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Elie Tahari at 40: Bob Galvin's Game Plan

The brand's chief executive officer is on a mission to bring a retail mentality to the sportswear stalwart.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 09/10/2013

Bob Galvin, chief executive officer of Elie Tahari Ltd., is on a mission to bring a retail mentality to the sportswear stalwart.

“We want to think and act like retailers in what we do,” said Galvin, who was hired last January to strengthen and position the $500 million fashion company for aggressive growth. He was charged with spearheading wholesale, retail and international sales for women’s and men’s collections, as well as fortifying such areas as accessories, merchandising, marketing, licensing, product development and production. His appointment freed up Elie Tahari, chairman, to focus on product and design.

Galvin said his primary attraction to the brand was the opportunity to work with Tahari.

“Elie is a visionary and product genius,” said Galvin, who cut his teeth at Camuto Group, Fila and Nine West. “When you have a brand that’s survived for 40 years, that’s a wonderful combination.”

When he joined the company, the first thing he did was get to know the designer, to understand his vision and what he valued so they were moving in the right direction.

“What Elie had established was a wonderful foundation over 40 years. There was a lot of diversification built in. You had a men’s business and you had a women’s business. You had a specialty store business, outlet store business and e-commerce business. You had Elie Tahari Collection and the diffusion lines, T Tahari [which was launched in 2007 as an exclusive with Macy’s and is now widely distributed] and Tahari [an off-price label],” said Galvin. Nevertheless, there were places that were underdeveloped.

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Women’s currently generates 85 percent of the business, while men’s accounts for 15 percent.

His main priorities have been to expand Tahari’s men’s business, T Tahari, licensing (see page 18), global and direct-to-consumer operations. Tahari launched its e-commerce Web site in August 2011. “With a lot of effort and energy, it will double in sales this year,” said Galvin.

Thinking and acting like retailers is a common thread that weaves through everything they do. One of Galvin’s goals is to control and enhance the customer experience, whether it’s online, in the company’s own freestanding stores or at wholesale accounts.

The team consistently strives to improve the brand message, the look of the visuals and the product, as well as how the sales associates and brand ambassadors present the merchandise in the stores.

“Do they understand the product, and do they have the proper tools and training to enhance the sales experience?” asked Galvin.

Over the past year, the firm has made several key hires to improve the sales team, as well as naming Fabio Guidetti president of international for Tahari. There are close to 150 dedicated people in the field through department store programs and field merchandisers.

At present, Tahari has 12 freestanding specialty stores and just under 40 stores in total, which includes units for the collection and outlets. There are more than 600 points of distribution for the Elie Tahari collection.

“What I’ve tried to instill with Elie’s support is that we need to expand [the brand’s] footprint as far as the product and presence is concerned. While Elie has a tremendous amount of mind share in terms of consumer awareness and recognition, I like to think our responsibility is to increase the closet share of Elie Tahari. Most consumers out there are aware of who Elie Tahari is and the depth, credibility and direction of his product,” he said.

Galvin acknowledged that Tahari was known more for career in the early days, and has since evolved into a full lifestyle collection. “So it’s not just 9 to 5 in the work environment, but it’s 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week,” he said. The suitings and dresses are now rounded out with denim, casual T-shirts and knitwear.

“Elie’s always concerned that his woman — whether she’s 25, 45 or 55 — looks great and feels appropriate, and that the fit is appropriate,” added Galvin.

In fact, one point of differentiation about Tahari’s line is the multigenerational aspect. “There are moms that come in with their daughters and both come out with an Elie Tahari wardrobe that’s appropriate for them,” said Galvin.

Galvin said Tahari has never considered a different label for the casual aspects of the line, believing that the Elie Tahari brand is elastic enough to be both casual and career. In 2002, Tahari had his logo redesigned by Fabien Baron and they changed the company’s moniker to Elie Tahari so it would have a designer name.

The ratio of career to casual has changed in the past 25 years, along with what is considered acceptable to wear on the job, Galvin said.

“Career clothing has evolved over the years along with women’s roles in the workplace. Twenty-five years ago, women were not given too many options when it came to work attire. Today there is so much more flexibility as the corporate world has become less formal and women have many more options, so it would be hard to determine what percentage would be designated as exclusively ‘career.’

“We find that for work, the Elie Tahari woman buys transitional pieces and styles of dresses and separates that she can wear to work and also take her into the evening for dinner or cocktails,” he said.

Asked how they are able to stay young and bring in the next generation of Elie Tahari customers, Galvin said the company is taking several steps.

“One is having the younger customer get to know Elie Tahari, the person and the designer. It’s always easier when you can connect to that person, so social media is a big initiative,” he said. “Elie is a true designer, and it’s people getting to know him.

“The other thing is, if you look at Elie’s designs, they’re true to who that customer is, and there’s also a modern element, so it’s attractive to a younger consumer at the same time.”

The designer keeps tabs on the contemporary market by shopping the stores, talking to customers and making personal appearances. “He always comes back inspired from one of these trips,” said Galvin.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 09/10/2013

Tahari plans to expand its retail presence in the U.S. and abroad. Right now, the company is considering locations in such markets as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami for additional freestanding stores.

“From a store perspective, I look for us to grow in a double-digit manner over the next few years,” said Galvin.

Tahari opened a full-price pop-up shop in June at 510 Fifth Avenue in New York, which he’s using as a laboratory. Products are manufactured on the fourth and fifth floors of the building and are then tested in the store. The space is frequently the site of photo shoots.

“Elie’s vision is to take that and roll it out to a larger retail footprint,” said Galvin.

He noted, too, that Tahari and the visual, sales, marketing and design teams spend time in the store. “Elie’s always going down there. That’s where he starts and ends his day. We do test shoots for the e-commerce team down there. We do set-ups for the mannequin displays, and we have DJs on Thursdays.”

He said the store is also a useful tool to get customer feedback — “It’s part commercial and part experimental.”

The pop-up will remain open through the end of the year.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Tahari will offer Elie Tahari Edition 1974, a select group of pieces that encapsulate his career, such as a suit, a leather piece, a tube top and a trenchcoat. They will be available in stores this spring.

International expansion is another big initiative at the firm. Currently, Tahari is distributed in more than 30 countries, including Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the U.K., the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Azerbaijan, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Dubai, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bermuda and South Africa.

“We are growing in Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia,” said Guidetti, who was previously senior vice president of international sales at St. John. “We are currently registering great sell-through performance from the spring 2013 season. Our major partners in Spain, Mexico and Korea are also registering a positive performance from the previous year.”

At present, 10 percent of Tahari’s business is done overseas, with plans to grow to 30 percent, he said. There are 250 points of distribution overseas and nearly 50 freestanding shops.

Guidetti noted that over the next 12 months, the main focus will be on China, Eastern Europe, the U.K., France and Germany.

“I always welcome and target customers and cities where the affluence of tourism is growing and becoming a significant part of their business,” he said. He noted that this month, the company’s e-commerce site will add the capabilities to ship internationally to more than 100 countries.

Interestingly, Tahari has built a half-billion-dollar business (in wholesale and retail sales) with relatively little traditional advertising.

“We haven’t had a big advertising presence,” said Scott Currie, vice president of global communications. “She [the customer] is coming in for the clothes because she identifies with the brand.”

Galvin said the company made a big investment in developing an e-commerce Web site. Tahari also likes to go into the stores, make personal appearances and get involved with charity events, such as Saks Fifth Avenue’s “Catwalk for the Cure,” an annual event that takes place in Houston in November. This year, as the featured designer, Tahari will present a fashion show of his spring looks at the Hotel ZaZa.

The biggest wholesale markets currently for the Elie Tahari brand are New York, California, Las Vegas, Florida and Dallas. The brand also does a strong business in Greenwich, Conn., and Houston. Top accounts are Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. Galvin noted that Elie Tahari is the largest sportswear vendor at Saks and is in 43 doors. The brand has the largest space on the “Wear Now” fourth floor, a 2,500-square-foot shop.

Joseph Boitano, group senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Saks, said, “Tahari has been and continues to be an important brand for Saks Fifth Avenue. Their dedication to outstanding design, precise tailoring and use of elegant fabrics is exactly what the Saks customer wants.”

At Bloomingdale’s, “For the last 20 years, Elie has been the backbone of our New View department,” said Frank Doroff, vice chairman and general merchandise manager of ready-to-wear and bloomingdales.com.

Galvin said for the current fall season, product has performed well and the initial read is strong.

Besides helping transform the company’s mind-set, creating a vibrant international business and expanding products and direct-to-consumer business, Galvin said, “We want to make sure the here and now is functioning properly and that we’re moving the ball forward. Elie is thinking two or three steps down the road. He’s thinking about what will happen with the market, how the consumer will want to shop, what’s the message we want to send. The one thing about Elie is, he’s not opposed to change.”

He also said he’s learned a lot from Tahari.

“I’m able to gain a better understanding of him, the vision and the aesthetic.…I think of the world of Elie as far as what he creates, the vision he has and how he wants to reshape the way the business is conducted,” Galvin stated. “He’s not looking to say, ‘What was done the last 10 years?’ Elie is thinking about what he wants to do for the next 10 years. He’s absolutely focused on the future.”