As Better Market Reenergizes, Liz Arrives With New Dimension

The turmoil in the better category is creating a new market reality, and next week, Liz Claiborne, moving to protect its turf, will launch its Realities line.

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Realities will be kept simple in everything from pricing to fixturing. Marketing muscle for the brand will be applied locally instead of nationally or globally. That will allow stores to drive traffic by whatever means works best, be it in-store shops, an in-store selling specialist, local advertising or other promotions.

The market schedule will not follow the traditional calendar, but will be adjusted to accommodate retailers’ needs. “We could actually show every other month if we’d like,” noted Ahrendts. “We’re going to start it in spring market, but the spring and summer lines are both done, so we could show summer a month later, two months later.”

Retailers, she noted, are accustomed to this flexibility with their own private label programs.

“Let’s face it, private label is our number one competitor to date and what they don’t have is eight weeks of market and collecting orders that we have,” said Ahrendts.

“We’re trying to get out of our own box,” she added. “We are a big corporation and we have to get out of our way. We have to test and try new things. There are a lot of things that are not working for us and they’re not working for our retail partners.”

Successful elements of the new strategy will be incorporated into existing businesses. Specifically, Claiborne will be looking to apply the line’s smaller management structure to its other lines. Another innovation that could be applied to other brands is Realities’ more focused manufacturing.

The brand will be made in fewer factories, which will be more involved in areas such as color and fabric, as well as product development. The factories have to do more work up front, but are rewarded with greater volume while Claiborne gets a quicker turn, among other benefits.

Situated at the high end of the better zone, Realities is set to bow in 200 to 250 doors in January. It will start out with mostly career offerings and then assume a lifestyle orientation. The hope is to extend the line to 750 doors within three to four years.

While declining to provide revenue estimates for the line, Ahrendts offered, by way of comparison, that a billion-dollar brand historically sells in 2,200 to 2,400 stores. Applying that rate of sales to Realities’ anticipated rollout to 750 doors, which should offer an approximation, leaves the collection with annual sales of up to $340 million.
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