Q&A: New Aritzia CMO looks for U.S. growth
November 04, 2013 | Kristin Laird | Comments
After working on the launch of Aritzia‘s e-commerce site nearly a year ago, digital fashion expert Oliver Walsh has joined the Canadian clothing boutique as its first chief marketing officer.
The British expat spent the last four years at the helm of his own full-service creative agency called Wednesday, which counts Calvin Klein, Tory Burch, H&M, Armani, Gucci and Chanel among its clients. Having previously split his time between New York City and London, Walsh recently made the move to Vancouver for the Aritzia position. He tells Marketing how he plans to build the retailer’s profile in the U.S. and when it’s okay to add digital to the in-store experience.
What goals do you hope to achieve in your new position?
We only launched e-commerce last November, and it’s going incredibly well, growing incredibly quickly. It’s such an enormous opportunity and obviously something which I know a great deal about. That’s firmly on my agenda.
Hand-in-hand with that is U.S. growth. We’ve now got 15 stores in the U.S. and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what we can do, whereas in Canada pretty much everyone knows what Ariztia is; it’s pretty well-known and loved and respected for the quality of its stores and the clothes offering. In the U.S., really no one knows who Aritzia is, and what’s amazing is that they’re doing so well. Those 15 stores are performing incredibly well and outperforming huge competition with nobody knowing who they are. One of my top focuses is to raise the brand profile in the States.
How will you do that?
Nobody [in the U.S.] has awareness really of the Aritzia brand values or the quality of what it does. Aritzia sources the best fabrics from the best mills, they have the most impressive and ethical supply chain and a huge amount of talent here in Vancouver – creative ateliers, creative directors and designers and pattern cutters – really focusing on the fit and the quality of the garment. And their stores have the very finest quality materials, marbles and sound systems with a real focus on customer service.
All of these things, the quality aspects of it, it’s comparable to walking into a Chanel. The fact is they chose to pass the value on to the customer as opposed to keeping the price points high. And so what you end up getting is a silk fabric or a cut or a fit or a fashion item that would usually cost you $500 at Alexander Wang and yet it’s costing $150 from Aritzia. I think that whole notion of quality and how you can define the notion of quality fast fashion is something the U.S. doesn’t know. I think Canada knows it, but I also think it hasn’t perhaps been articulated. I intend to do that with all the forms of marketing.
Obviously, I’m quite digitally inclined and I think there’s a lot of room for digital innovation in order to be able to move quite quickly in communicating some of this. I think there are huge opportunities for us to be doing a lot of interesting digital marketing, whether that be through SEM, paid search, through collaborations with any of the big social platforms. On a more traditional basis, it’s about us getting that story out there using our retail environment more effectively, and thinking about PR and events and sponsorships and alignments. It’s incredibly exciting for me because what you’re not trying to do is craft a story out of nothing. I’ve got the product and the infrastructure behind me. All I need is to let people know is that it exists, which makes my life a lot easier.
What kinds of marketing initiatives have Aritiza launched in the past?
When they launched the Soho and Fifth Avenue locations in New York City, they collaborated with local bloggers. Aritzia has a longstanding association with arts and culture. The shopping bags have always had art photography on them; they collaborated with American photographer Ryan McGinley six years ago before anybody knew who he was.
They have this-long standing culture but haven’t celebrated it. I don’t think a lot of our customers know the quality and uniqueness of the artists with whom we collaborated on the bags. So even the small things like that, I’m going to celebrate a little more and let people know because I think there is that story there and it is interesting and it is credible.
How important is social media to Aritzia’s marketing mix?
Really important. We haven’t got a bad base by any means. We have about 130,000 Facebook followers, about 110,000 Instagram followers , but there are huge gains to be won there. We’ve got a few interesting things up our sleeves. You can’t be afraid to experiment because nobody really knows all the rules and they’re changing all the time. As long as you’re approaching it in a credible way and in a creative way that is true to what your brand stands for I think there’s very little to be afraid of in experimenting with that.
More and more retailers are implementing digital in-store. Is that part of your strategy?
A number of the digital experiences that people shout about are often a little bit gimmicky, and they often do it to grab a headline, and not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. For me what’s interesting is when you can use digital technology to be a real benefit to the customer and more service-orientated.
We hear people talk about omni-channel, but very rarely achieve it. It requires an investment and a certain approach in your infrastructure. Aritzia has such an impressive infrastructure and an agile and technology-driven culture. Technology-facilitating customer service improvements and enhancements is really important.You don’t want to do digital for digital sake. You can tie in the richness of digital to help associates to sell better, help them find and allocate stock from across our inventory network.