En route to Dallas, Texas. I am intrigued to find out if Dallas has a Giorgio Armani boutique. It’s not exactly Armani country, but then again it is oil-rich. On the positive side I am dressed from head to toe in Giorgio Armani for the trip, and my bag contains a nice new suit purchased earlier this week, so at least the brand will be well represented for a couple of days.
Back in downtown Zurich and waiting for a connecting train, I am burning an hour drifting around the shops. But something has changed at Giorgio Armani since my last critical visit:-
Hmm. Perhaps just a coincidence, but within a few weeks of some negative commentary this branch is now closed for refurbishment.
My more egoistic side wants to believe that someone at Armani reads this blog – and more importantly reacts to it. Maybe (and more likely) I am just getting good at spotting strengths and weaknesses in the way Armani is presented. Maybe (most likely of all) this is simply part of a scheduled maintenance programme, and this store was already listed for an upgrade.
But whatever the reason, I have to say I find it quite reassuring that Armani management has decided this store was deemed below par, because compared to several others, it really was.
I am intrigued to see what they will do to make this store better, and to find out if this is part of a broader Giorgio Armani upgrade programme.
In recent days I have begun to wear Armani almost all the time – to work, on the street, around the house. I now own around 35-40 pieces of Giorgio Armani or Prada, and as I commented to my wife just last week, it is getting harder to dress in anything but Armani. Today as I sit in my office at the computer I am wearing Giorgio Armani shirt, pants, belt and sweater, and Prada shoes.
So what has been the impact? Perhaps a good illustration is to recount one nice story from work just last week.
I went to my head office, where I am well known, and entered one of the other departments. The office was empty but several staff were gathered at the coffee area outside chatting. One of my colleagues came running into the office after me and said “Can I help you?”, as if talking to a stranger, and then did a slightly odd double take. I thought it was a little odd at the time, and just said I wanted to leave some papers, which I did and left.
I found out the next day that this lady then confessed to her colleagues that she had not recognized me, despite having worked with me for more than two years. The story was related to me by another colleague standing in the coffee group. Several other people have commented that I look thinner or different – one (Italian) even asked if I was being dressed by Armani nowadays.
On the street I have noticed that I get a lot of quick, almost furtive glances from both men and women. To be honest I am used to anonymity, but now that I have noticed this attention I watch out for it and mentally keep count as I walk along a street. In stores I have noticed that attendants are more attentive, willing to spend more time with me than before, somehow taking me more seriously. This is especially true in the high end stores.
Finally I think I feel better presented and more stylish than ever in my life. Wearing these clothes has become the norm, not the exception. The clothes feel comfortable, I know they look good, and that makes me more relaxed.
I talk a lot about price on this journal, but it is now never a factor if I decide I want to buy something; I am however quite selective about what I buy, perhaps more so than at the start of this project. Even within the Giorgio Armani line I have found a sub-niche that suites me: the classic lines that cling a little bit around the torso and flow off the body to a single break at the shoeline. One assistant in the Munich shop has said that now she knows “my style”, she will call me when new things arrive that work.
It’s an interesting new outlook.
Earlier in this blog I discussed designer outlet stores, and mentioned I would visit one or two just to see what they were like. True to my word, yesterday I visited the Armani Outlet store in a small village near Milan.
If I had made a special trip to visit the Armani factory outlet, I would have been a bit put out. Luckily I was passing the tiny village of Vertemate con Minoprio en route from Switzerland to Tuscany, so a short detour wasn’t a big stretch; but this is not an easy spot to find unless you go looking deliberately.
Unlike the Google StreetView image below, the building does now have a brand – Armani Outlet:-
And inside it’s a proper shop, with fitting rooms and decor almost to the same level of elegance as an Emporio Armani store, just a little rougher at the edges:-
But what became fairly clear fairly quickly is that this is not Giorgio Armani purist territory. The vast majority of clothing is Emporio, Collezioni or Jeans. There are a few Giorgio Armani pieces, but they are very few, and the kind of things that I would bypass on a regular shopping trip to a boutique. Sizes are also a bit hit-and-miss.
None of this is a surprise. Outlets started life as a way to move old, damaged or unsold goods, and the Giorgio Armani garments on display seem to me to be the overstocked, unpopular items and sizes. Equally apparent is that factory outlet stores tend to attract the price-sensitive mid-market customers shopping to a reasonable clothing budget. These are the guys who want to buy Emporio Armani but don’t want to pay for the service level and a prime retail location. These topics have been well studied by academics at my alma mater, INSEAD.
This project, in contrast, is deliberately at the high end of quality, design and therefore price, and it is not surprising I was disappointed and unsatisfied by the outlet concept. As I said once before, there is a cognitive dissonance in shopping at an outlet to achieve my personal goals.
Despite these drawbacks, after an hour of determined and disciplined browsing I did find one cashmere top and a nice leather belt, both with what looked like healthy reductions from full retail. The discounts look quite impressive at first glance, as you can see in this ticket from the jersey I acquired:
However, as low as these prices seem to be, they probably weren’t that far off an end-of-season 50% sale in a Giorgio Armani boutique, and for a purist the weak, out-of-date selection and small price differential just confirmed my original views: outlets are not worth a special trip for a dedicated black label customer building a wardrobe.
Later this week I will be travelling by car to Italy, via Switzerland, and it just so happens I will drive right past one of the largest Giorgio Armani outlets in Italy, near Lake Como. Google Streetview of the address makes it look like a pretty anonymous place – probably deliberately so, to avoid polluting the brand image – but I have heard there are riches to be found, and since I am picking up an expensive t-shirt habit (Giorgio Armani t-shirts are cleverly designed to smooth bumpy body shapes) I figured it was worth a short stop en route to Florence to see what I can find. It’s not my preferred GA shopping method, but I did say I would check them out, so look out for a report in due course.
I travel quite a bit on business each year, and have noticed that although you can regularly find Hermes, Bulgari, and Gucci, there are pretty much no Giorgio Armani boutiques at airports around the world. Maybe I just haven’t spotted one yet, but if there isn’t one at Tokyo, London, Munich or Paris, I would be surprised if they were elsewhere.
You do often however see Emporio, as well as the cosmetics as a store-in-store. In fact it seems like there is a deliberate focus on opening these second-tier stores in airports, with new openings in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, London and Paris, amongst several others.
I am drifting through the verdant English countryside today, wondering about why this would be a corporate policy. Why does it make more sense to offer the mid-level brands rather than the black label?
Is there a cost-effectiveness issue with airport stores? If so, why do the other brands – especially Hermes – find it profitable? Hermes must be choosing a high price/low volume strategy, but it seems like Armani, by focussing on EA, goes for a higher volume/lower price approach. That would be an interesting choice; most MBA courses will help you understand that lowering price has a disproportionate impact on volume required to hit the same profitability.
Maybe it is to protect exclusivity? This makes more sense for the Giorgio Armani brand – some airports are pretty utilitarian places. But again why doesn’t Hermes reach the same conclusion?
Perhaps it is a stock vs. time issue; they cannot keep enough stock on hand to satisfy the wide range of demands from impulse airport shoppers, who have just a few minutes to spend browsing. This could be possible, but does it sound plausible? Not really.
Or maybe they simple want to cluster their boutiques – all 75 of them – in high density repeat-business areas, rather than catching transient business.
I am still not sure. Given the intense airport investment in other sub-brands, it’s clearly a strategic choice by Armani management. But the core of the logic escapes me, as I have seen with my own eyes that there are potential customers passing through. Today I queued at immigration behind a supermodel called Jennifer Ohlsson, carrying a red Chanel wallet and wearing clothes that looked too well cut to be anything other than the best labels. Surely travelling clientele like that would be solid targets for the big brands?
Whatever the reason, sometimes with an hour to kill at an airport I would like to visit a GA boutique and cannot. It is a conundrum.