U.S. Polo Assn., the official brand of the United States Polo Association, is aggressively expanding its retail fleet, with some stores featuring a “high-energy” retail concept.
While other brands may be shuttering their brick-and-mortar stores, U.S. Polo Assn. opened about 100 units in 2018, will open another 100 locations in 2019, and is likely to add another 100 in 2020.
This year, the brand will surpass 1,100 retail stores, 90 percent of which are full-priced doors. The company has recently opened doors in Las Vegas, Istanbul’s new international airport, City Life in Milan and Dubai Mall.
In addition, U.S. Polo Assn. recently renovated its Times Square store in New York, considered its most high-profile flagship worldwide. That store features the firm’s new “high-energy” retail concept that will launch in several key markets in late 2019. The high-energy store will showcase new product, while aiming to engage consumers in both the brand and the sport of polo in an “experiential way.”
Michael Prince, president and chief executive officer of USPA Global Licensing Inc., told WWD, “When you go to the Times Square store, it’s a smaller footprint. It’s about 1,000 square feet. What you see is the store is jam-packed, there’s music, there’s a high energy, it’s bright and full of life. From that, I realized the consumer experience is much different at a 1,000-square-foot store, than a 5,000-square-foot store.”
He said these new, smaller doors allow the consumer to engage with the sport of polo more. There’s a selfie machine, where one can post a selfie and promote the brand and the sport. There will also be iPads, charging stations, and a VR component where one can put on a headset and feel what it’s like to be a polo player. The company plans to start testing the VR concept at the end of 2019 in a few countries around the world, and in 2020, it will accelerate it.
“We’ll give people around the world a chance to engage in the sport, in places like Shanghai, Istanbul, Delhi, India, and Moscow — for people who perhaps never touched the sport,” he said.
Prince said the game of polo is more accessible than people realize. “It’s a sport that anyone can play and anyone can go watch,” he said. Some 65 percent of the business is men’s wear, 20 percent is women’s, and 15 percent, children’s, he said. The bestsellers are polo shirts for men, women and kids, and denim. Denim is 30 percent of the business and polos are 25 percent, he said.
In 2018, U.S. Polo Assn. achieved a record year, reaching $1.7 billion in global retail sales, experiencing double-digit growth (between 10 and 20 percent.) Operating profit was up significantly as well, said Prince. The brand’s footprint also expanded into 166 countries, with more than 1,000 branded retail stores globally.
Much of the growth came from expanding its already sizable footprint in emerging markets such as India, China, Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, while continuing to gain market share in more mature regions such as North America, Western Europe and Latin America.
The brand, which is recognized as one of the largest brands in India, has activated a major expansion plan for China. The goal over the next few years is to be one of the largest international brands in the Chinese marketplace, strategically targeting some 500 branded retail stores.
Asked why he believes the brand will resonate in China, Prince said, “One thing we’re learning about the brand is people around the world appreciate the classic, American lifestyle. We think of polo shirts and denim, there’s nothing more Americana than that,” he said.
He attributes the brand’s popularity these days to its authenticity and connection to the sport. “The sport is a sport that even if you’ve never played it, is interesting to people. It’s a sport that men and women play as equals, so you can play on the same teams…” he said. He believes the brand, whose sweet spot is 18 to 27 years old, appeals to that Gen Z and Millennial consumer who appreciates that authentic connection, said Prince.
The company recently opened new markets in Scandinavia and South Africa and will soon expand into Oceania and Sub-Sahara Africa.
In other developments at the brand, it has continued to sponsor events, working with polo players around the world. The brand sponsored key influencer events in locations such as Aspen, Monte Carlo and Palm Beach, as well as the collegiate program, women’s polo and causes such as Sentebale, which supports disadvantaged youth in Africa and was co-founded by the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry. The brand also participated in the inaugural launch of the Gauntlet of Polo series, which offered $1 million in prize money, the richest purse in the history of polo, and included many of the world’s best players. The event, showcased on TV, targeted more than 100 countries and garnered more than four million views worldwide, considered the largest global audience to have ever watched a polo game.
“We continue to have our foot on the accelerator in 2019 as the year is off to a great start while we activate several new initiatives involving digital, retail and product collaborations along with a new global creative center,” said Prince.
Asked about the challenges looking ahead, Prince said, “There’s a lot of political volatility out in the marketplace, whether that’s tariffs in China or currency challenges. Right now the brand has great momentum. The biggest challenges are the political headwinds that are out there. Overall I think the business itself is pretty healthy.”