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As it marks its 80th anniversary, Lacoste is getting ready to write a fresh chapter.
The maker of crocodile-logo polo shirts has a new boss, José Luis Duran, after being taken over last November by Swiss retail group Maus Frères SA in a deal that valued it at 1 billion euros, or $1.3 billion.
In January, Duran was named chief executive officer of Lacoste SA while also remaining at the helm of Devanlay SA, the Maus Frères subsidiary that has held the global apparel license for Lacoste since 1999. This brings the production and ownership of the brand under the same roof.
“In the next few weeks, I will be forming a single top management team,” Duran told WWD in his office in Paris. “I will be asking my teams for more alignment, more coherence and more efficiency in the service of the brand.”
The relationship between Lacoste and Devanlay has already been fruitful, he noted.
In 2012, Lacoste posted record wholesale volume of 1.8 billion euros, or $2.31 billion, up 13 percent from the previous year, with strong growth in all regions.
Sales of ready-to-wear rose 12 percent, leather goods were up 60 percent, and shoes posted a 20 percent increase, Duran said. Perfume sales lagged, inching up just 2 percent, after the launch of the new Eau de Lacoste women’s fragrance was postponed to early 2013.
The results, Duran noted, “prove that we have been working together well. But at the end of the day, we are merging two teams that work in very different ways and with slightly different visions, so it’s going to take a little time.”
Until recently, Lacoste was majority-owned by the heirs of René Lacoste, the French tennis hero and businessman who founded the company in 1933 with his partner André Gillier. Its culture was mainly image-driven, while Devanlay has traditionally been focused on operations, Duran noted.
The former Carrefour ceo, who took over Devanlay in 2009, characterized the year ahead as a time to regroup. Going forward, Duran will push for better integration between Lacoste and its various license holders — Pentland Group for footwear, Procter & Gamble Prestige for fragrances, Movado Group for watches and Charmant Group for eyewear, among others.
“When I look at our different marketing campaigns, they are all individually good. The question is whether everything is coherent, unique, aligned and efficient,” Duran said. “I’m going to ask everyone — perfumes, shoes, etc. — to be a little more disciplined, a little more in line with what I expect in terms of brand positioning.”
Having opened or renovated a series of global flagships in recent years, including its unit on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Lacoste is focusing mostly on emerging markets, where it plans to open stores averaging 1,300 to 1,400 square feet.
That will include between 10 and 15 stores in China, three to four in Turkey, four in Russia and two in Argentina, where Lacoste is taking over two former Polo Ralph Lauren locations. In addition, it will renovate its two largest stores in Amsterdam, and one in the Arkadia shopping mall in Warsaw.
The sportswear maker, which manages some 1,200 freestanding Lacoste stores worldwide, will also add 10 separate units, primarily in Asia, for its Lacoste Live line, which targets a younger, more contemporary customer.
“For us, 2013 is a big year of reorganization,” Duran said. “We have made huge investments over the last three years. We remain in a somewhat difficult environment for the economy and consumer spending, so globally we are going to digest, reinforce, improve and fine-tune what we have done.”
He also wants to redirect resources toward direct communication with consumers. With a Facebook page that has been liked more than 11 million times, Lacoste benefits from strong brand recognition and enduring appeal, but Duran believes those assets are not being exploited well enough.
“I am convinced that a greater share of our marketing budget should go to digital initiatives and a smaller share to print — how much exactly, I don’t know,” he said.
The executive wants the company to project a more innovative approach in all areas, from advertising to product and store windows. “We have to create a ‘wow’ impact through all these elements,” he said.
Central to its communications efforts this year is a series of 80th-anniversary initiatives, including capsule collections revolving around Lacoste’s iconic cotton piqué polo shirt.
Graphic artist Peter Saville, famous for his album covers for Factory Records in the Eighties, has designed a logo, which appears on products including 12 limited-edition custom polo kits, on sale exclusively on Facebook. Lacoste also plans a roving exhibition, which is to tour Asia.
Duran noted that China is increasingly important, vaulting to the third spot among its top 10 markets last year from number eight just four years ago. Traditional European markets like Spain and Italy have slid from the top 10, however, as austerity measures force households to tighten their purse strings.
The U.S. remains Lacoste’s largest single market, generating 21 percent of revenues, but other regions are catching up. Asia now represents 25 percent of sales, Latin America 14 percent, and Europe, the Middle East and Africa 40 percent.
“Our geographic portfolio is becoming increasingly balanced,” said Duran. “Today we no longer depend on a single country, as we did five or six years ago.”
Nonetheless, the executive is cautiously projecting single-digit growth in 2013.
“I prefer that we continue building the business and figure out every day how we can make the brand more upscale, rather than chasing turnover,” he said.
“For a company that is 80 years old, six to nine months of digesting change is not a long time, and we have to be a little patient. But I think that over the next three to five years, we have a real opportunity for additional growth in existing licenses and markets.”