LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton found a home in hotels—in addition to wines, spirits, perfumes, cosmetics, watches, jewelry, leather goods, fashion and more.
When the Bernard Arnault-run giant agreed to buy hotel operator Belmond for $2.6 billion last week, the deal was a surprise, but the rationale wasn’t.
The company is laser-focused on the high-end consumer, but beyond that, it travels far and wide, jumping across category and geography as it chases mostly higher-end consumers. It’s a neat trick, but very hard to duplicate.
And the American companies that are closest to replicating the magic—from Tapestry Inc. and Michael Kors Holdings to VF Corp. and PVH Corp.—might never really get there.
LVMH’s approach has earned it sales of nearly 45 billion euros and a market capitalization of more than 125 billion euros. From Moët & Chandon Champagne and Christian Dior couture to Givenchy Parfums and Hublot watches, the company tries, and most often succeeds, at doing it all.
But fashion’s mini-LVMH’s—the groups out on the hunt for more deals— are so far doubling down at what they’re already good at or just tiptoeing out of their comfort spots.
Tapestry has built off of Coach and added Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade, while Kors used cash flow from its namesake business to bring in Jimmy Choo and, soon, Versace. PVH Corp. is another house of brands staying close to home, with Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and a desire to bring in another fashion brand.
John D. Idol, chairman and chief executive officer of Kors, which will be renamed Capri Holdings when Versace comes on board, told WWD the growing brand group is unique in that “our two acquisitions have truly been in the luxury space.”
“We are trying to build a company that has a concentration of founder-led brands,” he said, referring to Kors, Donatella Versace of Versace and Sandra Choi of Jimmy Choo. “We have three fierce leaders who are deeply engaged to say the least. And we are trying to steer and focus the company in the luxury arena, which bodes very well for the long-term growth of the group.”
There are good reasons for building scale, moving further into luxury and sticking with what one knows, but the question is whether the world is changing too fast to stay in one place and work with more of the same.
For LVMH, clearly, the answer is to keep reaching out.
“The future of luxury will be not only in luxury goods, as it’s been for many, many years, but also in luxury experiences, and we want to be in both segments,” Jean-Jacques Guiony, chief financial officer of LVMH, told a conference call recently. “We think the so-called experiential luxury is something that will be important in the future and it’s a great opportunity that we have to participate into that with such high-quality assets as Belmond,” which includes grand hotels, a safari business and seven luxury tourist trains.
Ultimately, it might not be a good idea to try to be another LVMH in a literal sense.
“LVMH has some unassailable market positions,” said consultant Jonathan Low, partner at Predictiv. “Even if Michael Kors or Tapestry is putting together a similar type of conglomerate, it’s never going to have quite that sheen.
“They have a highly integrated management system,” he said of LVMH. “They are extracting knowledge from each of their businesses and applying it to their other businesses. They do a lot of cross-fertilization of executives and even artisans, so it’s not plug and play at all, it’s a well managed business.”
Low suggested that other companies need to look at the world today and think more broadly, for instance, by taking steps to incorporate more artificial intelligence.
“LVMH is the past and they’re building on it,” he said. “Think future, look ahead. Technology is now a useful tool for fashion, so focus on how you can monetize that.”
But as Kors and Tapestry start to take off and decide just how far to expand and in what direction, other big players that have cobbled together businesses from relatively far-flung sectors have retreated back to their core, relying on focus to fuel growth for now.
Gucci parent Kering spun out Puma, completing its exit from the sport and lifestyle category. It is also ending its collaboration with Stella McCartney and walking away from Christopher Kane and Tomas Maier.
“Our aim is straightforward,” said Jean-François Palus, group managing director, to analysts. “We are looking to concentrate on brands over which we exercise full control, brands that are scalable and can fully benefit from integration into our platform, brands in which we can invest to help them achieve their full potential.”
In short, Kering is placing fewer, bigger bets on the future.
The same is true for North Face parent VF Corp., which got out of contemporary fashion and is now spinning off its jeans business, leaving it more focused on its outdoor and action sport activities (and perhaps better positioned to branch out in new directions).
But as the big get bigger—or shrink to position themselves for even more growth down the line—they are expected to eventually branch out further if they’re looking for major growth.
“In the era of FAANG, we’re absolutely living in the era of conglomerates,” said Simeon Siegel, a stock analyst at Nomura Securities, using Wall Street’s shorthand for tech giants Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. “The notion of being really good at one thing isn’t good enough these days. So figuring out how to expand what you’re good at and how to expand your scale is important.”
Siegel said it’s only natural that companies looking to start that process would stay close to what they know at first.
“When a single brand first decides to become an operating parent, there is merit at the beginning in expanding into what they already know,” he said. “‘How far do you expand?’ is a relevant question.”
For companies like Kors and Tapestry, the ultimate destination might not be clear for some time, but the pressure to keep pushing forward will remain.
Siegel said brands naturally have their limit. For retail sales in the U.S., he pegged it at generally about $3 billion for brands that go direct to the consumer and around $5 billion for companies that wholesale.
And when that limit approaches, human nature kicks in.
“Companies can’t appreciate that there is a ceiling,” Siegel said, speaking generally. “When you’re in the middle of it, you can never believe—whether it’s socially, professionally, humans are not hardwired to believe they’ve hit a peak.
“If you finally do acknowledge that you don’t have organic growth, but you’re still an ‘A type’ person, you need to grow,” he said. “That forces you to look outward.”