Federica Marchionni aims to push Lands’ End all-American style up a notch and take it global.
The chic former Dolce & Gabbana executive, who was named Lands’ End’s president and chief executive officer last February, has been getting her bearings and developing her master plan to turn around the company. From a marketing perspective, Marchionni’s arrival will be felt by the fall, with significant merchandising changes becoming more evident next year.
Marchionni and Lands’ End is an unlikely pairing considering the cultural divide, and it’s Marchionni’s first ceo role. Yet she says that she knows the American market, that she’s studied the company — its DNA and inner workings — and that she’s moving fast to raise brand awareness and implement growth strategies. “What I realized immediately is that we have no time to waste,” Marchionni told WWD in an interview in the New York office of Lands’ End, which is based in Dodgeville, Wisc. At that first board meeting on April 10, she recalled, “I felt a huge sense of urgency because competition today doesn’t allow you to take your time to make decisions, produce ideas and make things happen.”
For the 43-year-old Marchionni, who was born in a small town outside Rome called Santa Severa, the pressure is on to reverse Lands’ End recent record of thinning profits and prove she’s a good fit for the company — even if she personally takes a particularly stylish approach to the brands’ goods, wearing one of its classic vanilla blazers with the collar turned up, finessing the look with vintage jewelry and Dolce & Gabbana shoes that match its tortoise-shell buttons.
“One of my strengths is definitely to drive business and create business opportunities and make things happen. I never promise or say something if I do not believe that I can not deliver 100 percent, probably because I am very ambitious. I want to deliver more than 100 percent.”
Her first 30 days on the job were spent “to understand and learn…After the first month, if I can use the expression, I was running the company and making decisions that will have an impact very soon.” On Marchionni’s agenda for the $1.5 billion Lands’ End:
* Wholesaling to U.S. department stores starting with swimwear, activewear and outerwear.
* Introducing advertising and marketing this fall to attract long-neglected Asians, Latinos and younger audiences, and with imagery casting an aspirational lifestyle appeal.
* Creating the company’s first digital version of the catalogue.
* Opening flagship stores, starting cautiously in the U.S.
* Growing global distribution, particularly in Asia, which she said has an “online-driven population.”
Overseas, Lands’ End sells in 150 countries, operates distribution facilities in the U.K. and Japan, and shops-in-shop at the House of Fraser. “In spring/summer 2016, we will be ready to face the international market with a stronger appeal and approach,” Marchionni said.
In the U.S., there are only six stores and four outlets, and the products are also sold inside 235 Sears, Roebuck & Co. doors, though Marchionni said the partnership needs to be more profitable. And as Sears closes stores, Lands’ End loses some volume. Marchionni hints at possibly accelerating changes with Sears, but notes there are commitments. Lands’ End was owned by Sears until April 2014 when it was spun off into a public company.
Lands’ End’s largest shareholder is Sears Holdings Corp. chairman Edward Lampert, though he’s not on the Lands’ End board. With running the business, “I don’t talk to him,” Marchionni said. “The company has a very strong governance and we respect the rules.” Though she knew Lampert before, she says he didn’t contact her to be ceo. “The board approach me, so this is how we started the conversation. I shared with them my vision. I did a lot of homework. I said from day one, you need to know who you are getting. I am a very independent person.”
She characterized Lands’ End customer service, outerwear, activewear and swimwear as the company’s strongest elements, but said the brand profile has been too low. “Lands’ End is the best-kept secret,” Marchionni said. The first focus is not to make huge changes, she added, but to amplify the brand appeal. Her Lands’ Friendly campaign got the ball rolling on April 22, Earth Day, to promote the brand’s support for environmental causes and extend its arrangement with the National Forest Foundation to plant its one millionth tree in 2015. In addition, Marchionni has been very visible, talking up Lands’ End at such conferences as Women in the World Summit 2015 held at Lincoln Center and the Michael Milken conference in Los Angeles.
In other maneuvers, she reduced the catalogue distribution so it’s more targeted and curtails its carbon footprint, and hired Joe Boitano, the former Saks Fifth Avenue merchant, as executive vice president, chief merchandising and design officer. She also signed up Oracle to enhance the company’s technology platform, and launched a microsite on landsend.com to showcase an edited collection. “It’s cleaner, more aspirational,” Marchionni said, and targeted to those younger than 34 and new to the brand, compared to Lands’ End’s core 34-to-54-year-old core audience. “It’s a different shade or way to speak to our consumers.”
In terms of product, “I don’t see in the DNA of this company being a fashion leader that can change the fashion attitude or approach of people,” said Marchionni. “This company is well-known for producing a great quality product, and this is what I am insisting, fiercely, to my team. I say every time you touch a fabric it must be quality-focused, for the price we are asking. The main point is to fairly price the product.”
She’s an advocate for organic ready-to-wear fabrics and sustainable rubber for footwear, and some “streamlining” of the core assortment. “You are going to see a merchandise plan that speaks to different customers and different categories in a very focused way. Every consumer wants to be excited by our Web site or catalogue. They want to know what’s new. Of course we need to bring some new product and it’s important is to inject some design into this new product so people can have the option of shopping basic product with us, or shopping a more seasonal product. Seasonal will not be an overwhelming part.”
Though not based at the sprawling company campus in Dodgeville, she said that some months she spends two to three weeks there. “I think I understand very much the ability of the people, and the company. I feel to be like a doctor on a visit, who knows exactly what to ask and has the ability to give you what you need.” She defends her decision not to relocate, indicating that she and her seven-year-old son have already relocated a few times for her career, once to Maranello, Italy where she served as a senior vice president at Ferrari, later to Milan for Dolce & Gabbana, and ultimately New York to serve as president of the brand’s North American operations.
Despite her high-fashion experience, she insists she can adapt to a different price point and perspective.
“My entire career is proof I can work in different industries with different price points with different consumers and different geographies. I started in technology. The product was very mass market. My first job was with Samsung, in marketing and sales. I was buying CD-ROMs from Korea. My boss was Korean. It was probably one of the toughest environments you could work in. It was a male environment. I was young. Samsung was new to Italy, but I was very determined to learn and to deliver.
“When I joined Dolce & Gabbana, people thought I did not have any clue about fashion. It’s kind of funny that today I face the opposite problem because I came to Lands’ End from the luxury world. I don’t want to [expend] my energy thinking about this. I am feeling very confident and people will too when they see concrete actions, results and growth. I know what I can deliver. I am focused on just delivering results and performances. As Gandhi said, ‘In a gentle way you can shake the world,’ so I am definitely shaking the company but I think in my way.”