As Hermès unveils its new store at The Avenues in Kuwait we talk to Vice President (Sales & Distribution), Florian Craen on the outlook of the retail market for the brand.
The House of Hermès prides itself on offering unrivalled experiences to its customers. A brand that has never followed the trends but has continued to stay true to itself and its heritage for many decades, Hermès is in a league of its own in the luxury market. Its leather goods are perhaps the most recognisable in the world and its ready-to-wear creations reflect the craftsmanship and quality that is at the heart of the brand. So it is no surprise then, that when it comes to the store experience Hermès strives to be the best. The recent unveiling of the Hermès store in Kuwait marked a new chapter of retail for the brand in the region. Located in the prestigious The Avenues in Kuwait City, the new store presents a full transformation of Hermès’ presence in Kuwait.
The two-storey store façade is composed of black marble granite and golden frames. It features huge windows displaying creative pieces and the latest Hermès objects. The store is a staggering 513 metres squared which is double the size of the previous store in Kuwait, meaning it is even more accessible to customers and their experience is an even more memorable one. It showcases the full offering of Hermès’ product range to give clients a broader and more dynamic array of the Parisian house’s collections.
At the entrance on the ground floor, clients are welcomed by the iconic Hermès Faubourg-Saint-Honoré mosaic. Visitors first discover the famous silk collections, perfumes and leather goods. An area for the men’s section carries ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories, and a made-to-measure salon which allows clients to order bespoke clothing. You’ll also find a jewellery and watches room on the ground floor. Upstairs, clients are introduced to the women’s universe, including ready-to-wear collections, a shoe salon and the new Hermès Beauty. For the first time in Kuwait, the new store also introduces Hermès’ furniture among its collections for the home, together with a complete range of the house’s extensive tableware, fabric and wallpaper.
Heading up the opening of this store and responsible for the global expansion of Hermès is Vice President, Sales & Distribution Florian Craen. Craen has been with the Parisian House since 1997 and has grown with the brand, taking on his current position in 2013. Craen first joined Hermès as Regional Manager and subsequently as Managing Director of the Travel Retail division in 2001. In 2006 he became Managing Director of the Hermès branch in the United Kingdom and in 2009 of the North Asia area (China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Korea). Here we discuss with Craen the store opening in Kuwait as well as the outlook for the future of retail at the house and the secrets to preserving success in today’s everchanging market.
To what extent do you think it’s important to bring the flagship experience to localised markets?
Hermès has a limited number of stores – just over 300 – which is the same number that we had seven or eight years ago. We made the choice not to open more stores but of course, this means that we have to make sure the ones we do have are exceptional. As the collections grow, it requires us to have bigger stores. We want clients to find a local touch in their city, so in Kuwait, for example, I want customers to go to the store and nd an outstanding environment, a great product offering and the best service that is relevant to them. We need to bring a local experience to them. We are very proud to be partnering in the GCC with Al Mana Retail and we always aim for our teams to be as local as they can. We wish to bring the best of Hermès to each of the local markets.
To what extent do you think having this modular is crucial today for a brand to keep its footfall to the boutique consistent?
We are very aware that probably the biggest entry to a brand today is through digital. This means that we need to make sure that the store experience is completely outstanding. Because if people are visiting the stores for nothing more than to learn about the brand, they will go online. I believe our stores offer an experience – places where customers are offered an experience, given advice, the chance to discover activations or have their pieces tailored – it’s not just about getting access to the products anymore because you can do that online, it’s about everything around it. Funnily enough, the digital era is changing the whole dynamics of retail and our lives, but it is also taking us back to basic retail, which is ultimately spending more time in the stores.
You are one of the few houses that did not ride the wave of social media influencers – what can you tell us about that?
For us, it was merely a natural move not to get into this. If you look at the history of the House we have never been involved with celebrities, you never see famous models embodying our brand – no one is embodying Hermès. When it comes to social media influencers it would be too different for us to talk to our audience in this way, we naturally stepped aside from this.
What are the challenges a House like Hermès faces today?
There are many, but I would say the true challenge is to remain ourselves while growing. In many ways, we talk about the company in the same way as when I joined over twenty years ago. Two decades later we are still using the same words: quality, craftsmanship, long- lasting, Parisian style and elegance. The words remain the same but the size of the House has changed. So of course, there is a challenge around guiding and leading our developments while remaining true to who we are. When you talk about craftsmanship you talk about long-lasting products and it takes a lot of time and effort for this, so the size of what we’re talking about is completely different from twenty years ago, but the job we’re doing is the same. If you went to visit our atelier today, it is the same as it was fifty years ago, but we have to pay close attention to what we do because it doesn’t take too much to divert from the track. If you look at the digitalization of the world we could have said ten years ago that what we had been doing for 100 years won’t work the same way. anymore so we need to change. But we decided to adapt our DNA to the changing times. It’s not that we don’t change, we constantly change, but it’s an evolution rather than a revolution.
People in the Middle East have a huge affinity with the Hermès brand – what can you tell us about what’s coming in terms of growth in the region?
The ambition for us is to do better in the locations that we are already present. The goal is not necessary to open more stores. We have no immediate projects although we have a store in Beirut that we are very proud of even though it is dif cult there at the moment. We have seven stores in the Middle East – six in the GCC plus Lebanon, and our commitment is to allow each of them to shine. With Dubai, we will continue to grow and other destinations in the region will be a natural step for us one day, but at the moment we are committed to growing our seven stores. What we’re witnessing today in Kuwait is what we are committed to doing and that is to transform each of our stores into a place of local experience where local clients will feel emotionally connected.
What can you tell us about the launch of Hermès Beauty – how did it come to life?
As often at Hermès, it was based on a vision. There was a collaborative under the ages of Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Artistic Director of Hermès, a community of creatives came up with a very interesting proposal that also echoes the brand. The decision to enter this market took us years, but I would say it happened thanks to a group of creative minds who made a great proposal. A creative team builds the objects and then we, as the sales and retail teams, create an internal market where all of the store managers from around the world come together and tell us if they would buy each particular product for their stores. This is how we decide on whether to launch something or not. In Dubai, for example, we have two stores so two teams come and they don’t necessarily buy the same thing, so when our clients visit the two stores they don’t necessarily see the same products. So there is real creativity in our process.
What is one thing that you haven’t achieved yet that you would still like to do?
In my job you can never be satisfied with what you’ve achieved. It’s about emotions and customer experience, so every time I do something I wish I could have done it better. It’s an endless quest because customer expectations change and our expectations change. The store in Kuwait is a store that we wouldn’t have had ten years ago. It’s unique in that you won’t find the same concept anywhere else in the world and that’s something that has always been our signature. So to answer your question, there are a lot of things that
I think we should be continuing to improve. Customer expectations change, people are very well informed and they have access to anything at any given moment. Our client base has changed. So it’s a very challenging environment compared to what it was before.
In terms of communication, Hermès is very tactical, ensuring it is in the right places at the right time – do you think that over visibility kills desire?
There is a contradiction between visibility and success. The more you are desired the more you have success, but the more you’re successful the less desirable you become because you’re everywhere. So it’s a fine line to balance that and that’s why we made the choice, that although we are growing a lot as a company, we don’t want to over-expose the brand. That’s why we haven’t expanded the number of stores. They are bigger and different of course, but we don’t need more stores. I believe that a certain degree of selectivity and scarcity is appropriate.
You oversee the global market – how would you asses the market in the Middle East in recent times?
It’s an interesting market because it is probably the most global-local market. We have a truly genuine local client base that’s very loyal to their store and our store managers can even name some of the clients, we have a very personal relationship. At the same time, they are the most global clients because they either have second homes or they travel all the time, so we see them all over the world. I always refer to this part of the world as being very local and loyal and yet, very international and global at the same time. But there is a very strong local attachment to the store for sure.
Speaking of loyalty, are you noticing that the younger clientele of today has no loyalty anymore for a specific brand, and what is your strategy to make sure that you keep the existing clients?
I always try not to generalise but the truth is it’s true that behaviour in different generations can be quite different. But I always try not to generalise between different clients. We certainly have in some countries people who want to build relations, even at a young age and they are very proud of being known to the brand. I’m quite impressed that even young clients try to connect with us and this is the way we build a relationship with them. I don’t think it’s that young clients are less loyal to a certain brand, I would say people are more interested today in having a diversity of brands. So they have their loyalty but it’s a different type of loyalty than what we have seen in the past. But there is still a very strong appetite for connections and bonds and I see this even with young clients.
In your opinion, what is the first thing that any brand that wants to succeed today should avoid?
We all make mistakes but the only thing I would say is to stick to what you do well and don’t do anything that could harm this. For Hermès, what I think we do well is the products and ultimately this is the only thing that matters. It has to be a well-manufactured beautifully crafted long-lasting object and for us, we must resist the temptation of doing it differently. Either marketing it differently or leading the production process differently or changing the raw materials. Stick to what you do best and protect it. For us, if there is one thing we need to protect it’s the genuine craftsmanship which is at the heart of the House.
Do you feel a big responsibility carrying the legacy of the brand?
I honestly don’t feel like there is a big responsibility because I have always experienced and lived internally through the house so it’s not a matter of steering it. I’ve never thought I was carrying the responsibility or burden of the distribution or sales of the house alone. It’s a collective work with people whom I have grown with within the House and the way that we manage it is very collective. It’s not a one-man show at any level. Everyone respects one another and their roles.
What are the common codes between you as a person and Hermès as a brand?
In the end, I think the house creates personalities and personalities create the house. I’m very touched by the expression of the house and the fact that it’s not about the logo or a person or a designer – it’s about a collective of creatives, artists and salespeople and if you take these three there is a common link that we all have which is to hide behind the signature of the house. For me, I was always touched by this and I always felt comfortable in this environment.