NEW YORK -- Following a restructuring designed to completely change the way it sells its products, the accessories and shoe firm Bally of Switzerland is ready to take on the world.
In the last year, the company has opened a 25,000-square-foot design and sales center in Schonenwerd, Switzerland, near its Zurich headquarters; revamped its approach to wholesaling; launched a new design concept for the stores in its retail division, and introduced new advertising and marketing strategies.
A big goal of all this work is, of course, to amplify sales for the company, which has an annual worldwide volume of more than $800 million, about one-quarter of which is done in accessories. According to Josef Ming, president and chief executive officer of Bally of Switzerland, the company created the Swiss facility, called the Bally Lab, as a central place to organize this growth.
The lab, which was opened last August, enables all of the firm's designers and merchandisers to collaborate under one roof. Previously, the company had its designers scattered in separate divisions around the world, but now they all work together.
"In an area like accessories, having all of our designers work as a team makes a great deal of sense and could lead, I think, to increased opportunities," Ming said.
"In the past, handbag styles designed and sold in Europe, for instance, were much different from those in the U.S. Now we have the choice of doing bags that are salable in a number of different countries, in addition to creating bags exclusively for a particular market," Ming noted.
The lab also has showrooms and prototypes of Bally boutiques and shopping arcades that enable buyers to see for themselves how all Bally's merchandise can work together. This approach, which Bally calls its global range presentation, has already served to boost the firm's wholesale accessories business.
"In some countries, our accessories sales have already increased by 30 to 40 percent," Ming said. "The idea is to show stores that only carry our footwear that our accessories can also be worked in to create a full presentation at retail."
To give its wholesale volume an extra push, the company has also made all of its sales representatives -- who were formerly independent and contracted through Bally -- employees of the company. This has been done to bring Bally closer to its wholesale accounts, Ming said."Our approach to business is becoming, 'Think local, act global,"' Ming said. "We are bringing out the global part on our product range, but concentrating on the retailers we work with in as close a relationship as possible."
Bally's own retail operation, which comprises 506 stores worldwide, with about 40 in the U.S., is also undergoing major changes. A new store concept, created by French interior designer Andree Putman, was introduced last September in the Bally boutique in Cologne, Germany. Eight to 10 stores in Switzerland, France, the U.S., England and Germany are due to follow this year.
All the remodeled stores will have a classically modern look, with neutral colors, geometrical pieces of furniture and subtle lighting, all designed to put a focus on the product lines. According to Ming, the approach seems to be working so far at the Cologne store, where sales have doubled since it reopened.
"The stores will have a uniform look and will all be identifiable as Bally, no matter where in the world a person is," Ming noted. "It's the same idea as integrating our product lines -- our goal is to build one very strong, worldwide identity."
In the new retail units, accessories will have a slightly more prominent presence than they did before, Ming said. The same will hold true in the in-store boutique concept that will be launched this year, as it will when Bally opens a showroom here at 745 Fifth Avenue at the beginning of February.
The company currently has two showrooms here, one at 444 Madison Avenue for its men's and women's shoes, the other at 320 Fifth Avenue for its men's and women's accessories. The new 10,000-square-foot facility, also designed by Putman, will house everything.
The final step in the process, Ming said, has been developing means to convey to consumers all the changes the company has made. For starters, the Bally logo has been changed from burgundy and gold, which the company felt was too similar to the colors of its leather goods, to gray and beige. The logo, as well as a new advertising campaign bowing along with the new showroom here, were created by the DDB Needham Group advertising agency, which Bally signed on last summer."We want to start people thinking of Bally in ways other than just through our products," Ming noted. "The ads are very image driven, a way of taking the next step in investing in the brand and making it more tangible."
A three-time yearly publication that Bally is calling a "magalog," a combination of magazine and mail-order catalog, is meant to accomplish the same purpose. The publication was launched last summer and will be issued again for the fall and holiday seasons. Each issue contains magazine articles as well as fashion spreads of Bally accessories and shoes, along with pull-out mail order sheets. "It gives us the option to communicate more directly with consumers and find out what they want and what they're interested in seeing more of," Ming said.
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