NEW YORK — Jim Shreve doesn’t like to follow the rules.
From his full-sleeve tattoos and spiky blond hair to his Top Man sweatpants, Dior jacket and Balenciaga Track Hike sneakers — no bespoke suit or silk necktie in sight — Shreve has broken the mold for what would be expected of a chief executive officer of a French luxury brand.
But since assuming the post of president and CEO of Baccarat North America in early 2016, Shreve has proven that breaking the rules can be good for the bottom line.
Although the pandemic took a bite out of last year’s business, with sales in the United States down 11.2 percent in 2020, the situation improved in the third and fourth quarters when revenue increased 2.7 percent, driven by an improvement at retail and the continued growth of e-commerce, which more than doubled its penetration. So far this year, sales are tracking 55 percent over 2019, year-to-date.
“Our business is quite strong,” he said. “People have been stuck at home, not traveling and not spending $30,000 on a vacation, so they’re spending that money on their homes.”
Overall, Baccarat has had a rocky road of late. At the end of last year its owner, Fortune Legend Ltd., was taken over by creditors and is now under the management of a group of funds led by Hong Kong-based private alternative credit fund Tor Investment Management. The fund took full control of FLL, a subsidiary of Asian financial holding group Fortune Fountain Capital, which acquired Baccarat in 2017.
In 2020, Baccarat overall posted revenue of 144.7 million euros, down 11.3 percent from the prior year, but things starting picking up at the end of the year when the company notched an increase of 8.8 percent in the fourth quarter, despite being up against a strong quarter in 2019 when sales increased 7.9 perent. And in the first quarter of 2021, revenue hit 40.2 million euros, up 44 percent from the prior year.
Shreve, who cut his teeth at Gap, Nordstrom, Façonnable and Diesel, said that even though the tableware industry is a very different animal from fashion, the lessons learned can easily — and successfully — translate. So using the ideas of hanger appeal, items of the week and buzzy collaborations can work as well with crystal goblets and vases as they do with sneakers and polo shirts.
“In homeware, we just don’t do that,” Shreve said. “So what we’ve tried to create are impact tables that show the consumer how to use something.”
He’s also adding lower-ticket items such as Baccarat’s colorful crystal butterflies that retail for around $140, to displays near the registers to encourage impulse purchases. Shreve likened it to Gap putting socks near its checkouts for customers to pick up before they leave.
Since joining Baccarat, Shreve has developed a true love for the brand, which was founded in 1764. He’s made it his mission to invite others to his lovefest, particularly young people.
“Everyone knows Baccarat but the perception is that it’s something your grandmother has,” he said. A lot of the time, because of its beauty and expense, the crystal is often displayed on a shelf rather than used and enjoyed. “We want to make it a habit to use it and not leave it in the cupboard like at Grandma’s. We all own beautiful clothes and accessories and we wear them. A Chanel bag can cost 50 times more than a Baccarat glass and we’re not worried about tossing it on the ground. But we’re worried about chipping the glass.”
Although Shreve knows it’s going to take a lot to teach young people “how to dress a table,” he’s determined to set an example. “The younger generation didn’t grow up that way. But eating Chipotle at a table just tastes better than eating it out of the paper wrapper. And water tastes better out of a real glass than a paper cup.”
Shreve’s fashion-skewed strategy will be evident when Baccarat opens its newest store in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., in early June. Although Baccarat has had a store in the center for 16 years, the new, larger location will allow the brand to showcase its latest retail design and innovations.
The 1,100-square-foot boutique retains the modern atmosphere of Philippe Starck, who created the original unit, with a neutral palette that is both industrial and warm. White concrete, white oak, matte black steel, vintage leather, and clear acrylic materials are used to highlight the crystal.
The boutique will also feature a lighting atelier where shoppers can customize their own lighting fixtures. “If you’re going to spend $80,000 on a chandelier, you should have a special place to buy it,” he said. There will be an 88-inch interactive screen to display the latest brand campaign videos and the store will feature a fragrance room for the first time.
For the opening, the message will center around “The Color of Love,” the brand’s current marketing campaign that features the colored product Baccarat offers. That includes not only the butterflies, but glassware, vases and lighting. In the window, black and clear Baccarat Be@rbricks by Medicom will also be on display.
Also highlighted for the month of June will be the new Virgil Abloh “Crystal Clear” vases that complement the glassware the designer created for Baccarat last summer. South Coast Plaza will be the only boutique in North America to sell all four of the vases.
The South Coast Plaza store is one of seven that Baccarat operates in the U.S.; the others are in New York, Houston, Las Vegas, Greenwich, Conn., Palm Desert, Calif., and Miami. If successful, some of the elements in South Coast Plaza may be rolled out to the other units by the end of the year, he said.
Since 2018, the brand has operated BBar, a boutique and bar in the Miami Design District, another illustration of how Shreve thinks differently. The shop is colorful and upbeat and serves food and drink in Baccarat crystal, allowing diners to experience the brand in a different way. “You really need to feel it and test it out,” he said, adding, “We hope to open more.”
Ditto for the collaborations the brand has created with everyone from the Rolling Stones and Supreme to Chrome Heart, The Kentucky Derby, tattoo artist Scott Campbell and Lady M, the cake boutique. The cake brand approached Baccarat and they came up with the idea of the first luxury cake truck that will be rented out for parties and where diners will be served on Baccarat plates.
In October, Baccarat will launch a Martha Stewart pattern, the first time the company has named a pattern after a person in its 257-year history. “She’s a very special person,” he said, adding that Stewart was the one who taught him how to set a table. “June Cleaver didn’t do things like that.”
The Martha Stewart pattern is based on the brand’s Nancy collection, which Stewart actually has in her home in Maine. She put her own mark on that and the first pieces, a goblet and a pitcher, will be launched this fall.
Baccarat also has a Woodford Reserve Baccarat edition cognac and has worked with the World Poker Tour as a sponsor and also created awards for the winners.
“There are more collaborations that can be done to help keep us relevant with our new customers,” he said. “We like doing things that are unexpected and fun. I’m a huge sneaker fan and we need to get involved with sneakers.”
Working with Abloh has been especially enlightening, Shreve said. “I don’t like the word ‘disruptor,’ but he makes us think. He’s helping us modernize Baccarat.”
The two have been working together since 2019 after Abloh held his show at Chrome Hearts, which has collaborated with Baccarat for nearly 20 years, and the crystal brand sent 300 glasses for guests to use at the after-party. “He touched them and felt them and it started the conversation,” Shreve said. That conversation led to the creation of the Crystal Clear collection of glasses, vases and a chandelier.
“The customer has really responded to it and Virgil brought a lot of attention to Baccarat. I know it’s a $550 glass, but they bought it.” He said of the 5,000 pieces created, 70 percent were sold in the U.S. and the average age of the purchaser was 26.
In addition to its own retail stores, Baccarat is sold in the U.S. at retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s as well as some 150 specialty stores including Gearys in Beverly Hills and Plaid Giraffe in Wichita, Kan.
Shreve has also begun working with apparel retailers such as Martin Patrick 3, a high-end men’s store in Minneapolis, to add Baccarat to the assortment. “You go where the customer is,” he said. “Most heterosexual men will not go to the home store at a department store, so we have to go where they are.”
This, too, references his history in the fashion industry and the lessons he learned at Nordstrom and other brands. “The art of selling has been tarnished. We need to put some shine on it — like our crystal,” he said with a chuckle.
But in its stores and marketing, Shreve is careful not to present an elitist image. “We don’t want anything too fancy,” he said.
Shreve likens Baccarat’s product offering to a cupcake — a metaphor he returns to often with his staff and himself. “We like to think about building our business like a cupcake,” he explained. “If it were just cake, it would be boring. What makes it good is the icing and the sprinkles. For Baccarat, the cake is our glasses and vases, the icing is our lighting and the sprinkles are our $50,000 or $100,000 chandeliers.”
The cupcake strategy has only helped sweeten Baccarat’s business. Shreve said that by the end of this year, the U.S. will be the company’s second largest market after Japan. “We’d been number three or four since I started,” he said. “We’re pleased with our productivity and growth. You just have to keep trying things. Too many companies won’t take risks.”