Bonjour! Simone Perele eyes store expansion

simone-perele-shopFor more than 40 years, Australian women have appreciated the delicate lacy details and feminine collections of French lingerie brand, Simone Perele, but now, the brand is set to expand its physical store footprint across the country, with the opening of its fourth store in the world in Bondi Junction Westfield before the end of September.

Over the next two to three years, the brand is planning to launch 10-15 more stores in shopping centres across Australia and plans are currently underway for the launch of a new localised e-commerce offering in October.

The premium boutique will be the fourth bricks-and-mortar store for the retailer in the world. Up until now, the brand was mostly stocked in Australia in David Jones, independent retailers, Simone Perele outlets and the standalone store in Hawthorn, Victoria.

“We’re the oldest subsidiary of Simone Perele outside of France, so there are lots of people who know the brand and when they see this new beautiful way to shop and experience the brand in a mall, which is a place we’ve never been before, we think they’ll embrace it,” says CEO Tim Rosenfield.

The concept for the new Simone Perele boutique was created by Parisian architect Jeff van Dyke, who was also behind the design of Givenchy’s and Salvatore Ferragamo’s stores. The facade of the store will feature a large piece of beautiful curved glass and a wrought iron window frame, reminiscent of a Parisian boutique on the Champs-Elysees. The store will also showcase luxurious custom joinery and marble, gold and copper features.

According to Rosenfield, the rollout of the stores and the launch of the e-commerce site signify Simone Perele’s move towards offering a smooth omnichannel experience for the customer.

“We had an ‘aha!’ moment and realised we could double or triple our market growth, just by rolling out what we do well, beyond the confines of a department store into the rest of the mall,” says Rosenfield.

“I firmly believe the future of retail is increasingly complex and diversified. We had a time when there were just independent retailers and department stores, then came outlet malls and now there’s online retailing and specialty retailing – people can find their preference to shop. They might not always be an online shopper or a department store shopper – they will move channels.”

Shopping centres are integral to the launch of the new Simone Perele stores, largely because of the high footfall, which remains high, despite the challenges from online, explains Rosenfield. It also offers the brand the chance to attract a new broad range of shoppers who choose not to visit department stores, but prefer specialty retail.

Back to basics

In recent times, bricks-and-mortar has seen a comeback as both traditional and online retailers have invested in creating stores for a personalised experience for the customer. It also gives retailers the opportunity to offer a more tailored customer experience – it’s a return to the fundamentals of basic retail.

“People understand customer service is important, but I think today, that can be misconstrued as getting it done in the fastest possible way. Our customer isn’t necessarily interested in [shopping in] the fastest possible way,” explains Sarah Cohen, marketing manager at Simone Perele.

“Every single person is unique and our staff are trained to understand what it is that you value – that could be time, price, convenience – or a chat for half an hour in the change room about your breast cancer journey, which means we then convert all our bras to front-fastening and put seams in for your prosthesis.”

According to Rosenfield, Simone Perele “owns” the fitting room experience, something which the team developed during the launch of the Hawthorn store two years ago.

“So when someone’s in the change room, there’s no awkward ‘peeking the head out from around the curtain’. There’s pure comfort, but it’s to the level the customer wants. If she’s in a hurry, she can find the product easily on the shelves with our help,” he says.

“Or if she wants a full experience, we welcome her with champagne in some of our stores. We also have an organic blend of herbal tea we created ourselves with different ingredients to encourage calmness and healing,” adds Cohen. “At the same time, we understand if you don’t have time to have a herbal tea, because you’ve got kids screaming in a pram outside, so we’re going to get it sorted for you quickly.”

Each change room also has a light switch for customers to flick when they require assistance, “instead of being half-naked, peering through the curtain and seeing a hundred people walk by”, as Cohen explains.

Under foot, the floors are covered in a luxurious thick carpet and above, the soft lighting has been created to encourage relaxation. There are also covers placed on the mirrors inside the change rooms, so customers can choose when they’re ready to see themselves.

Simone-Perele-model

Language associated with intimate apparel is bad for SEO

A re-education in lingerie

Despite its long heritage and reputation in Australia, it’s still a challenge for a lingerie brand like Simone Perele to market itself, given advertising restrictions. Other brands have also struggled with the same issues, including Bras ’n’ Things, Honey Birdette and Agent Provocateur.

According to Cohen, it means that the Simone Perele has few editorial placement opportunities and a limited digital footprint due to the language associated with intimate apparel for SEO reasons. The brand also has challenges being able to use certain hashtags or URLs for basic SEO purposes.

Australians also view intimate apparel in a very different way compared to the French.

“Everything is completely different, from the aesthetic – like preferring a smoother cup and the idea that you wouldn’t want lace to be seen through the fabric of your top – to the role of lingerie in a customer’s overall fashion choices. So there’s an education piece that we have to roll out at the same time, we need to educate you on why you need to invest in proper lingerie and then which brands to invest in.”

Cohen also points out that the word ‘lingerie’ can be misconstrued, as it’s often believed that it’s something of a sexual, rather than an everyday and functional, nature.

“The word itself is hard and it’s very un-Parisian to say ‘your bras and briefs’, so we either have to invigorate the term ‘intimate apparel’ or re-educate people that ‘lingerie’ is not specific to one function – it’s a wardrobe necessity that every woman should have and invest properly in.”

Rosenfield adds: “People are prudish. We’re completely at ease and it’s funny for me as a bloke, I just talk about [lingerie] like I’m talking about coffee. But it’s about that exposure at different comfort levels. It’s a shame because it’s an essential and desirable product and it’s something half the population uses every single day, but the conversation is very old.”

Competition on the horizon

While there are more luxury lingerie brands overseas, Rosenfield acknowledges the rise of smaller, bespoke brands in Australia and the entry of non-lingerie retailers into the category.

Earlier this year, IRW reported on the increase of new retailers in the sector, including Amazon.

“You’re going to see more and more retailers do lingerie and be more competitive with it. It doesn’t just have to be Victoria’s Secret,” US retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen Rogers told IRW in March.

“There is plenty of money to be made by efficient retailers. If they do it well, get in early and have the right price and style, they will prosper. The people who get in late will go broke. That’s the way it always works.”

While Rosenfield understands why some retailers may wish to cross-market, he firmly believes that Simone Perele is best to focus on what it does best – affordable luxury lingerie.

“If you look at brands that do one thing and do it well, like T2 or kikki.K, we’re the same. We don’t try to do everything, we try to do one thing really well. It’s increasingly important for brands to do that in 2017, with the marketplace being so disrupted with new entrants. If a designer wants to launch a lingerie brand tomorrow, they can do it easily – you can outsource a lot of the designing and styling and get broad reach very quickly. It’s very easy to do,” explains Rosenfield.

“But when you have a whole international team focused on cup design, innovative 3D fabrics that are patented and have anti-cellulite ingredients infused into the actual threads, when you have people who are making sure every single size is cut to the movement and needs of every different body shape, who are also matching it to the latest fabric trends and Pantones and sourcing the finest laces and embroidery, it’s going to be hard to compete,” explains Cohen.

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