Esprit, along with Guess and Benetton, was one of fashion's hottest junior brands in the'80s, but it took a hard fall when the trend toward "bubblegum" fashion ended, said Heinz Jurgen Krogner-Kornalik, deputy chairman and CEO, Esprit.
However, the brand has been resurging since the mid'90s by transforming itself into a lifestyle brand catering to a wider demographic, said Krogner-Kornalik, one of five executives invited to speak at a Financo-sponsored event earlier this year in New York.
How did the company go about it? The shift to become a lifestyle brand first involved changing the mindset of the company to focus more on reaching its target consumer, said Krogner-Kornalik.
That involved first understanding the values and expectations of its consumers so as to be able to satisfy their needs and expectations consistently over a long period of time, he said.
The second move was to create a brand identity that "made customers proud to belong to this customer group."
The new focus has been successful, he said, confirmed by shopper surveys that show a "match between the values of our customers and their opinions about Esprit," as well as by the success of the non-core products that are distributed by its licensed partners.
Overall, the lifestyle strategy has lifted sales from $500 million in 1996 to $3 billion today. Including sales by licensees, that figure rises to about $5 billion at retail worldwide.
While Esprit initially found success in Europe, it has more recently taken hold in Asia. The "sad story," he said, is its performance in the United States, where Esprit just began opening stores again in 2004 and reentering department store accounts.
"We have just relaunched our brand and it's like giving birth," said Krogner-Kornalik. "It's a very difficult exercise for us and we are just aiming to become relevant to our target group. I'm sure it will take some time before we will reach our breakthrough, but we are very committed to this market."
THOMAS J. RYAN is an Apparel contributing author based in New York .
Editor's Note : This is the final article in a five-part series that shared highlights from presentations of retail and brand executives who spoke at a Financo seminar earlier this year. Here are links to our first four reports from the event:
Bloomingdale's CEO Speaks of Change
At a recent seminar in New York , Michael Gould shared some insights into Bloomingdale's repositioning strategy, one emphasizing consistency.
Nike's Five-Point Strategy
Nike vice president of global apparel Mindy Grossman shares five keys to the firm's ability to grow and maintain its brand.
Behind the Brand: Sean Combs of Sean John
Hip-hop artist and fashion success story Sean Combs shares some insights into the origins of his lifestyle brand .
Brand Strategy at Amazon.com
Online mogul Jeff Bezos shares his philosophy on building a good reputation.