How a UVA Darden Alumna Helps Coach Inc. Bag Renewed Retail Success

By Dave Hendrick


When the sheen begins to come off a luxury brand, it can be difficult to restore the luster.

Venerable handbag and apparel maker Coach Inc. once seemed on the precipice of losing its hard-won cache, a victim of changing consumer tastes, out-of-step designs and retail saturation in the wrong channels.

Speaking to the Retail & Luxury Goods Club at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Coach Divisional Vice President of North America Retail Finance Beth McCann (MBA ‘08) led students through the ups and downs of the company’s recent history to its current position of positive sales momentum and expanding product lines.

McCann, who oversees the company’s sales forecasting for its North America retail and outlet divisions, e-commerce and wholesale channels, said beginning in 2014 Coach embarked on a brand transformation that involved redesigning bags to deemphasize the iconic — but at the time overused — Coach logo, renovating more than 50 percent of the company’s retail fleet and reducing its online outlet flash site business.

“We were doing a lot of flash sales and the business had become way too large,” said McCann, who has been with Coach since graduating from Darden. “It was causing a lot of negative brand impression in the marketplace, as though we were a discount brand.”

While pulling back on the flash sales channel, the company simultaneously elevated the experience in its retail channel and tightened the reins on certain “silhouettes,” or product models, ensuring they were never offered in a discounted environment.

McCann said Coach has evolved into a data and analytics-centric organization in her time with the company, noting that her team has a daily forecast for each day of the current month and that she receives sales figures three-times-a-day from each store across the country.

Beginning on Thanksgiving and through the Black Friday weekend, McCann said her team is tracking outlet sales figures on a real-time basis, pulling back or accelerating promotions depending on how figures are trending.

“Black Friday is so large for the outlet channel, it has to be perfect execution,” McCann said. “There’s just no way to make up the sales volume if we miss the weekend.”

With the Coach brand refresh showing continued strength in the marketplace, the company has also accelerated a push into outerwear and men’s accessories and apparel, and increasingly promotes a personalized customized experience for customers both online and in retail.

“You can do analytics until the cows comes home, but if your product isn’t innovative and people don’t want to buy it, analytics aren’t going to change anything,” McCann said.

Coach is the largest segment in parent company Tapestry, the fashion company that also includes Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman.

McCann encouraged students interested in a career in apparel or luxury goods to network heavily and be willing to put in the legwork necessary to secure an internship or job in a field without a well-defined MBA recruiting pipeline. She also encouraged them to be open to working for a big box retailer, which she said often offered unparalleled hands-on training.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

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