PARIS — If the billboards announcing its opening or the soaring storefront aren’t enough to catch the eye of passersby on the Champs-Élysées, the monumental screen at the entrance should do the trick for the Lacoste Arena flagship opening this week.
“With Roland Garros coming up, it will be great,” said Thierry Guibert, chief executive officer of the French brand and its Swiss parent company MF Brands Group.
But before tennis’ elite players duke it out on the court, the three-floor store located at 50 Avenue des Champs-Élysées is already a champion itself.
At 17,200 square feet, it is four times the size of the current Paris flagship, located further up on the avenue since the early 2000s, and is the brand’s largest retail space in the world.
A two-year overhaul was needed to redesign the space, which was once a cinema, taking pride of place at street level in a 1960s building built by film production and distribution company Gaumont.
The result is a series of interconnected spaces where the full breadth of the brand’s offering unfurls. With some 9,500 pieces on display, here be crocodiles — lots of them.
Starting with its iconic polo shirts, their dedicated first-floor corner visible from the entrance. Visitors can go straight up the steps to them or explore the ground floor’s selection of sneakers, a strongly growing category since it was brought back in-house in 2018, said Guibert.
A Lacoste Champs-Élysées capsule will also be available exclusively at the store, as the French brand owns the rights to use the famous avenue’s name. “Michel Lacoste, [son of founder René and former CEO,] registered the name around three decades ago, but it had never been fully developed,” the executive revealed.
An interactive tunnel, with tennis balls projected onto the floor that can be kicked and heard bouncing away, lead to another room dedicated to the brand’s tennis, golfing and activewear offerings.
A neon sign stating “Lacoste fait son cinéma,” a play on the store’s former incarnation and a French expression that loosely translates to “Lacoste’s antics,” leads to a cavernous basement space with another XXL screen.
For the opening, it will be home to an exhibition around Gaumont, the first of a rotating program of exhibitions and activities like an indoor tennis court or a golf simulator.
“Experience is and will be an important variable in a retail space. And that holds true in physical and digital doors,” he said, conceding that it could seem paradoxical to open a store this size at a time when digital sales account for 30 percent of the business.
And don’t expect this to become a gateway to a Lacoste metaverse quite yet.
“Making NFTs and virtual crocodiles for the sake of selling them isn’t what we’re doing. The metaverse is a place where [a brand] needs to position itself, but in which it must give meaning. Those who position themselves without substance will pay a steep price,” he said, defining the metaverse as “relay for brand equity” and “a world of communities.”
Community take pride of place at the top of the stairs and escalators leading to the first floor and its glass skylight, with a wall of screens dubbed the Croco Wall. It will display films around the brand and images snapped at the in-store photo booth.
It is also where Lacoste’s main men’s and women’s collections are located, along with a customization station where patches, embroideries and lace locks can be added to selected apparel, footwear and accessories in as little as 10 minutes.
Nearby, a space dedicated to sustainability offers a take-back program and the brand’s circular designs, shown on hangers made from recuperated material. But the real heart of the matter is product durability, said Guibert, adding that it stood at five to seven years and that the brand is planning on doubling that within three years through technical and textile innovations.
In the meantime, shoppers will be able to compare existing shirt designs thanks to a carrousel inspired by the machine used to make its signature piqué knit and browse that rainbow of shirts seen upon entering.
For Guibert, this flagship is a milestone in the transformation initiated when he arrived at the helm of the French brand in 2015, doubling its 2014 1 billion euro turnover by 2021. The plan is to bring it to 4 billion euros within the next five years.
But it’s a step that could not have been reached if digital purchases had not accelerated to their current level.
“It’s the weight of the digital [component] that makes this store coherent. The [combination of] on- and offline experience is key to the relationship we have with our clients,” he said, pointing out in-store features such as QR codes that can be scanned using a smartphone’s camera to access availability of sizes and request a try-on.
It also heralds a new generation of stores that will complement the strength of digital sales, which he expects to grow to 40 percent within two to three years.
The new concept will be rolled out in key cities, starting with an 8,500-square-foot store on London’s Regent Street in February 2023 and Shanghai later that year.
Rather than an extension of the 1,100-unit retail network spread across 98 countries, Guibert said the strategy would be to reduce stores going forward, starting with not renewing leases on older stores too small to house a significant assortment of Lacoste’s offering.
Overall, Guibert said Lacoste had weathered the pandemic better than most and recovered swiftly, finishing 2021 with an 18 percent increase compared to 2020’s figures and a 3 percent increase against 2019, which he deemed a record year.
Current projections for 2022 show revenue soaring 24 percent from January to April against last year’s figures, and Guibert expects the rest of the year to continue on a positive trajectory, with high double-digit growth in coming years.
He credited these results to Lacoste’s enduring sports casual identity, infused with the of-the-moment knack of artistic director Louise Trotter; an infusion of younger consumers attracted by buzzy collaborations with Supreme, Bruno Mars or the Minecraft video game, and the robustness given by its lack of dependence on a particular territory.
The U.S. remains Lacoste’s biggest single market, accounting for a 19 percent-and-growing slice of the business, with France a close second at 18 percent. On a wider scale, the rest of Europe represents a total of 30 percent, also growing strongly. Asia represents 25 percent.
“The brand is more desirable than it has ever been. Five years ago, the average age of our client was 40 years old and we have shaved seven years off now. Collaborations have given visibility among younger generations,” said the executive, also reaffirming the weight of a “winning strategic choice to invest in a premium digital experience since 2015” that allows the brand to weather the current succession of crises better than some of its competitors.
He also described Lacoste as “a brand for everyone” and an “anti-textbook case” in terms of consumer targeting that sees “older people, youths, fiftysomethings, locals, tourists” mixing in-store.
“When I arrived [at the helm], I was asked what I’d do about people in the suburbs wearing [the brand]. I replied that I hoped they’d continue for a long time, because the day they stopped, it would mean the brand was no longer relevant,” he said.
Going forward, the brand will be focusing efforts on achieving a 60-40 split between its retail and wholesale sales, from the current 40-60 proportion, and growing its womenswear business to a 25 to 30 percent share, up from today’s 17 percent.
Lacoste Arena’s opening comes as luxury brands have been flocking to the avenue, which drew some 100,000 people a day pre-pandemic with 71 percent of traffic coming from tourists, and plans to revamp it are firming up. The Comité Champs-Élysées lobby group, representing businesses and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo have unveiled a two-part plan to be executed ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics, according to reports in French media.
The executive declined to share sales projections for the flagship, but said they expect a million visitors a year, especially as the Olympics near and Asian tourists return to Paris. “If we reach that target, the figure will certainly be interesting,” he concluded.