MILAN — Thinking long-term might be the only smart strategy to navigate through the uncertainty caused by the current global pandemic, and VF Corp. is continuing to plant new seeds in order to accelerate its evolution.
Strongly believing that “this moment might be seen as instrumental to undermine established and old visions in order to elevate quality in different areas,” VF EMEA executive vice president and group president Martino Scabbia Guerrini is fully aware that a company like VF must continue to develop, focusing on three main areas: digital innovation, retail experience transformation and consumer-centric design and content evolution.
These three pillars represent the foundations of the new retail concept that VF is debuting here. Located a stone’s throw from the Duomo cathedral, Orefici 11 for the first time will combine the monobrand stores of three of VF’s main labels — Timberland, The North Face and Napapijri — into a 21,528-square-foot space, which will also host a multibrand commercial area, as an innovative space dedicated to exclusive launches and capsules.
While it was originally set to open next week, due to the second lockdown imposed in Milan by the Italian government to contain the coronavirus infections that are spiking in Italy, VF had to postpone the opening of its new retail destination. In keeping with the group’s omnichannel strategy, as Scabbia Guerrini explained, Orefici 11 is expected to be included among the company’s “super hubs” that serve consumers as “efficient service centers” for online sales and shipments year-round.
Conceived under the creative direction of architect Alberto De Luca, VF EMEA director, store development and planning, Orefici 11, which at full capacity will employ 40 people, combines the company’s international strategic vision with a local approach. Inside, the store will feature a design referencing iconic elements of Milanese architecture, from the use of materials, including Sixties-inspired diamond-shaped green tiles, to the second floor’s layout reflecting the city’s typical houses sharing an open gallery on the floor.
As Scabbia Guerrini explained, at the entrance consumers will find an area dedicated to concierge services, installations linked with the different windows, a multibrand space and Lab, a special area with a dedicated staff. “Here, we expect to welcome younger consumers looking for trendy products,” Scabbia Guerrini said, highlighting that Lab will carry collaborations, capsules and limited-edition collections developed with local designers under the Timberland, The North Face and Napapijri brands but also under other VF labels.
On the second level, illuminated by a massive skylight, the Timberland, The North Face and Napapijri monobrand stores will be accessible through 19th-century doors, “but from the inside they are all connected,” Scabbia Guerrini noted, adding that consumers will be able to select products in the different areas of Orefici 11 and then pay everything together through a cloud-based, in-store, point-of-sale device and mobile checkouts.
According to the VF executive, Orefici 11 combines the “innovative and international atmosphere of the VF headquarters in Switzerland” with the concept behind the 15,000-square-foot hub in London, which VF opened in the Axtell Soho building close to Regent Street in 2018 and which houses offices, design spaces and showrooms. “There, we were able to create a deep integration between digital and physical and the goal with Orefici 11 was to transfer that b-to-b experience to the retail world,” Scabbia Guerrini said.
While he didn’t provide figures, he said that “the investment was very important.” But Scabbia Guerrini stressed the fact that by joining three of its brands under the same roof, VF wanted to put in place a new group strategy aimed at “amplifying the content of each brand through an holistic company approach.”
VF, which operates 350 direct stores in Europe, is expected to have two-thirds of its units shut by the new lockdowns. “And this is happening during the winter season, which is the most important for some of our brands, and in addition, the holiday season is fast approaching,” said Scabbia Guerrini, commenting on the current market situation.
However, thanks to investments focused on enhancing its digital presence and efficiency, VF will be able to limit losses from the store closures thanks to the brands’ online stores, as happened earlier this month. While in the first and second quarters of the 2021 fiscal year VF’s continuing operations decreased 48 percent and 18 percent, respectively, compared to the same periods last year, in the six months ended Sept. 30 the group’s global online sales spiked 60 percent. In the fiscal year that ended in March 31, the group, which counts the U.K., Germany and Italy as its main markets in Europe, generated 20 percent of its revenues online through both directly operated e-commerces and digital wholesale partners.
That said, physical retail remains crucial for the company, as Orefici 11 reflects. “In the second quarter of the year, we received very encouraging feedback from our stores,” said Scabbia Guerrini. “The footfall in the shops definitely declined due to the pandemic but we registered very positive conversion rates, also thanks to the support of technology, which enables consumers to be sure to find what they want in the stores.”