Interview: Lane Crawford President Andrew Keith On How To Beat China’s Luxury Slowdown

    The head of the luxury retailer reveals why the anti-corruption crackdown, Hong Kong protests, and luxury slowdown haven't curbed Chinese fashionistas' demand for curated style.
    Jing Daily
    Liz FloraAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    Lane Crawford President Andrew Keith. (Courtesy Photo)

    The past three years haven’t been easy for China’s luxury industry, but you might not realize that when talking to Lane Crawford President Andrew Keith. In the midst of a dramatic China growth slowdown for luxury brands and ongoing government corruption crackdown, the Hong Kong-based fashion retailer has gone full-speed ahead with its mainland expansion while posting sales growth rates in the double digits in-store and triple digits online. Although China’s luxury market has seen growth fall from 30 percent in 2011 to negative 1 percent in 2014, Lane Crawford has quadrupled its mainland locations during this time period: it opened a second Beijing store in 2012, a Shanghai flagship in 2013, and a Chengdu store in 2014.

    With a brand lineup including established fashion giants such as Dior and Gucci, edgy young labels including Alexander Wang, Acne, and 3.1 Phillip Lim, and rising Chinese designers like Ms Min and Chictopia, the department store has benefited from Chinese shoppers’ growing interest in a wider variety of brands even as spending on official “gifting” has come to a standstill. In addition, Lane Crawford has focused on an omnichannel approach that emphasizes both in-store sales and e-commerce—which helped it keep Hong Kong sales stable during the massive student protests last year.

    In order to learn more about how the company has defied the slowdown and what it has in store for the upcoming Chinese New Year and the rest of 2015, we caught up with Keith for an interview and got the insider scoop.

    Lane Crawford saw double-digit sales growth during the Chinese New Year period last year, despite the fact that China’s overall luxury market growth declined by 1 percent in 2014. Are you expecting similar results this year?

    Despite the growth slowdown in China’s luxury market, our stores continue to experience sales growth year-on-year with strong sentiment from both Hong Kong and Chinese consumers, and we expect this positive growth to continue through Chinese New Year. The number of Chinese arrivals in Hong Kong grew 18 percent in October and 24 percent in November 2014 compared with the same period last year, and that trend looks likely to continue which should positively impact our business.

    Luxury sales in Hong Kong were hit last year by the student protests and China’s anti-corruption campaign. What was your company’s experience with this slowdown, and how has it informed company strategy in 2015?

    We are a fashion business with limited typical gifting categories and hard luxury, so we have not been exposed to the impact of the anti-corruption measures in China.

    The Occupy protests in Hong Kong generally caused some location-specific impact on store traffic, most notably at Pacific Place, however, the overall impact for Lane Crawford was not significant. Our customers continued to shop in-store with their personal stylists while others preferred to shop online—our online business grew significantly on the same period last year and we also had several requests for our “trunk service” with our stylists taking a hand-selected wardrobe to our customers homes.

    Lane Crawford's Chengdu location, which opened in 2014. (Courtesy Photo)

    Lane Crawford has locations in Shanghai, Beijing, and Chengdu—in the face of the current luxury environment in mainland China, are you holding off on continuing this mainland expansion, or are plans still moving forward?#

    Our strategy is to create beautiful stores in strategic hubs—Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu—that work seamlessly with our online store, which provides reach across the entire market accessing cities where we would not open stores. We completed the store expansion with the opening of Chengdu in the first half of last year, just six months after the opening of the Shanghai flagship. Now we are driving all stores in all channels, creating a seamless experience for the customer, and enabling them to shop anytime, any way, any place. We are reporting double-digit comp store growth and triple-digit growth online. Our omnichannel customers are spending more and shopping more frequently than our single-channel customers. We are where we planned to be, irrespective of the economy, and well positioned for 2015 and beyond.

    We've seen a growing number of mainland Chinese shoppers opt for smaller, younger labels in recent years as they evolve beyond "mega-brands." Is this a trend that has had implications at Lane Crawford, and how big do you see it becoming in future?

    When we opened our store in Beijing in 2007, we introduced more than 300 new international brands to China for the first time and our customers responded immediately to the new and the niche in addition to our portfolio of well-established brands. We are driven by a mandate to bring the “new new,” to search the world and bring inspiration to those experimenting with and evolving their individual style. Some 40 percent of our product offer is dedicated to a new generation of designers and emerging talent, and in some cities these brands are extraordinary growth drivers.

    Chinese model Xiao Wen Ju in Lane Crawford's Spring/Summer 2014 ad campaign. (Courtesy Photo)

    Lane Crawford is known for its support of Chinese designers. Which Chinese labels or designers are you most excited about for 2015?

    We’ve had great success working closely with Ms Min, Helen Lee, and Chictopia, which we’ve carried since AW13 and have in all stores. For 2015, we are excited about our exclusive womenswear collaboration with Comme Moi, the Shanghai-based label from Chinese model, Lu Yan. The collections we are seeing from recent Chinese graduates are our ones to watch—young designers such as Xiao Li, Youjia Jin, and Ge Bai.

    We are thrilled with the exclusive menswear capsule from Shanghai-based designer Ziggy Chen. He has uncharacteristically used prints and embroidered fabrics to create pieces with his signature anatomical cuts just for us. We are also looking forward to launch Uma Wang’s men’s collection. She is best known for her use of unique fabrics and innovative silhouettes embodied in her collection and one of a kind pieces designed for Lane Crawford. The collections will be delivered in April for IFC in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and online.

    The Year of the Sheep is quickly approaching—what does Lane Crawford have planned for Chinese New Year promotions?

    For this Chinese New Year, Lane Crawford will be channeling the theme of “Reinterpretation,” playing on the color gold to wish everyone good luck and happiness in this exciting Year of the Sheep. Gold will be transforming the Lane Crawford space and adorning our customers by way of exciting collaborations.

    Mosaic Art Projects will be using gold floral firework overlay to embody the liveliness of spring in our stores and customers will be adorned with the perfect Chinese New Year accessory, complimentary “Luxe Tats” tattoos created by Chinese typographer, Cai Peng. And “Gold Pop” printed packets will be gifted to wish everyone good luck and happiness.

    Every year, Lane Crawford sends Chinese celebrities, fashion icons, and designers to the Met Gala in New York. Since this year’s theme is focused specifically on China, are you planning anything special?#

    We’ll soon see.

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