NEW YORK — Millennials are looking for authentic connections to the brands they buy and companies that are able to create those connections will be the winners.
That was the message from a panel of speakers at the Bloomberg Year Ahead in Luxury conference at its New York offices on Thursday.
For Tom Lewand, chief executive officer of Shinola, the message he’s delivering is one of American craftsmanship. When the brand launched around five years ago, it was watches only, but it has since expanded into leather goods, bicycles, and soon, a hotel.
Although it’s a reach to move from timepieces to hotel rooms, Lewand believes customers will “want to feel part of the craftsmanship community” and that will translate into hospitality, as well.
The same holds true for Equinox, the luxury fitness club company, which is also expanding into the hospitality space. According to Harvey Spevak, executive chairman and managing partner of Equinox Holdings, “We don’t think of it as a strange leap.” He said “health is the new wealth” and the Equinox brand has created a lifestyle that can be expanded beyond the four walls of a gym to a hotel that fits into the company’s idea of “living a high-performance life.”
Elise Loehnen Fissmer, chief content officer of Goop, said the company is “built on wave ripples” and moves slowly to get customers to increase their spend. For example, if someone starts out attending one of its trips, she may eventually pick up some beauty products or vitamins once the trust factor with the brand has been established.
For Harry’s, a men’s grooming brand, trust had to be created with a new community when the brand launched a women’s concept, Flamingo. Built on the same core principles as Harry’s, the business is performing well. But Andy Katz-Mayfield, cofounder and ceo, warned that the “strength of a brand alone doesn’t give you license to do everything.”
The brands on the panel said they learned that lesson the hard way, such as when Shinola attempted to get into headphones or Equinox into vitamins and supplements. But as Spevak said, “You don’t know if things are going to work if you don’t test and try them.”
A second session at the event featured Robert Chavez, president and ceo of Hermès of Paris Inc., and Mercedes Abramo, president and ceo of Cartier North America, who took on the issue of moving heritage brands into the future.
Chavez said Hermès, which was founded in 1837, still holds true to its original message of providing quality craftsmanship and superior service. But as it moves to expand its reach with Millennials — as well as today’s more fickle consumer — it has increasingly been embracing experiences. These include laundromat pop-up shops and a traveling concept called The Carre Club to showcase its signature silk scarves.
“It helps make the brand more approachable and friendly,” he said.
Abramo said Cartier has also been dabbling in concepts such as these with the launch this fall of its first traveling pop-up, The Precious Garage, an installation that highlights the brand’s newest collections as well as its history. She said after debuting in New York, the Garage traveled to places such as Nashville and Seattle where Cartier doesn’t have any stores. Like Hermès, Cartier also has a long history since its founding in 1847.
Chavez also said Hermes has had success with some other experiences at its brick-and-mortar stores such as a digital scarf installation that debuted at the brand’s new Palo Alto, Calif., store. “We’re finally coming into the 21st century,” he said with a laugh.