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Coach’s Expansion Guru Talks International Growth

Ian Bickley lays out the brand's secret formula for entering foreign territory.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 10/13/2011

For brands hoping to broaden their reach to faraway lands, look no further than Coach Inc. and its international expansion guru, Ian Bickley.

Bickley, who took the reins as president of Coach international in 2006, first helped establish the men’s and women’s accessory brand’s presence in Japan.

“I think it all starts with thinking about what we’ve learned, and we have this process at Coach called hindsighting,” said Bickley. “We take the experiences that we’ve had and try to use the best practices and develop the best way to move forward.”

The executive said that in order for a company to expand abroad, it would need a “clearly articulated and focused road map for growth,” as well as in-depth consumer and market research on the part of the world it is entering.

The brand must also have great customer service and a “consistent formula” for marketing and merchandising efforts.

Since becoming a public company in 2000, Coach’s sales have increased by more than eight times to over $4 billion. International sales have grown 15 times during that period, nearly twice the rate of growth as the rest of the company.

Sales outside North America represent close to a third of total company sales. Coach, which has roughly 500 North American stores, has about 450 doors abroad in 24 countries.

The company is shooting to achieve over 50 percent sales growth from its stores outside of North America in the next several years. Much of that growth is expected to come out of China, followed by other Asian countries, Western Europe and Brazil.

“In China, there are more than 120 cities that have a population of one million or more, and if you want to guess how many there are in the U.S. and Japan, well there’s nine and 11,” he said, adding that Coach is in just 22 of the 120 cities, with a presence of about 53 locations.

Coach has recently become more aggressive in Asia — in 2008, it took over its distribution in China — and now, it’s looking to Western Europe, which Bickley calls a “white space for the company.” Coach has 19 locations in Europe — eight in France, seven in Spain and Portugal, and four in the U.K. and Ireland.

Brazil, which is “one of the largest and fastest growing economies,” is Coach’s newest target. The firm inked a distribution deal with Aste Group that will allow it to expand into freestanding stores in shopping centers. Coach’s first stores are set for São Paulo in the spring with units in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia to follow.