Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ralph Lauren brand stays on message

The best chain stores deliver a predictable consistency. It's comforting to know that wherever you go, a familiar retailer will fulfill your expectations.

That's a key reason for Ralph Lauren's (RL) success. The New York-based company operates about 374 stores worldwide that reflect the founder's image and offer a reassuringly consistent shopping experience. Every product seeks to convey a slice of the American dream based on a storybook narrative of good taste and style.

"At Ralph Lauren, there's an enormous focus on and dedication to the brand message," said Faye Landes, managing director at Consumer Edge Research, an equity research firm in Stamford, Conn.

"It emanates from the top, from Ralph Lauren himself."

In addition to full-price Ralph Lauren stores, the firm directly operates Club Monaco, Polo factory stores and Rugby. It also runs more than 500 concession shops and works with international licensing partners who operate other stores.

Two Strong Leaders

Landes, who has visited dozens of Ralph Lauren retail locations, is always struck by the firm's allegiance to its brand message. Every detail in its stores reinforces the 72-year-old founder's lifestyle vision.

"I've never caught them in a slip and I've been in their stores all over the world," she said. "Everyone in every store is always on the same page. They all believe in the brand message."

She credits the corporate leadership for embedding brand awareness in the workforce. With about 24,000 employees, the challenge is instilling a culture that staffers embrace.

Many employees admire Ralph Lauren, chairman and chief executive, and Roger Farah, president and chief operating officer, Landes says.

On a visit to a Polo outlet store, Landes recalls a salesperson telling her, "When Roger Farah comes in, we love seeing him."

"Both Ralph Lauren and Roger Farah are very hands-on in a good sense," Landes said. They relate well to employees and motivate them to uphold the brand identity.

Brand Ambassadors

The firm's advertising, store design and online presence also advance the brand. In retail locations, shoppers rarely see "jumbled-up bins" or other signs of disarray, Landes says. The products — from clothes to bedding to paint — tend to embody the same clean, classic image.

"In the stores, employees wear Ralph Lauren clothes and they wear them well," she added. "They're excellent ambassadors for the brand, and they're very pleasant and service-oriented."

Despite building his company over 44 years into an international fashion powerhouse, Lauren remains approachable and humble. As the press-shy trendsetter recently admitted to Oprah Winfrey in an interview at New York City's Lincoln Center, "I'm scared every day." He added that he keeps his old clothes "because you never know when you're going to need them."

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