With many years of experience in luxury menswear, including EVP at Hugo Boss, SVP at Biderman/Cluett Peabody and most recently COO at Corneliani, industry icon Roger Cohen is now running R&Co Advisors, his new brand-building service. There is virtually no one in the luxury market with stronger retail connections. Here, we chat with Cohen about lessons he’s learned and about how his experience can help companies grow in the United States.
MR: Can you share a few lessons learned from your years working with great brands?
Roger Cohen: The most important rule for international brands with worldwide distribution is consistent messaging. The communication visuals must be the same no matter the country. Second, you need a good regional media plan, in tune with your message and target consumer, followed by social media & PR, always on brand message. Third is a strong ground attack with your retail partners: store events, brand ambassadors and localized promotions. In this way, you bring the brand and its message as close to the consumer as possible.
MR: How does a brand stay true to its core DNA and still remain relevant?
RC: This is a 24-7 job. The company’s culture is its DNA and vice versa. It’s a matter of constantly keeping your message clear, both internally and externally. Just as people grow, so must brands. The concept of growth should be part of the mission statement and you must constantly evaluate your position in the market to measure your relevance.
MR: What are the key differences between selling in Europe and selling in the United States?
RC: In order to succeed in the U.S., you need department store distribution; you also must target and sell to the opinion leaders in your space and consider mono-brand distribution. In Europe, there are still more specialty stores in the high-end luxury segment, but this is rapidly changing as department stores there become more relevant in better menswear.
MR: Which is best to have: an agent, a distributor, sales reps, or a NY showroom?
RC: This depends on your aspirations. Ultimately it is best to set up a U.S. corporation in order to fully control your distribution, marketing and all related operations.
MR: How can a new brand compete with the well-established giants (e.g. Zegna, Canali, Boss)?
RC: Brand entry can be difficult: you need a credible story, a creative director of some note with a following among the cognoscenti, and a clear picture of the market logistics. You must also be patient, evaluating and responding to the consumer. Returns on investment do not happen overnight.
MR: Do you have any other tips?
RC: It helps to constantly evolve. At Corneliani, we recognized a need to address a more casual approach to dressing. We created the ID concept as a centerpiece to a more casual part of the collection but geared to the same core consumer. This also attracted a new customer with a more casual business lifestyle. Fortunately, our timing was perfectly aligned with the overall casualization of men’s wear. As is often the case in life, timing is everything.
MR: And how is your timing on this new business venture?
RC: With business so precarious, it couldn’t be better!
Editor’s note: Roger Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.