PARIS – If the billboards announcing its opening or the slender storefront are not enough to attract the attention of passers-by on the Champs-Élysées, the monumental screen at the entrance should do the trick for the opening this week of the flagship Lacoste Arena. .
“With Roland Garros approaching, it will be great,” said Thierry Guibert, CEO of the French brand and its Swiss parent company MF Brands Group.
But before tennis’ elite players battle it out on the court, the three-story store at 50 avenue des Champs-Élysées is already a champion itself.
At 17,200 square feet, it is four times the size of the current Parisian flagship, located higher up the avenue since the early 2000s, and is the brand’s largest retail space in the world.
A two-year overhaul was needed to redesign the space, which was once a cinema, which takes pride of place on the ground floor in a 1960s building built by film production and distribution company Gaumont .
The result is a series of interconnected spaces where the full breadth of the brand’s offering unfolds. With some 9,500 pieces on display, here are crocodiles – lots of them.
Starting with its emblematic polo shirts, their dedicated corner on the first floor visible from the entrance. Visitors can climb the steps directly there or check out the sneaker selection on the ground floor, a category that has seen strong growth since returning in-house in 2018, Guibert said.
A Lacoste Champs-Élysées capsule will also be available exclusively in the store, with the French brand holding the rights to use the name of the famous avenue. “Michel Lacoste, [son of founder René and former CEO,] registered the name about three decades ago, but it had never been fully developed,” the exec revealed.
An interactive tunnel, with tennis balls projected onto the floor that can be hit and heard bouncing, leads to another room dedicated to the brand’s tennis, golf and sportswear offerings.
A neon sign reading “Lacoste fait son cinema”, a play on the store’s former incarnation and a French phrase that loosely translates to “Lacoste’s antics”, leads to a cavernous basement with another screen XXL.
For the opening, it will host an exhibition around Gaumont, the first of a rotating program of exhibitions and activities such as an indoor tennis court or a golf simulator.
“Experience is and will be an important variable in a retail space. And that goes for physical and digital doors,” he said, conceding that it might seem paradoxical to open a store of this size at a time when digital sales account for 30% of business.
And don’t expect this to become a gateway to a Lacoste metaverse just yet.
“Making NFTs and virtual crocodiles to sell is not what we do. The metaverse is a place where [a brand] must position itself, but in which it must give meaning. Those who position themselves without substance will pay a high price,” he said, defining the metaverse as “a relay for brand equity” and “a world of communities”.
The community sits at the top of the stairs and escalators leading to the first floor and its glass skylight, with a wall of screens called Croco Wall. It will feature films around the brand and images taken in the in-store photo booth.
It’s also home to Lacoste’s main men’s and women’s collections, as well as a customization station where patches, embroidery and lace locks can be added to select garments, shoes and accessories in as little as 10 minutes.
Nearby, a space dedicated to sustainable development offers a take-back program and the brand’s circular patterns, presented on hangers made from recycled materials. But the real heart of the matter is the durability of the product, Guibert said, adding that it was five to seven years old and that the brand plans to double that within three years through technical and textile innovations.
In the meantime, shoppers will be able to compare existing shirt designs through a carousel inspired by the machine used to make its signature pique knit and browse that rainbow of shirts seen upon entering.
For Guibert, this flagship is an important step in the transformation initiated upon his arrival at the head of the French brand in 2015, doubling by 2021 its turnover of 1 billion euros in 2014. The objective is to increase it to 4 billion euros within five years. .
But it is a step that could not have been taken if digital purchases had not accelerated to their current level.
“It’s the weight of digital [component] which makes this store cohesive. the [combination of] the online and offline experience is critical to the relationship we have with our customers,” he said, pointing to in-store features such as QR codes that can be scanned using the device photo of a smartphone to access size availability and request a trial.
It also heralds a new generation of stores that will complement the digital sales force, which it expects to reach 40% within two to three years.
The new concept will be rolled out in key cities, starting with an 8,500 square foot store on London’s Regent Street in February 2023 and Shanghai later that year.
Rather than expanding the retail network to 1,100 units across 98 countries, Guibert said the strategy would be to scale back stores in the future, starting with not renewing leases for older stores that are too small. to house a large assortment of Lacoste’s offer.
Overall, Guibert said Lacoste had weathered the pandemic better than most and recovered quickly, ending 2021 with an 18% increase over 2020 figures and a 3% increase over 2019. , which he considered a banner year.
Current projections for 2022 show revenue up 24% from January to April compared to last year’s figures, and Guibert expects the rest of the year to continue on a positive trajectory, with a double-digit growth in the years to come.
He attributed these results to Lacoste’s enduring sporty-casual identity, infused with the talent of the moment from creative director Louise Trotter; an infusion of young consumers attracted by buzzing collaborations with Supreme, Bruno Mars or the Minecraft video game, and the robustness given by its lack of dependence on any particular territory.
The United States remains Lacoste’s largest single market, accounting for a growing 19% share of business, with France ranking just behind at 18%. On a larger scale, the rest of Europe represents a total of 30%, also showing strong growth. Asia accounts for 25 percent.
“The brand is more desirable than it has ever been. Five years ago, our client’s average age was 40 and we’ve shaved seven years off now. The collaborations have given visibility to the younger generations”, said the executive, also reaffirming the weight of a “winning strategic choice to invest in a premium digital experience since 2015” which allows the brand to better cross the current succession of crises than some of its competitors.
He also described Lacoste as “a brand for everyone” and an “anti-manual case” in terms of consumer targeting that sees “old people, young people, 50s, locals, tourists” mingling in store.
“When I arrived [at the helm]I was asked what I would do if people in the suburbs wore [the brand]. I replied that I hoped they would continue for a long time because the day they stopped would mean the brand was no longer relevant,” he said.
Going forward, the brand will focus its efforts on achieving a 60-40 split between its retail and wholesale sales, compared to the current 40-60 split, and on growing its menswear business. women to a share of 25 to 30%, against 17% today.
The opening of Lacoste Arena comes as luxury brands flock to the avenue, which drew some 100,000 people a day before the pandemic, with 71% of traffic coming from tourists, and renovation plans are coming to fruition. The Comité Champs-Élysées lobby group, representing business and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, has unveiled a two-part plan to be executed before the 2024 Summer Olympics, according to reports in French media.
The executive declined to share sales forecasts for the flagship, but said he expects one million visitors a year, especially as the Olympics approach and Asian tourists return to Paris. “If we achieve this goal, the figure will certainly be interesting,” he concluded.