On The Importance of Serge Mouille To J. Crew's Retail Strategy.
Apr 17 2013
In the recent Fast Company profile of Jenna Lyons, "How Jenna Lyons Transformed J. Crew Into A Cult Brand", two quotes from Ms. Lyons and Mickey Drexler respectively leapt out at me:
"It's hard when the finance team is used to putting a light fixture in the store that costs $2,000 and I'm like, 'Well, I want an $8,000 fixture'. You have to get people to understand why having that Serge Mouille light fixture is better, because it's beautiful and people will know something's different. Maybe when you look at that $200 cashmere sweater, you'll feel like, 'Oh, yeah, look at the store, it's so beautiful. This $200 sweater is a steal.'" (J.Lyons)
"People love scarcity. And scarcity brings people to the stores to buy shirts and pants." (M. Drexler)
I find these quotes fascinating because they suggest that, like Apple, J.Crew's successful marketing strategy in fact borrows from the classic luxury retail strategy, most notably the twin emphasis on scarcity (real or perceived) and what I would refer to as "desirability by association". That "desirability by association" (or co-branding if you prefer) is on display literally in their stores (I know of few mass retailers who feel strongly that light fixtures by an obscure mid-century French designer are essential to their in-store experience) and figuratively by way of their collaborations with cool niche brands (British heritage brand Globe-Trotter is a good example).
Unlike luxury brands however, J.Crew has none of the usual hang-ups about multi-channeled distribution that still plague too many luxury players. Having started life as a humble mail-order business, they're not too precious to sell online and rather than obsessively try to "control the message", they embrace the legions of enthusiastic bloggers who wax poetic about the brand and leverage this into powerful buzz for the brand.
It's sometimes hard to believe that a former catalogue business which for years was considered the farthest thing from cool is now a powerful trendsetter such that even Anna Wintour graces their Fashion Week presentations with her presence. While I agree that Jenna Lyons is an important part of the J. Crew magic (I'm certainly a fan), it is arguably the brand's ability to combine the best from both mass and class so effortlessly that is making it a powerful retail force. There may indeed be something special about the glow of a Serge Mouille light fixture after all.
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