I might be easily amused, but a tidbit in Monday’s USA Today (Cancun edition) made me chuckle. It cropped up in the context of an article on the market changes encountered by luxury retailers in today’s still uncertain economic climate. The article commented on retailers’ attempts to entice consumers to continue buying their (expensive) goods. One of the examples used to illustrate this was the launch of Coach’s Poppy line. As compared to Coach’s usual handbags and accessories, the Poppy line is more affordable; bags start at $198 (still a pretty penny but it’s all relative, I guess).
The president of Coach’s North American retail division, Michael Tucci, commenting on the recent launch, was quoted as saying: “The last thing I want you to get from this is that Coach got cheaper. We got more compelling from a value standpoint.”
I’m guessing Mr. Tucci (or his publicist) went to a fancy MBA school. “More compelling from a value standpoint”? I think I understand what he’s saying, but then again, only because I’m trying. And it still sounds suspiciously close to “cheap”, which is unavoidable because the point is — Coach did get cheaper. Wouldn’t it be easier to say “our quality hasn’t hit rock bottom, it’s just our prices that did”? Or, erm, something like that.
The whole Coach phenomenon (as it unfolded up here) has been interesting to watch over the last couple of years. I first heard of Coach a few months before their store at WEM opened, when I admired a co-worker’s handbag. It was a deep, rich red with the signature C’s and suede trim — different than anything else I’d seen around town. I had no clue who or what Coach was, but I quickly acquainted myself with the brand via eBay. That summer, in the space of a few months, I bought 5 bags of various vintages (including a gorgeous tobacco-coloured leather saddle bag dating back to the time when Coach still made its bags in the US; it’s one of the few that I’ve actually kept).
Luckily for my bank account, my infatuation with Coach was already on the wane by the time the WEM store opened. That’s when the real Coach craze took off in Edmonton. In an odd way, the whole thing reminded me of Facebook. One week, you’d see a handful of people with Coach bags. Six months later, half of your girlfriends had one. A year later, every other person on the street carried one (real or fake). Vancouver was ahead of the curve on this again, in large part no doubt because of its proximity to the US stores (and outlets) and the fact that it got its own Coach store way ahead of us. Nowadays, I see less Coach over there; maybe Vancouverites are already on to the next trend. I kinda wish the same would happen here.
And that’s the rub. In a way, I think that Coach is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success around here. It’s saturated the market so successfully that it’s barely hanging on to its “luxury brand” status. At the risk of sounding like a snob, luxury is not quite so ubiquitous (even counting Louis Vuitton, perhaps the most knocked-off brand in history). Nor does it “pander” to the masses the way that Coach has been doing with its outlet goods — which, let’s be honest, often tend to look and feel mass-produced (regardless of the brand’s actual production practices, that’s not the impression you want to make).
Don’t get me wrong, though; I have no problem with Coach trying to sell its bags to every child, teenager or woman on earth. I’m just not sure that, if that’s the plan, they can hold on to the “luxury” label for much longer. And if you take that label away, you’re going to have to be making your prices a whole lot more “compelling” in order to sell fabric bags.