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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.