It is often said that in a college classroom, the only one learning is the teacher, so part of the secret lies in transforming everyone from a trainee into a learner and a teacher. It is also true that online education, when used in a humanistic and empowering way, such as is done by the Khan Academy, combined with daily one-to-one, metrics-based coaching, peer-to-peer learning techniques and inspirational reinforcement, can make learners, teachers and relationship masters out of all your front-line associates,” he said.

In the seventh rule, Pedraza calls for changing the front-line manager job description to a coach rather than someone who is just  “bossing and selling.” Hire an operations manager to handle the back-office chores; the store manager should be on the floor 90 percent of his time observing and coaching associates and engaging top clients.

Coaching is an art and a science backed by research. Coaching relationship building is a craft that requires expertise.”

“Innovative, empirically-based coaching programs need to be developed to educate our armies of store managers in the art and science of coaching for client relationship building. Until that happens, expect your costs to go up while results falter because more of the same harder won’t work this time around,” Pedraza concluded.

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June 8, 2015

Cadillac to Sponsor First-Ever New York Fashion Week for Men ‘I Am Very Much Interested in Taking Cadillac Into the World of Fashion’

Advertising Age
June 5, 2015

While the New York womens’ collections have failed to land a car company to replace longtime title sponsor Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac has signed on to become the first-ever automotive backer of New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
The agreement, signed to last two seasons, includes producing a variety of related events and providing Cadillac vehicles as shuttles for attendees. Shinola, Amazon Fashion, and Dreamworks have also been confirmed as sponsors for the fashion week focusing on menswear.

“I am very much interested in taking Cadillac into the world of fashion,” Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen said. “The whole idea of beginning to strengthen Cadillac’s position as a lifestyle brand is very much central to our mission. This is a good start.”

“It should be interpreted as a clear statement of intent that we will walk with a heavy footstep in the fashion world,” he said.

In addition to the role during men’s fashion week, Cadillac will continue as a presenting sponsor of New York Men’s Day, a special day formerly set aside during the womenswear-heavy New York Fashion Week to highlight emerging menswear designers. This year, that day will move to July in order to align with NYFW: Men. This will be the second season that Cadillac participates.

The new deal is a telling move from a 113-year-old brand that was reportedly considering the title sponsorship of what was formerly Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which primarily showcases womenswear. Mercedes-Benz ended its title role there earlier this year; the twice-annual event has suffered a deficit of energy since moving from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center in 2010. Many fresh, new fashion brands started showing their wares at off-site locations — often involved with Made Fashion week.

Earlier this year, Cadillac hosted arguably the hottest ticket during New York Fashion Week, when it allowed Public School to show its Autumn/Winter 2015 menswear and womenswear collection in the automaker’s new offices, situated between Tribeca and the West Village.

“We evaluated New York Fashion Week, and we continue to think it’s a worthy property,” Mr. de Nysschen says. “But we weren’t ready to figure out how to fully integrate that into our overallmarketing strategy.”

Cadillac’s decision to sponsor men’s fashion week (which is backed by the Council of Fashion Designers of America), rather than New York Fashion Week, speaks to its desire to return to the cutting edge of culture. In recent years, the automaker has struggled to revitalize its fuddy-duddy image; last year the average buyer of a Cadillac was 59.5 years old, according to the global information company IHS Automotive — much older than the thirties to early forties age range most desirable to luxury brands.

The men’s week sponsorship is totally new — a first. It’s an essential first at that, industry insiders say.

“Cadillac needs that cool, fashionable, ‘gets it’ association to appeal to all consumers, especially Gen Xers and Millennials, who still have a perception of an older brand,” Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of the New York City- based Luxury Institute, said via e-mail from Stockholm.

New York Fashion Week: Men’s runs July 13-16 at Skylight Clarkson Square in downtown Manhattan. A spokesman for Cadillac declined to disclose the amount of the new sponsorship.


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June 5, 2015

When is Luxury not Luxury?

June 4th, 2015

When Lilly Pulitzer released an exclusive line for Target in April, the entire collection sold out at some physical locations within hours. Good for the designer, good for the store, good for the buyers. A resultant Target website crash aside, good for everybody…right?

“No target shouldn’t collaborate with Lilly just no ew ew ew keep Lilly Pulitzer classy people” – Katherine (@kathhlambert)

“lilly pulitzer collaborating with target is probably the worst news I will get in all of 2015” – Marisa Lyn Friedman (@marisalynnnn)

“Lilly pulitzer for target?! Holy hell What’s next?! the apocalypse??! affordable clothing for the masses!? Disgusting” – Pamela Beesly (@trillprincess47)

Those tweets (the third of which, c’mon, has to at least be partially sarcastic) went out not after “Lilly Pulitzer for Target” was released, but actually when the line was first announced, back in January.

The perception among Lilly Pulitzer devotees outspoken in their disapproval of the Target collaboration, then and now, seems to be that the value of Lilly Pulitzer clothing (and other items) is directly related to their cost. And if the cost goes down (Lilly Pulitzer dresses, which often sell for $200, were available at Target for $40), the brand itself diminishes in value.

It wasn’t only semi-anonymous Twitter users who expressed their disdain for Lilly Pulitzer’s availability to bargain shoppers. In an op-ed for Bloomberg, columnist Megan McArdle – having expressed her belief that Lilly Pulitzer clothes are in fact quite ugly and worn only as a statement by people too rich to care – wrote that “actually wearing Target’s Lilly Pulitzer line…signals the exact opposite of what it is supposed to.” That is to say, if you had to make an effort to buy those clothes, you don’t really deserve to wear them.

Crossovers between high-end brands and mass-market retailers – and the potential image risk to the former – are by no means a new phenomenon. In 1983, the designer brand Halston released a collection exclusive to J.C. Penney, and lost some luxury partnerships as a result.

Halston’s experience aside, the particular backlash to the Lilly Pulitzer/Target collaboration seems a bit out of step with the norm, as Target’s own partnerships with brands like Isaac Mizrahi and, as recently as this year, Missoni, or the recently-announced deal between H&M and Balmain, did not raise such a volume of ire among self-appointed consumer protectors of the luxury ideal.

While there is a risk of brand dilution in partnerships, a study from the Luxury Institute (which, you have to figure, knows a thing or two about this topic) showed that affluent shoppers are not turned off by luxury brands partnering with mainstream brands.

With specific regard to the Lilly Pulitzer/Target hookup, the Harvard Business Review crunched the numbers and viewed the outcome as purely positive.

“Unlike the market saturation and brand extension strategies that have de-valued other luxury brands like Michael Kors and Coach,” states the HBR’s report, “the Target collaboration was a smart move for Lilly Pulitzer. The limited-item, limited time collection allowed the company to expand the brand while maintaining its exclusive appeal.”

Given the success of the arrangement on almost every count (save, again, that unfortunate website overload), it is more than likely that more collaborations between high-end brands and mainstream retailers are on the horizon. Will there be outcries from those who, holding luxury in high regard, look down their noses at mass-market consumers? It’s likely. But it’s just as likely that such complaints won’t have much an impact on the bottom line.

After all, haters gonna hate.

Or, as Lisa Birnbach put it more eloquently in New York Magazine, Lilly Pulitzer herself “would not have approved of her ‘defenders.’” Referencing the Alexander Theroux quote, “Hypocrisy is the essence of snobbery, but all snobbery is about the problem of belonging,” she concludes that “Pulitzer, despite her last name, was no snob.”


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June 3, 2015

7 Rules for Peak Performance in Luxury Client Relationships

Posted in Uncategorized

Luxury Institute
By: Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, LLC
June 2, 2015

Through the first five months of 2015, luxury firms have reported operating results and issued forecasts for the remainder of the year that look dismal for the most part. Global economic growth has been underwhelming but it is certainly not the only culprit for disappointing performance. The luxury industry is also rife with self-inflicted wounds. Many brands cling to outdated management practices that prevent transformation of sales channels from low-loyalty transactions into centers of humanistic, high-performance relationship building. My experience advising executives at hundreds of luxury brands over the decade is that poorly performing firms fail to follow a set of true best practices for building better client relationships consistently, correctly, or at all. Those who have made the successful transformation from transactions to relationships have fundamentally changed the way that they approach their business in several key areas. Based on our successful Luxcelerate High Performance Client Relationships System, here are seven rules for changing the way you manage and measure your business if you want to create more loyal, meaningful, and profitable customer relationships.

 Rule #1: From Corporate Functions to Client Relationship Systems

Luxury brands are broken, literally. Despite all the omni-channel chatter you hear today, brands are broken up into departments and functions more fit for the factories and universities of the industrial era than fashion and luxury retailers of the digital age. Managers build fiefdoms at the expense of client loyalty and the company’s bottom line. All too often, executives from marketing, communications, retail operations and e-commerce fail to work together to deliver a coherent and optimized client experience. Instead they produce a dysfunctional set of activities. The solution is creating a mind-set of systems-thinking that recognizes how all parts and people in a company are organically interconnected and affect each other profoundly. To align competing interests, you can place all the silos that touch the client under one client relationship executive, and base compensation at all levels on achievement of relationship targets such as client data collection, conversion, recovery, retention, and referral rates.  A system cannot be divided artificially into independent parts and be effective, any more than a human body can be split into its parts, and still function.

Rule #2: From Competitive Benchmarking to Competitive Breakthroughs

Benchmarking is the process of comparing business processes and performance metrics to those of the best practitioners. Benchmarking has a small role to play in luxury; however, complex situations that involve creativity and human behavior call more for differentiation and efficiency than trying to emulate an imperfect comparison. Who did Apple benchmark in inventing retail stores, or the Apple Genius concept, or the iPhone? Who did Net-a-Porter benchmark when they invented edited luxury online shopping? One reason that the luxury industry is stalling is a lack of breakthrough innovation. The result has been the rapid commoditization of the industry. If you want your luxury brand to be highly valuable and profitable you need to move beyond benchmarking. Luxury brands need to go from continuous improvement to discontinuous improvement, which demands breaking the rules through innovation. If you are playing the benchmarking game your brand is destined to become a race-to-the-bottom commodity.

Rule #3: From Top-Down Leadership to Front-Line Empowerment

Most luxury executives believe that their job is to create a vision, communicate it, and convince their followers to execute it. If you work at a luxury brand, you need no examples to prove this; just step outside of your cubicle. The successful 21st century luxury leader knows how to engage and empower people to apply their talents and passions towards a worthy goal and recognizes that strong human relationships harness collective wisdom and innate genius to adapt and shape the future. Designing a client culture requires that leaders relax into success, and trust people profusely to adapt continuously. It is an imperfect process, but it works. Three leaders today who exemplify the best of luxury are Angela Ahrendts at Burberry (now at Apple), Natalie Massenet at Net-a-Porter (now at Yoox), and Marco Bizzarri at Bottega Veneta (now at Gucci). We could all do well to emulate these leaders in their capacity to trust front-line colleagues to achieve outstanding results, and provide them with the resources to do it.

Rule #4: From Big Data to Actionable Wisdom

Omni-channel client relationships are the coolest thing around now and they are fed by Big Data. Despite Big Data, Luxury Marketing campaign response rates have hardly moved from microscopic levels over the past decade, and offline client conversion and retention rates are stalled in the low teens. The problem is that Big Data is rarely transformed into actionable wisdom. Data is not information, information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not understanding, nor is understanding wisdom. Wisdom remains the domain of humans. Injecting human wisdom, and empowering your store and call center associates to use their judgment, along with data, to create appropriate one-to-one client communications might not be as sexy as developing an algorithm, or pushing a mass campaign button, but it can be far more effective in building client relationships. By leveraging Big Data with wisdom, one sales or call center associate, and client, at a time, luxury can finally go from doing the wrong thing right, to finally doing the right thing right.  

Rule #5: From Aggressive Selling to Genuine Human Relationships

With sincere love to Daniel Pink, author of “To Sell is Human,” whom I believe to be one of the most enlightened researchers on organizations, I completely disagree with the title and premise of his book. “Selling” even in its most well intentioned versions, is not human. As practiced today, selling reduces associates to being clerks ringing up transactions instead of brand ambassadors building long-term relationships. Selling is one key reason luxury brands, with their robotic “sales ceremony” concept, are so poor at client conversion and retention, never mind referrals. Thankfully, humans are wired to build relationships in order to survive and thrive. For the most part, we love the process. It does not require a game-face or pretension to execute. In Luxury Institute surveys over the past decade, consumers across all generations have repeatedly told us that they want three major over-arching qualities in a sales associate: expertise, trustworthiness and generosity. Without these, even a parent-child relationship falters. Let the mass brands do what they will, but luxury brands should immediately discard the aggressive selling playbook, and embrace the art and science of high-performance client relationship building, where value is created not from transactions, but from consistently and continuously outperforming and outbehaving the competition. Creating clearly measurable functional and emotional mutual value through a relationship is inherently imperfect, but alternative forms of selling are surely dead. 

Rule #6: From Front-Line Associate Training to Front-Line Associate Mastery

Top-tier luxury brands have instituted elaborate training programs and skyrocketing costs to prove it, but rates of client conversion and retention remain stuck in neutral. Luxury brands need direly to redefine training into education, and elevate education into mastery of building high-performance client relationships. Training is something you do to people, and people reject being trained into success, which is why all the talking-head training is ineffective. When it fails, brands keep adding more old-school training, but this only compounds the problem. It is often said that in a college classroom, the only one learning is the teacher, so part of the secret lies in transforming everyone from a trainee into a learner, and a teacher. It is also true that online education, when used in a humanistic and empowering way, such as is done by the Khan Academy, combined with daily one-to-one, metrics-based coaching, peer-to-peer learning techniques, and inspirational reinforcement, can make learners, teachers and relationship masters out of all your front-line associates.

Rule #7: From Front-Line Managers to Front-Line Coaches

The store manager is the spine of the luxury brand. Since 75% of the people who work in a luxury brand are front-line associates, the front-line leaders who engage them daily are critical in ensuring that employees consistently apply the brand’s relationship values and standards to drive results. How much time do store managers spend on the floor? In the more enlightened luxury brands, about 50%, and in far too many cases, they’re on the floor less than 30% of the time. That means that store managers are store administrators and back-of-house experts. Many who do spend a great deal of time on the store floor have absolutely no clue how to coach high performance client relationships. All they know is bossing and selling. Coaching is an art and a science backed by research. Coaching relationship building is a craft that requires expertise. The solutions are to hire experts to run the store operations, perhaps regionally, and to redefine the store manager job into coaching and client relationship building. The store manager should spend 90% of their time observing and coaching associates and/or engaging with top clients to develop experiences where they can bring their friends and family. Innovative, empirically-based coaching programs need to be developed to educate our armies of store managers in the art and science of coaching for client relationship building. Until that happens, expect your costs to go up while results falter because more of the same harder won’t work this time around.

Capture Opportunities With A Client-Focused Culture

Despite sluggish economic growth, the ranks of the wealthy around the world continue to grow. Luxury brands are faced with a tremendous opportunity, as the world’s wealthy people have the capacity and the desire to spend lavishly where they choose. The only companies that stand to capitalize, however, are those that approach their business from the perspective of these customers and create systems that cultivate relationships instead of simple transactions. No less than long-term survival for luxury firms depends on the ability to effect key transformations in the seven areas addressed here.

 About Milton Pedraza and Luxury Institute, LLC

Milton Pedraza is the CEO of the Luxury Institute. Over the past 12 years, Milton has established the Luxury Institute as the most trusted global luxury research provider, and the proven high performance luxury client relationships consulting firm. Known globally as the foremost resource for affluent and wealthy consumer insights and client experience best practices, the Luxury Institute has served over 1,000 global luxury goods and services brands across dozens of luxury goods and services categories.

Milton advises and coaches luxury CEOs and serves on the Boards of top-tier luxury and premium brands, and luxury startups. He is sought after worldwide for his practical, innovative and humanistic insights and recommendations on luxury and is the most quoted global luxury industry expert in leading media and publications.

Milton is also an authority on CRM Technology, Analytics and Big Data. Prior to founding the Luxury Institute, his successful career at Fortune 100 companies included executive roles at Altria, PepsiCo, Colgate, Citigroup and Wyndham Worldwide.

Milton was born in Colombia, raised in the United States, has lived in several countries, conducted business in over 100 countries, and speaks several languages.


For more information please contact:

CEO, Milton Pedraza

Luxury Institute, LLC

115 East 57th Street, 11th Floor

New York, NY 10022



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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.


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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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