DOONEY & BOURKE STRIKES A BALANCE BETWEEN OLD AND NEW WITH A COMPANYWIDE REDESIGN.
Byline: Jill Newman
Dooney & Bourke is on a mission. Once considered the quintessential preppy brand, the 26-year-old leather goods company has shed its traditional image in favor of a more contemporary, younger attitude. The move has paid off. This year, it’s on track to grow its sales revenue 20 percent on top of double-digit gains last year, according to Tom Bendheim, the company’s chief operating officer.
In June, a new flagship boutique opened in New York that unveiled an updated lifestyle concept and serves as a prototype for future stores. At least 12 more Dooney & Bourke doors will open within three years. After a decade on Madison Avenue, Dooney & Bourke moved its flagship to 20 East 60th Street between Madison and Park Avenues to increase its space and define its new identity, according to Bendheim.
“The boutique has a cleaner, fresher and younger feeling, like our new accessories,” he said. The 3,000-square-foot location, which is more than double the size of its previous flagship, was designed to highlight the diversity of its product, which in addition to its women’s handbags now includes footwear, men’s accessories, gloves and luggage. The split-level store has classic mahogany wood walls and display cases, marble floors and a leather cushioned seating lounge area in the back, which is surrounded by old-world murals depicting scenes of leather craftsman at work.
The company, which is based in Norwalk, Conn., is also opening a 2,000-square-foot store in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas this August, adding to its current lineup of four stores and 11 factory outlets.
Since Dooney started to redefine its image three years ago, its wholesale business has also benefited. According to industry sources, the company’s sales revenue exceeded $100 million last year. “We firmly believe we can experience double-digit sales increases over the next several years through organic growth in our wholesale operation and retail growth,” said Bendheim. He noted the company is also seeing sales growth in its own catalog and Internet businesses.
Dooney’s wholesale business is already racking up increases over last year at Macy’s West, according to Adrienne Hoyer, the retailer’s vice president and divisional merchandise manager for accessories. “Dooney updated its look with new silhouettes and treatments, and the customer has responded,” she said. “The company has done an excellent job in repositioning its brand through marketing and advertising. It’s attracted new consumers and maintained its established following.”
Dooney’s primary consumer had been a suburban, preppy type with a typical age range of 30-45, pointed out Bendheim. With its new direction, the brand broadened its appeal to attract younger, trendy, urban women as young as 20, though Bendheim is quick to emphasize that the brand has nonetheless maintained its traditional core consumer.
The company plans to continue expanding its product offerings and has just launched leather outerwear, gift accessories and cashmere sweaters in its flagship store. If successful, the new classifications will be distributed through its wholesale channels as well, Bendheim said. “We had a lot of opportunities to license our name, but we feel we can maintain control best by doing everything in-house for now,” he said. In fact, the company opened a design center in Florence, Italy, earlier this year to capitalize on emerging trends more quickly and to step up its product development. Among the recently executed ideas from Italy are luxurious leather travel bags, modern business totes and computer carriers.
Founder Peter Dooney, who travels to Italy monthly to oversee product development, initiated the company’s transformation when he hired Bendheim three years ago to help revitalize and grow what was considered a stagnant brand. Bendheim was director of corporate strategic planning at Pepsico and brought a marketing and consumer products background to the business.
“My primary objective was to expand the product selection and diversify the brand while still playing up its core values and strengths,” explained Bendheim. “Dooney had long been known for its high quality and durability, but was too reliant on its signature all-weather leather collection.”
That changed when the company launched its Cabriolet leather three years ago, featuring a simplified, lighter- weight design. To attract the new, younger consumer, Dooney also expanded into softer leathers and fabrics such as denim and other cotton and linen blends. Smaller, cleaner and sportier silhouettes were introduced across the board. However, Dooney continued with its best-selling styles, showing them pared down with less hardware. Its signature “duck” emblem is scaled down and even eliminated on many new styles.
Furthermore, the company added a footwear collection, luggage and men’s small leather goods. The mainstay of the handbag collection retails from $250 to $350, which is up from an average retail price of $250 a few years ago.
Dooney has also redefined its image with a beefed-up advertising campaign this year that for the first time features models in a lifestyle setting, shot in worldly locations such as Morocco and Paris for the fall campaign. Bendheim said the company has more than doubled its advertising budget in 2001 over last year with a monthly presence in the top fashion magazines. “We wanted to show our customer using the product in type in an image that reflects her active, yet relaxed lifestyle, as opposed to just product,” he said.