NEW YORK— If it weren’t for his famous last name, David Lauren might just be another dude married to a woman with a famous last name; in this case Lauren Bush, the grand daughter and niece of two former U.S. presidents.
(Lauren Bush Lauren? Really?)
And if weren’t for his success as a top fashion marketing executive, David Lauren might just be another trust fund kid mooching off his famous father.
But numbers don’t lie and judging by the strong performance of the Ralph Lauren Corp., David Lauren, the company’s executive vice president of advertising and marketing since 2001, has very much established himself on merit and not just birthright.
In November, the company said second quarter sales jumped 24 percent to $1.7 billion while profits rose 13 percent to $235 million. Online sales increased 25 percent.
In some ways, Ralph Lauren is riding a general wave of success among American luxury retailers. Upscale stores like Nordstrom and Tiffany’s have reported strong sales.
Ralph Lauren, in particular, represents “classic American fashion,” which is “very much alive to the current sensibilities of upper income shoppers,” said Minneapolis-based retail consultant Flora Delaney.
But traditional luxury retailers like Ralph Lauren have also pursued smart, digital marketing strategies to broaden their customer base, she said.
“The high end brands have the capital to invest” into new tech driven campaigns, Delaney said. “In order to be relevant to shoppers, they need to be able to invest into the alternative channels to talk to their customers. You can’t only stay relevant to the 40, 50 year-old and above crowd.”
Which is probably the reason why the National Retail Federation invited Lauren to deliver a keynote speech on using digital technologies to market an old, iconic luxury brand.
Sporting wavy black hair and more than a passing resemblance to his dad, Lauren, 38, says he is not particularly tech savvy. What he does understand, however, is how to properly use technology in service to the brand.
“We fuse art, fashion, and technology,” Lauren said. “We just don’t sell clothes. We sell dreams. You buy that tie because you want access to that world.”
“There is no secret,” he continued. “It’s about finding the right technology to help you tell the story.”
Under Lauren’s leadership, the 44-year-old company has transformed itself into a cutting edge, tech-driven fashion retailer.
Ralph Lauren has done everything from hosting virtual fashion shows to developing iPhone apps that allow customers to design their own outfits, which other shoppers can view and purchase at Ralph Lauren stores.
It might seem odd that a retailer fond of polo, tennis, and yachting would so enthusiastically embrace a mass medium like the Internet. But Lauren said he recognized early on how the Internet could really drive sales.
“Luxury brands were not on the Internet,” Lauren said. “But we knew the Internet was not just a cheap place to get coupons.”
During the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Ralph Lauren rolled out its virtual stores, essentially a row of branded kiosks, so “customers could get comfortable with the idea of buying a $5,000 tuxedo on the Internet,” he said.
Over the years, the company has introduced 24-hour, touch manipulated store front windows inspired by the futuristic sci-fi thriller Minority Report and bought ads on the New York Times iPad app that streamed live Fashion Week events.
“It’s not just about age demographics,” Lauren said. “Any age can buy our products if we excite them in the right way.”
In 2010, the retailer created a stir in London and New York with its Ralph Lauren “4D” event. The company beamed giant, high resolution holographic images onto a building in which polo players morphed into perfume bottles. The retailer then released actual fragrances into the crowd.
Lest you wonder if any of these bells and whistles actually generates results, here are some numbers.
For Fiscal 2011, Ralph Lauren’s total sales grew 14.3 percent to $5.5 billion while profits jumped 18.3 percent to $568 million.
So whatever David Lauren is doing, he must be doing it right.