Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: How Asprey Lost Its Sparkle

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: How Asprey Lost Its Sparkle

Article excerpt

You do not need to be an expert in branding to realise that the rebirth of Asprey was a doomed venture. I have been exhorting my MBA students to visit the British luxury brand's flagship store on London's New Bond Street for the past six months because it is a case study in how not to revitalise a brand.

A visit to 167 New Bond Street instantly conveys two messages about Asprey.

First, its recent management blew millions on the store. Second, there isn't a single customer in the place. For these two reasons, Asprey is about to become one of the most notorious cases in recent branding history.

It is a far cry from the star-studded evening in May 2004 when Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou opened the doors on their refurbished 40,000ft2 retail 'masterpiece'. The entrepreneurs had made millions from licensing Ralph Lauren and then growing the Tommy Hilfiger brand. In 2000, they purchased Asprey & Garrard for dollars 150m. They then invested another dollars 150m in retail development - primarily on the London store and its equally extravagant sister store on 5th Avenue in New York.

Stoll and Chou were aiming for dollars 400m in sales, 40 international stores and a public listing by 2012. Lord Foster was hired as the architect.

Floor space was doubled and more than 23,000 products, all specially created for Asprey, were offered for sale. Originally Asprey had offered the British aristocracy fine silverware, leather goods, porcelain and jewellery. Its new owners expanded this to include more homewares, ready-to-wear fashion, shoes and other accessories. 'How foolish is it that there isn't an Asprey watch? An Asprey pen? An Asprey lighter?' asked Stroll. 'We plan to correct that.'

Once the New York and London stores opened, however, it became embarrassingly clear that something was very wrong. The traditional ultra-rich customer base had been scared off by a very public repositioning of the once-exclusive brand. And new customers were not interested in a brand they knew very little about. Huge overheads and relatively limited sales meant Asprey's new owners began to lose enormous sums of money very quickly.

Asprey's failed revitalisation provides some key branding lessons. First, successful luxury brands may service the rich and ostentatious, but they are always run frugally and with great thrift. …

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