Lacoste has come roaring back from obscurity to become one of the hottest sports/apparel brands around. The company’s US sales grew in the US of 1000% in 5 years. Not bad for a brand that was once languishing under General Mills’s ownership.
What can other brands learn from Lacoste’s comeback?
1. History Can Be Made Relevant to Today
Lacoste was established by Rene Lacoste, a brilliant French tennis player, who in the 1930s, won three French Opens, two Wimbledon championships and two US Opens. Lacoste are proud of their history and don’t try to hide it.
2. If You Have an Iconic Identity, Use It
Lacoste’s crocodile is one of the most widely recognized brand identities in the world .
3. Seize Relevant Trends
Lacoste profited from the return of the “prep”.
4. Don’t Be Scared to Innovate
A problem for classic brands, is that they are scared that they will loose their authenticity if they innovate. Lacoste weren’t afraid to evolve their iconic shirt, to appeal to a new generation of women.
5. Patience Pays
The company has opened just 46 stores since 1995. A smart strategy, slow and steady growth allows a solid brand foundation to be built.
6. Scarcity Adds Value
When Robert Siegel took over the brand in 2002, the first thing he did was to cut back on distribution, taking the brand away from mass retailers like Macy’s.
Lacoste is now at possibly the most difficult stage of its brand maturity. There’s an opportunity to “cash-out” and expand the brand rapidly through licensing, the brand has just signed a deal with Movado for watches. In 2005, it signed a $25 million deal with tennis star, Andy Roddick, that it could be tempted to over-maximize.
Lacoste’s return shows that brands with real history and authenticity have a surprising level of durability, they have the power to ride out storms and return a fresh, but only if that return is carefully managed.
I love it.
Incidentally, here is a bit of brand history (and fantastic cocktail party chatter) from the Lacoste site, that may or may not recount the story of how brand logos came to appear on the outside of an article of clothing (other than on buttons), instead of just on the lining or inside label:
The true story of the “Crocodile” begins in 1927. René LACOSTE liked to recount how his nickname became an emblem recognized throughout the world.
“I was nicknamed “the Alligator” by the American press, after I made a bet with the Captain of the French Davis Cup Team concerning a suitcase made from alligator skin. He promised to buy it for me if I won a very important match for our team.The public must have been fond of this nickname which conveyed the tenacity I displayed on the tennis courts, never letting go of my prey!”
“So my friend Robert GEORGE drew a ‘crocodile’ which I then had embroidered on the blazer I wore on the courts.
An attentive spectator at René LACOSTE’s Davis Cup matches was the winner of the BRITISH Womens golf title, Mademoiselle Simone THION de la CHAUME, who soon became his wife and constant support.
In 1933, René LACOSTE and André GILLIER, the owner and President of the largest French knitwear manufacturing firm of that time, set up a company to manufacture the logo-embroidered shirt. The champion had designed this for his own use on the tennis court, as well as a number of other shirts for tennis, golf and sailing – as can be seen in the first catalogue, produced in 1933.
To the best of our knowledge, this was the first time that a brand name appeared on the outside of an article of clothing – an idea which has since become extremely successful.
This shirt revolutionized mens sportswear and replaced the woven fabric, long-sleeved, starched classic shirts.The first LACOSTE shirt was white, slightly shorter than its counterparts, had a ribbed collar, short sleeves with ribbed bands and was made of a light knitted fabric called “Jersey petit piquéIt continues to offer the same quality, comfort and solidity on which it built its name and which constitute its uniqueness.
The Lacoste site does a great job of showing you what the brand is all about, and… I have to admit… (as much as I hate to) I might be getting back on the Lacoste train pretty soon. (Their optics and footwear are pretty cool.)