Joelle Grunberg

It took Lacoste, a French brand started by tennis player René Lacoste, almost two decades to venture into the U.S., and when it did, it was through a licensing partnership with Izod.

Now Lacoste owns its distribution rights in the States and operates about 100 stores in North America, but the brand didn’t get to where it is without struggles.

“Times were difficult in the U.S. market in the early 2000s and afterwards,” said Joelle Grunberg, president and chief executive officer of Lacoste North America. “We developed the brand too much here and this left us, like many brands, with too many promotions and a loss of control.”

To circumvent this issue and reassert the line as a premium label, Lacoste created a strategy that Grunberg said helped the company define a clear brand vision and purpose.

The company did this by doubling down on its heritage. According to Grunberg, many U.S. customers didn’t know Lacoste’s connection to tennis and golf. To educate them, Lacoste held an exhibit last August outlining its history at the World Trade Center, where it had just opened a store.

To underscore its deep ties to tennis and golf, Lacoste has partnered with the French Open, the Miami Open and the Presidents Cup, and signed golfer Daniel Berger as a brand ambassador.

Lacoste also updated its packaging to feature small touches of the French flag and introduced a made-in-France capsule collection, which Grunberg said is the most expensive product Lacoste carries, but one of its bestsellers.

Elevating the brand’s image within fashion was also a part of the strategy. Lacoste hired an artistic director, Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who staged two shows a year in New York. However, the brand will show in Paris next season to celebrate Lacoste’s 85th anniversary.

“The fashion show is a marketing initiative for us,” said Grunberg.

Grunberg said collaborating with other brands, including Supreme, A Bathing Ape and the Campanas brothers, has helped as well.

“It’s important for us to do two to three collaborations a year,” said Grunberg. “It’s not that people don’t know us, but these partnerships bring something different to the table that’s difficult for us to do by ourselves.”

Going forward, Lacoste is focused on bringing customers back into its stores, and is hoping to do that by investing in brick-and-mortar locations. It has decreased its retail footprint by closing outlet stores, but is opening new shops in New York, California, Texas and Florida and investing in updating existing stores with digital capabilities and inviting merchandising, which includes a colorful polo wall that’s currently in its World Trade Center location.

“Lacoste is a strong American brand today,” said Grunberg. “We’ve pushed strongly on the innovation piece and aligned ourselves with customers’ expectations.”

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