MILAN — Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, outerwear specialist Woolrich has followed through with its ambitious plans to focus on direct retail, upscale its e-commerce operations and leverage online marketplaces.
“The business mix has changed completely,” explained chief executive officer Stefano Saccone, stressing the renewed focus on directly operated retail, be it the brick-and-mortar network or online channels. Since joining the company in 2019 from VF Corp., the CEO has ferried Woolrich through a retail transformation, with the segment now accounting for 60 percent of sales versus 15 percent in the past.
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Although Saccone didn’t share company figures as per the policy of brand owner L-Gam, a Luxembourg-based investment firm backed by the princely family of Liechtenstein, he said the new business mix helped Woolrich achieve a 22 percent sales increase in 2021 versus the previous year.
This year started on a good note despite the Omicron variant and the Russian-Ukrainian war denting consumer confidence.
“The first months of the year are crucial for us as they coincide with the majority of orders for the fall season ahead,” which saw a 14 percent increase, the executive said. Revenues grew 76 percent in the first quarter versus 2021 and were up 10 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
In 2021, retail revenues jumped 44 percent versus 2020, lifted by a strong holiday season, with fourth-quarter sales in the channel growing 13 percent over 2019 levels. E-commerce sales jumped 75 percent compared to the previous year, tripling their share since 2019.
“Industry and consumer trends certainly helped, but the segment was really fueled by investments in technology and people,” Saccone said.
Along those lines, Woolrich landed on Farfetch late last year and on LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned retailer 24S in March. Saccone expects the former to represent a good chunk of Woolrich’s online sales and to help the brand test the waters and build brand awareness in untapped markets like China and South Korea.
Farfetch, he said, is also particularly strong among Russian consumers. The company generates less than 2 percent of its turnover in the country and the executive hopes for a swift resolution of the war to allow business to resume.
Online marketplaces are also seen as instrumental in further consolidating relevant geographies, including the U.S., which alongside Europe is an area of focus and growth.
Moving forward, Saccone sees the potential for pop-up activations, viewed as nimbler and more rewarding, in key destinations globally, especially in the U.S., which accounts for 10 percent of Woolrich’s sales.
“We are originally an American brand, very much rooted in the East Coast, and we have strong ambitions for the market,” Saccone said. “After two difficult years, it’s time for us to be bullish about the market,” he added, anticipating a push in the second half of the year.
In addition to its flagship stores on Wooster Street in Manhattan’s SoHo, Woolrich has a longstanding partnership with Bloomingdale’s, but plans to double down on temporary banners in Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester County. The company has 30 stores globally.
The same strategy will apply to other markets, Saccone noted, with an upcoming winter pop-up in the French ski resort destination Meribel and shops-in-shop to open at Japan’s Goldwin Retail Store’s network of department stores, Germany’s KaDeWe and Loden Frey, Paris’ Le Bon Marché, Amsterdam’s De Bijenkorf, El Corte Ingles in Spain and Jelmoli in Switzerland.
“Our goal is to develop a selective distribution in select retail destinations,” Saccone said. The strong retail footprint in Italy will be further consolidated with the opening of units in Florence, Bozen and Verona.
The executive has ambitions to spur omnichannel capabilities, too. “We’re embracing that route and our physical stores have already become fulfillment centers. We will be soon launching a ‘buy-online, return-in-store’ service to further engage our customers,” he explained.
A brand traditionally associated with outerwear and outdoor life, Woolrich has been ramping up its sustainable commitment as of late, enlisting Quantis to assess its carbon footprint across the supply chain.
“It’s humongous work as it involves the company as a whole, affecting the supply chain where the majority of carbon emissions are generated…but I feel it’s our duty as a company benefiting from global markets,” Saccone said.
The initiative flanks actions geared at the implementation of eco-friendly materials, like RDS-certified down adopted across the spectrum, organic cotton for 85 percent of its production, Nativa Protocol-approved wool for 74 percent of its collections, and has plans to expand the use of recycled nylon.
Under the Woolrich Outdoor Foundation umbrella, which groups the brand’s corporate social responsibility efforts, the brand has expanded the scope of its initiatives supporting the Istituto Oikos, Selva Urbana and Humana organizations in Italy, as well as U.S. NGOs including Parks & Trails NY and Billion Oyster Project.
Amid the war in Ukraine, Woolrich has been among the early respondents to the urgent appeal launched by the UNHCR. The outerwear specialist provided 2,500 winter garments donated via the Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Ukrainy NGO in Polonia, welcoming Ukrainian refugees.