Photo: Neiman Marcus
The reviews are (somewhat, at least) in: Target’s Holiday collaboration with Neiman Marcus has been, for the most part, a bust. Despite early frantic and excited exclamations the line was “one not to be missed!,” fashionistas and value-shoppers alike were soon decrying the collaboration as “ugly,” too expensive, and just overall a mis-step in strategy and product.
So…two hot retailers. A captive (and initially eager) shopping audience.
A peak point in the sales cycle. What went wrong?
It’s easy in retrospect to see where, strategically, the collaboration missed the mark(et). Overly-specialised and eccentric products (really? Capes-for-women? I’m open to experimenting fashion-wise, but not to spending $80 on an inflexible “fashion experiment” available at almost any vintage store) combined with massively mis-matched price points for consumers with pinched pockets and tighter budgets combined to sink this year’s collaboration.
Of course, it’s not just retrospect that explains why the Target-NM partnership did not work. While promoters of the project cited Isaac Mizrahi’s wildly successful 2002 collaboration (Isaac Mizrahi for Target) with the retailer as proof the Target consumer is hungry and will pay premium dollar for high-end collaborative projects (after all, the IM line resulted in more than $300 million over 5 years), much was, as in all things business and retail, overlooked in the comparison.
For starters, IM’s initial offering was, for all intents and purposes, far more appealing sartorially – and to not just middle America, but to the majority of Target consumers; featuring beautifully-tailored, elegantly-designed pieces appropriate for a variety of women and occasions, Mr. Mizrahi successfully combined high-fashion and quality production to create the in-demand line.
Furthermore, while the fashionista set knew IM, his up-market brand was still little-known off the runways and Rodeo Drive, thereby making the collaboration both new and unexpected (this meant then that the designer did, however, HAVE to deliver, since his name was not necessarily enough to immediately drive results).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what IM got right was the mix of PRODUCT and PRICE. Few consumers are open to spending $130 on a basic blazer at the same place they pick up macaroni salad (let alone $500 for a fashionable bike suitable more for a cruise in Central Park than, well, anywhere else), particularly for a brand (Thom Browne) that bears little weight in non-avant–garde circles.
IM got this part right – featuring $39 (fashionable) trench-coats and flats totaling less than $20, the line perfected the art of mixing high fashion and low(ish)/affordable prices. The collaboration that revolutionised and perfected high-fashion, mass-consumption partnerships managed to maximise this mix perfectly.
Target + Neiman Marcus, however, managed to massively miss the mark this time. In short – weird/ugly product(s) + premium price = collaborative failure.
Now, obviously, Target is going to be fine, continuing to assert its place atop the fashion-forward, widely-accessible box store mountaintop, but, in the meantime, the retail world can learn from this collaborative mis-match. While fast fashion continues to define retail expectations and price-points, owners and designers alike must be sure to avoid getting caught up in the “trend of the moment” and think – truly consider – to what, specifically, the consumer responds and, in turn, rewards with dollars. Most importantly, it’s necessary to glean the right message and lesson from retail (and business) history – one collaboration’s success does not necessarily guarantee another’s. Working once does not mean working for all time.
A lesson Target (and other retailers) were forced to learn this season.
Margaret Bogenrief is a partner with ACM Partners, a boutique crisis management and distressed investing firm serving companies and municipalities in financial distress. She can be reached at [email protected]
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