The casual luxury brand Juicy Couture, best known for its rhinestone-encrusted tracksuits, announced recently that it is closing all of its U.S. stores by the end of June 2014 with the aim of a rebranding and reopening US sites in 2015, along with further international expansion in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
With sales falling by 18% since 2008 before it was bought by New York-based global brand development and licensing firm Authentic Brands Group (ABG) in 2013, where did it all go wrong for Juicy? There are a number of factors, but one in particular stands out clearly: the designs and style have barely changed since its glory days of the early noughties. Juicy quickly positioned itself as a product leader in the luxury casualwear category for the aspirational customer, creating one of the hottest, most sought-after and recognizable brands in fashion. Its value proposition was based on product leadership, but instead of focusing on innovation, creativity and staying one step ahead of competitors, Juicy just never evolved. It stuck to the same velour tracksuit formula and became a symbol for pre-recession celebrity status.
Its marketing strategy never moved on either. Unlike other luxury brands who adjusted their strategies to ‘play on heritage’ (Hermes), ‘pioneer digital media’ (Burberry) or ‘focus on innovation’ (Alexander McQueen), Juicy relied on their old trusted approach in a world that was rapidly changing in the face of the 2008 economic crisis. Consumer values were changing too, attitudes to spending exhibited a return to traditional values, driven by consumers searching for quality, affordability, and connection. No longer were consumers prepared to pay over top prices to be associated with a symbol of materialism, consumerism and excess consumption.
In fact, the very celebrities who helped build the brand, may also have contributed to its downfall. Paris Hilton, who encapsulates the phenomenon of famous for being famous with TV shows like the ‘The Simple Life’, quickly became the wrong brand type ambassador in the new post-recession reality. Associations with Britney Spears and Kevin Federline’s marriage, where members of the wedding party wore Juicy tracksuits emblazoned with ’Pimp Daddy’ and ‘the Maids’ , was not the kind of celebrity endorsement a luxury brand would typically pursue.
The rise in competition from brands like Lululemon, along with the development of more sporty chic lines from Nike and Adidas also impacted the Juicy’s growth. Lululemon have managed to update their fashions each season and in fact create and sense of scarcity with their product, unlike Juicy who became almost ubiquitous.
So what now? According to Upstart Business Journal ‘Authentic Brands Group is expanding on its premium Juicy Couture Black Label Collection with new offerings in intimates, children’s wear and footwear, with a focus on opening girl’s and intimates freestanding shops internationally, along with an expectation to see an additional 127 Juicy Couture stores and shop in shops open over the next five years in major cities across the globe.’ This, combined with the expected rebranding of all US stores, an increase in retail locations in key international markets, partnerships with designers such as Steve Madden and a re-launch of JuicyCouture.com, is it enough to restore the brand to its former glory?
Although a spokesperson for Juicy who spoke with Vogue magazine said that ‘All of our plans are consistent with the premium image of Juicy Couture globally’, their recent actions would suggest otherwise. The distribution deal signed with Kohl’s seems like an unusual shift in strategy for a premium retailer. Kohl’s, a company based on operational excellence business model, focuses more on lower pricing and moving volume rather than associating itself with the aspirational shopper once pursued by Juicy. Business Insider reported late last year that even Kohl’s itself is in trouble.
The international decentralized business structure seems flawed too. According to Fashion United, Leonard Green & Partners are reproducing Juicy’ s international business plan back in the US which sees Juicy in Asia run by ImagineX, in Europe by Folli Follie, with the new US boutiques created as joint ventures between ABG and a partner yet to be decided. At such a critical time in the business is it really a wise decision to relinquish control and place faith in the hands of other leaders in foreign markets to make critical strategic and business decisions.
What ABG appears to be doing with Juicy is the opposite of what many premium brands have done when they have begun the process of refocusing the business. Take for instance Tom Ford’s rejuvenation of the YSL brand in the early 2000’s, his realignment of the brand with its core values and identity, reigning in all licensing deals,along with the injection of a high dose of sexy, cool glamour thrust YSL back into the limelight and made the brand a symbol of high end luxury again. Similarly Dolce and Gabanna, in 2011, discontinued its diffusion line D&G, and began phasing out many of the licensing agreements, including pefumes and eyewear so that it could refocus on the original Dolce and Gabanna brand.
By trying to rebuild their premium brand, expand internationally and cater for the price conscious consumer Juicy risks spreading its brand equity too thin, losing its direction and failing to remain focused on the core customer. The real aim should be to consolidate and reaffirm Juicy’s core value and identity, and cater for the low end mass market at their peril.