Donald Kohler

MILAN The Salvatore Ferragamo Group is reorganizing its distribution in the Americas and sharpening its global retail strategy. To this end, it has appointed Donald Kohler the new chief executive officer of the Americas region and chief retail officer of the worldwide group. The latter is a new position.

Kohler, who will be responsible for the North, South and Central America markets, will join Ferragamo on Sept. 4 and report directly to the group’s ceo, Eraldo Poletto. 

Kohler started his career in 1990 at Macy’s, in the executive training program, working both in stores and in the buying office. In 1993, he joined Gap in San Francisco, rising to the role of vice president merchandise planning for the international division. After his 11-year experience at Gap, he moved on to Williams-Sonoma, and in 2008 joined Burberry Group in London as corporate vice president of planning, progressing to chief merchandising operations officer. In 2015, he was appointed president of Burberry Americas. As reported last week, Gianluca Flore, the former ceo at Brioni who spent nearly a decade at Kering, is succeeding Kohler at Burberry Americas, effective July 5. Kohler is to leave the business on July 1.

At Ferragamo, Poletto has been vocal about promoting retail excellence. During his first conference call with analysts in November to discuss the company’s nine-month performance, Poletto, who joined the group in August 2016, succeeding Michele Norsa, spoke of prioritizing retail operations so they would be more customer-centric, improving the performance of existing stores to make them more efficient.

“We have an amazing retail network. Like-for-like is key; you will hear me talk about this a lot, and work on that,” he said.

In March, Poletto touted “a new global and local approach for buying; up to 50 percent of products should be tailored locally within a uniform brand identity, reinforced by marketing, visual and customer care.” He also pointed to seasonal merchandising mixes, with buy-now-wear-now products. Poletto is masterminding changes in the group’s store concept, hinging more on “cross merchandising,” with products “not organized by compartment, and with more fun, visual compositions.”

Physically, the stores will have less furniture, new visual merchandising displays, touches of color and be more flexible. Changes have already been made to stores in Florence, London, Paris and Milan, followed by renovations in the New York and Ginza units. Poletto has emphasized a “more retail mind-set,” highlighting “visual merchandising, assortments, the supply chain, all components, with very strong changes.”

At Ferragamo, North America last year accounted for 24.2 percent of sales and Central and South America represented 5.4 percent.

In 2016, revenues in North America were up 4.4 percent to 348.3 million euros. The gain took place despite a strong currency, which also negatively impacted tourist flows in the U.S. In the last quarter, revenues grew 7 percent because of the performance of the retail business, which was up 10 percent.

Sales in Central and South America climbed 6.1 percent in the full year to 76.8 million euros, with an acceleration in the last quarter (up 12 percent). At constant exchange, the growth was even more significant, showing a 16 percent gain in the full year and 23 percent growth in the last quarter.

As of Dec. 31, the group’s network totaled 683 points of sale, and 402 directly operated stores, while the wholesale and travel retail channel included 281 Third Party Operated Stores, as well as a presence in department stores and high-level, multibrand specialty stores. The retail division was up 2.3 percent to 912.3 million euros, accounting for 63.5 percent of the total.

Poletto, who was previously ceo at Furla, formerly held a number of roles at Retail Brand Alliance, including president of strategic development and international business and global chief merchandising officer at Brooks Brothers International Inc., and considers himself a retailer. “I am a retailer and think of a full merchandising approach,” he said in February. “We don’t want to talk about seasons anymore, we want to continuously create excitement in stores, simplifying the collections.”

He is focused on reviewing the brand’s network of stores without changing the concept of the locations, but making adjustments in their layout or design, all intended to improve functionality and performance, while making them “warmer.”

Poletto also wears the retailer’s cap when working with department stores. “If you have a retail mentality with wholesalers, you are more successful.” In the U.S., he said, Ferragamo has a “very fast program of reassortment. We work with them for replenishment of sizes to push sales to have a competitive advantage.”

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