Posted on | March 10, 2008 | 1 Comment
Ecra Creative Group
In the pantheon of “good problems to have”, this has to rank right up there.
All kidding aside, Victoria’s Secret CEO Sharen Turney thinks the brand has gotten away from its roots. To paraphrase, Victoria’s Secret has moved toward the wrong end of the “feminine/raunchy” continuum. And she intends to reverse course.
That inertia, she fails to mention strongly enough, is largely their own doing. Over the last ten years, Victoria’s Secret has cornered the use of the word “sexy” to describe its core product lines. It has introduced the much more youthful “Pink” loungewear line. It airs top-rated lingerie fashion shows – major productions each time.
Despite all that, Victoria’s Secret sales have dipped 12 percent in the fourth quarter 2007 and will not meet expectations this quarter.
And this is where I needed to stop.
Seeing as though I am eminently unqualified to dig into this business segment any farther, I asked for help (read: wife).
The truth is, Victoria’s Secret manages a more complex business model – a more complex brand – than one might think.
The company’s core market – classic lingerie and sleepwear – forms the backbone of the business and the brand. Marketed primarily to women ages 24 to 44, the Victoria’s Secret products are purchased through its mall stores, its mail order catalogs, and its internet site (the catalog and online businesses, few know, set the standards for best-practices for the entire industry, not just clothing).
As adjuncts to the “classic” product lines, Victoria’s Secret markets fragrances and body care products, also through these same channels. The clothing line (jeans, tops, sweaters, and working professional clothing), however, is not sold through its stores (likely due to channel conflicts with its parent company – Limited Brands).
Over the last 10 years, the last five especially, Victoria’s Secret launched one of its most successful brands – Pink – aimed at a younger audience of girls and women aged 16 to 34. Primarily loungewear, the Pink brand is spunky, fun, and brightly colored. The brand has been so successful that the company has expanded several of its mall stores to include a separate “Pink” storefront.
But to Turney’s point, when you ask members of Victoria’s Secret’s core market what they think of the brand, they admitted (without prompting) that the brand has gotten a little too “uncomfortable” for their taste. Too racy. Too revealing. They lamented they needed to walk past all of the “sexy things” in the front of the store to reach the more conservative (yet still very feminine) sleepwear in the back of the store.
They are scared Victoria’s Secret is turning into Frederick’s of Hollywood.
Certainly anecdotal, but certainly not good.
What Victoria’s Secret risks here is nothing less than a wholesale deterioration of its brand and alienation of its core customers (the customers with plenty of money to spend) and its channel link into the lucrative fragrance, body care, and clothing lines.
But look at the flipside. In the fashion business, sophisticated can turn stodgy in a heartbeat. And stodgy lingerie might as well be JC Penney.
Also not good.
I am no fashion expert, but it seems to me Victoria’s Secret has been catering a little too closely to conservative Wall Street analysts. It seems clear the brand could tone down the “sexy” and punch up the “feminine”, but they would be advised to not go too far.
So same store sales are off a couple of percentage points, most clothing retailers hit the wall last year. This is one of those times not to overreact.
For good or for ill, “sexy” is Victoria’s Secret. The Pink line has introduced a whole new market age demographic to the brand, a natural candidate to move into more “classic” product lines as they hit their professional career stride. At its core, sexy is what makes the company successful and what will form the foundation of their success for years to come.
Most companies would sell their soul for this problem.