Tory Burch founded her company in New York in 2004 and she was already thinking about two things that would come to radically transform the nature of the retail business over the course of the next decade: the e-commerce revolution and globalization.
“People told me that no one would ever buy online. That I was crazy to launch with one store,” she told Miles Socha, WWD’s executive editor, Europe, during a conversation at the WWD Global Fashion Forum. “Since then we’ve really embraced social media and it really has helped build up our company.”
In another stroke of forward thinking, Burch linked with Hong Kong-based Lane Crawford to make her brand’s first foray into international markets. In 2009 the company opened its first store in Japan and in 2011 it expanded to mainland China with SKP. Today, some 20 percent of her customers are Chinese. She also has locally based management overseeing her markets in Japan and China.
“Asia has always been a great opportunity for us. We’re doing China on our own. One thing we realized is that running China from New York did not work,” Burch said, stressing the importance of having people on the ground in local markets to interact with customers and learn about local tastes and shopping patterns.
While Burch was quick to jump on e-commerce at home, her brand has yet to make similar moves in Asia. She said she plans to correct that.
“We know that e-commerce will be part of what we need to do in Asia but we are not there yet,” she said, adding that her Asia plans include a measured roll out of more brick-and-mortar stores in the region — about four per year.
“Certainly I don’t want to get into a position where we go into a territory full force without really understanding it and then having to pull back,” she said.
Certainly Burch will have some assistance in that area. This year she has bolstered the management ranks of her company, which reportedly generates over $1 billion in sales. Over the past few months she has hired former Ralph Lauren Corp. executive John Mehas as president and Burberry alum John Douglas as chief technology officer. In 2014, Roger Farah, former vice chairman of Ralph Lauren, was named co-chief executive officer.
Burch said she made the decision to bring in new managerial talents to make sure her company had a solid foundation to continue to grow as a privately held concern.
“When I hired Roger Farah, everyone assumed it was to take the company public. But in fact, it was the opposite. It was to keep it private,” she said. “I want growth but I want healthy growth….I feel that for now — I’m not going to say never — being private is that luxury and I’m very happy to keep it that way.”
Burch may want to take it slow when it comes to plotting sales growth but she is all about speed in terms of getting new products in her stores.
“What I’m interested in is the idea of fast-tracking and testing product and quicker delivery,” she said. “If we have a handbag we like, we can test it in 10 of our stores and we can really see a quick reaction of whether it is working or not so we can test it online.”
Burch said she is focusing much of her energy on her year-old Tory Sport line of activewear. The company currently has three stores in New York selling the retro chic collection of clothing, bags and accessories for sports like running, tennis, golf and swimming. Burch revealed that the company is gearing up to sell the line internationally with Net-a-porter. She definitely wants to bring the line to China, a move that would tap into burgeoning demand for activewear and sports gear in the country.
Her sports foray has also helped bolster her following with men, an intriguing development for the designer.
“One day maybe men’s would be interesting,” she said. “I think it’s funny because men are wearing our sport line, including my three boys…I don’t know if they’re my muses but they definitely said that they would love to have it and I think it would be interesting to do a capsule.”