When Pierre Denis stepped into his role four years ago as the chief executive officer of Jimmy Choo, he faced an uncomfortable question. He knew that China was a priority for growth, but the brand was a latecomer to the market, small and had no obvious logo.
At the time, Jimmy Choo had a turnover of around $500 million and its China operations were run by a franchisee — one of the first things he did was to take the China business back in-house. He also felt that the company needed to build up the brand first and foremost. For that, luckily, Denis could look to lessons in the brand’s history.
“I lost my Choo,” uttered by Sarah Jessica Parker on “Sex and the City,” became its founding moment for Western women.
“Amazingly, the same thing happened in Asia,” Denis said. The South Korean hit soap opera “My Love From the Star” featured a scene where a main character asks, “Now you’re copying my shoes?” while wearing a gray, pointed Jimmy Choo pump. The model sold out not only in South Korea but in China, too.
“We made our name on the red carpet,” Denis said. “We recognize that the same recipe could be played with the Chinese movie scene, trying to target all the actresses and celebrities.”
For example, Jimmy Choo shoes have graced famous feet including actress Liu Shi Shi in Bali at her much publicized wedding to Taiwanese heartthrob Nicky Wu.
Denis adds that the gray, pointed pump is “still our bestseller.”
“It’s hard for American and European movies to penetrate China,” Denis said, referring to the limited number of foreign films allowed to be released in the country. “As a consequence, you have a really strong cinema scene in China, which his going to transfer into Chinese TV shows. I am a true believer that you can replicate the [South] Korean wave and it is going to come in the Chinese television and soap operas.”
Once Jimmy Choo found its footing with pop culture and branding, the firm started working on distribution. It also helped that the macro winds in the market had turned in its favor. More discreet, logo-less brands became in vogue and consumers were tiring of the big powerhouse luxury brands that had entered China in the first wave. Gifting had fallen away as part of the anticorruption drive, hurting watches and jewelry the most. Shoes had the advantage of being something women usually bought for themselves.
Denis acknowledged that the issue of parallel goods in the gray market, spurred by the high taxes imposed, was a problem for everyone in the industry but Jimmy Choo had a few things going for it.
“A pair of our shoes is about 500 pounds [about $560 at current exchange],” the ceo said. “Even if it’s 20 to 30 percent more expensive, you are still discussing about 50 pounds. It’s not so extreme that you would wait six months when you are traveling to buy.”
Jimmy Choo Asia sales now make up 16 percent of its total revenues, double what they were in 2012.
Operating under the assumption that around a third of the brand’s business should be derived from the region, Denis said, “It means that we are half of the way in terms of our expansion.”