As retail stores spring back to life, achieving a proper balance between digital and physical is the key to success.
That was one of the primary takeaways for the FrenchFounders, a business club that met in New York City this week during the National Retail Federation convention to brainstorm and exchange ideas.
The FrenchFounders encompasses some 4,000 members and includes 700 C-suite executives, entrepreneurs and investors in its Retail Club, which was formed eight years ago, according to Alain Bernard, former chief executive officer of Richemont North America and president of the board of the Retail Club. He said the group holds meetings somewhere around the world on a weekly basis to “interact and share information on trends and solutions. We support each other so we’re less stupid together,” he said with a laugh, adding that the group is stronger together.
At this week’s meeting in New York, Bernard said the top conversations centered around returning to near normal after nearly three years impacted by COVID-19 closures, “the rush to e-commerce and then the rush back to stores,” he said.
Among the “megatrends” the group was navigating was the rebalancing of their portfolios to find the best ways to combine digital and physical.
He said the group discussed the importance of providing experiences within stores while also embracing the “power of technology” to capture data that can be used to drive sales.
And they’ve learned firsthand that online can’t replace “human interaction,” which is what consumers still crave.
Although some issues continue to plague the retail industry — notably lingering supply chain problems as well as staffing — the overall feeling among members is cautious optimism, he said. “We see consumers coming back to stores and big brands performing better than ever,” he said. And shoppers are also showing an appetite for smaller brands, which is encouraging. “But you still have to be cautious,” he said, “and expect the unexpected. All of the players have learned to be agile and change course [when necessary].”
Antoine Tessier, chief technology officer for LVMH U.S., and a board member of FrenchFounders Retail Club, said the brands within the corporation’s stable are working with key retailers in the U.S. such as Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue on how they can collaborate more and share insight and trends gleaned from sales data. In July 2021, LVMH partnered with Google Cloud to develop artificial intelligence solutions that can benefit the company’s luxury brands by offering personalized customer experiences.
“More and more, we’re working to personalize the experience at every stage,” he said, online and in stores.
Within stores, technology now needs to blend into the background, Tessier said. “It’s there to support the staff and the staff supports the customer experience.”
Offering a superior customer experience is also paramount to Alexandre Fauvet, chief executive officer of the French luxury ski and outerwear brand Fusalp, known for its early technical advancements including contour-fit ski pants.
Fauvet, an entrepreneur who founded several brands before spending 15 years at Lacoste, purchased the venerable brand in 2014 along with siblings Sophie and Philippe Lacoste, grandchildren of tennis legend and Lacoste founder Rene Lacoste
What attracted them was the company’s history in “function, technology and fashionable style,” he said.
“We repositioned it as super luxury,” he said, adding that the bestselling item before the acquisition was a women’s ski jacket that retailed for 199 euros. Today, the bestseller is a women’s ski jacket that sells for 1,500 euros.
This new positioning prompted the company to turn to its own retail stores to reintroduce the brand and today, Fusalp operates 52 stores globally. That includes two in the U.S. — one on Madison Avenue and another in Aspen, Colorado.
Since the U.S. stores opened in the fall, Fauvet said he is “very pleased” with their performance. “We expect the U.S. will become the number-one market in the world for us,” he said. And by 2025, this country should account for some 20 percent of sales, which are expected to hit 50 million euros this year — a number he hopes to triple by 2026.
Over the next three to four years, the plan is to open another 10 stores.
“We want our future customers to come to the store,” he said. “We see online as an added service once they know the brand. Otherwise, we’re just spending a lot of money with low results.”