Building a successful luxury brand – exclusive interview CEO Harrys of London

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed, exclusively, Giuseppe Bonfiglio, CEO of Harrys of London.

Harrys of London is a young luxury brand. What were the key elements which have contributed to the success of your company? How important has been your company’s integration into Richemont Group?

As a company, we believe in creativity and we support people who are driven by their talents and dedication.  Innovation is simple but not easy, if it were easy, everyone would do it.  Innovation requires the ability to confront challenges, to problem-solve your way toward a new vision, a new product or a new way of doing things.  The key element is a team of people who are dedicated to “making things happen” – people who thrive in a culture of sharing and developing new ideas.

We are very fortunate to be part of Atelier Fund, which is a division of Richemont Group.  Being part of such an extraordinary group is a tremendous advantage, especially for a company like ours, which is in a high growth phase.  What makes the relationship with Atelier and Richemont a successful one is the fact that our values and our standards are aligned. With mutual respect, with mutual confidence, the communication and the ideas are able to flow.

Which are, in your view, the DNA features of a successful luxury brand, nowadays?

We are guided by our brand values:  ”Quality, Integrity, Creativity and Clarity” because it is easy to lose focus these days, to get distracted by the waves of information, market variables or the competitive environment.

1.  CLARITY:  clarity of who we are, why we are here, where we want to go and how we get there
2.  INTEGRITY:  be who we say we are
3.  CREATIVITY:  foster a culture that supports creativity
4.  QUALITY:  strive to continually increase quality standards

Your company’s production is based in the UK. How different is shoemaking in the UK versus Italy? How important is your British heritage?

London has great balance:  it is a city both rooted in tradition and constantly evolving to embrace a new future.  As a company, we mimic that ability to bridge the past and the future.  Our shoes and accessories have a distinctive London styling that is both sleek and modern but you can still see the tradition of an English Brogue.  In terms of production, we make shoes here in the U.K. and we make shoes in Italy because both are revered for craftsmanship.  The result is a collection that blends traditional materials, tools and techniques with innovative ones.  Harrys of London shoes are truly modern with all the rich history and beauty of British and Italian craftsmanship, which integrate cutting-edge materials and components that are responsive to demands of modern life. However when it comes to production we think quality, the question is always where is the best quality manufacturing facility that can translate our ideas into excellent objects.

Besides manufacturing, how important is design and innovation for your company? Tell us more about the unique features of your products. 

Design and innovation is key to us but we know this takes time, we have a saying at Harrys of London “It takes time to be timeless.”  Understanding the genuine needs of the customer and designing a lasting solution takes time. Hand-stitching a driving moccasin takes time.  It is not easy to be meticulous but it is our way.  You have to be fully committed.  Kevin Martel, our Creative Director, has decades of experience in designing luxury men’s footwear but he doesn’t settle for doing what he already knows.  He is constantly exploring and testing new ideas to set a new standard.  At Harrys of London, Research & Development is a core competency and we have exceptional partners who feel the same way.  We collaborate with Vibram to develop exclusive soles with specific weights, flexibility and traction patterns, think a Bridgestone’s tyres working with Ferrari for the Formula 1 Grand Prix.  Our Technogel reflect the most advanced innersoles technology available in the world today.  If we can collaborate with an expert, we will.  If the expertise doesn’t exist yet, we’ll develop it.

What is your current ratio in your company’s turnover of pret-a-porter shoes versus bespoke shoes? What is your company’s production capacity?

The current ratio is 90% pret-a-porter and 10% Bespoke or Special Orders.  Bespoke and Special Orders are growing because we have expanded our program of customized finishing.  We have events where we are finishing shoes right in front of the customer according to their specifications.  It’s a new level of personalization, a new level of craftsmanship and new level of luxury for the customer who wants something that is uniquely theirs.

With the growing influence of new technologies and internet, have you made any changes in your business operations? (in manufacturing, marketing, customer service)

We are in constant evolution, the market and customers communicate with new technologies and we continue to listen and respond.  E-commerce is an important channel for any business and social media is still learning it’s ultimate role.   When it comes to employing new technologies, we don’t think it is about this or that, it is about this and that, it’s about keeping the customer at the centre of attention.

What is the ultimate service level you provide for your top clients?

In London we offer Shop From Your Desk” which means we come to you – we bring your selected style(s), we fit you and you never have to leave your office.  We are fast, efficient and we are highly accurate because we have a lot of experience.  We also offer this service to customers at some of the nearby hotels like the Dorchester, Claridges or the Connaught where there is always someone with a last minute event to attend.  In addition to custom finishing, we also offer monogramming services:  hot-stamping on the leather to personalise shoes, travel bags, wallets, card holders.  We can laser-engrave your monogram onto your shoetrees.  These are also popular services at the corporate-gifting level.  I could go on and on but you asked about the ultimate service level we provide, which is our ability to listen and we offer it to every customer.

Which is your most successful market in terms of sales? Which are your top priority countries in terms of expansion of your distribution?

We currently have a well-balanced business in both mature and emerging markets.  We have growing businesses in Europe, in the United States, the Far East and Middle East.  The potential in these markets is huge – customers are embracing the brand and we are building a repeat customer base that is looking for more from us.  When the product is right, everything is possible.  In terms of new markets, we have a list but we are not interested in being in any particular market unless the opportunity is the right one, that is, it reflects our values and is a sustainable commitment for the long-term.  The real priority for our expansion is identifying and pursuing the right opportunities.

What is your company’s approach to education and awareness of manufacturing and craftsmanship in emerging markets? Which are the challenges you face in emerging markets?

We don’t manufacture in emerging markets; however, even in Italy and the UK we ensure the facilities meet our standards and that the employees are always motivated to produce extraordinary quality.  The key to awareness at the manufacturing level is to constantly improve. There is no better way to stay motivated than to see an idea take shape in someone’s hands.

With an increasing trend of diversification in the luxury industry, do you consider launching other product categories?

Harrys of London focus is with men’s shoes, however, we also produce complementary categories such as men’s bags, belts, socks and small leather goods.  Diversification is healthy when done properly – strategically and in response to a clearly defined opportunity.  The current trend is part of the larger movement of the globalization of luxury.  My view is that when the product is right, it is already “global” in nature, you don’t have to change much.

Which are the top three foreign nationalities who shop regularly at your London stores? How different are their demands?

Customers from all parts of the world visit our stores in London.  The top three nationalities shopping in London right now are the British, Americans and French.  The luxury customer is not defined by nationality.  All share the same expectations:  a well-organized store, a courteous reception, a knowledgeable and efficient sales professional and a seemingly endless selection of magnificent shoes and accessories.  We know that the real luxury is leaving the store feeling completely comfortable.

An increasing number of luxury brands have been embracing digital platforms as a means of communications. What is your approach in this respect?  Do you consider launching your own e-commerce?

We already have a great e-commerce team in-house that does an excellent work.  In terms of communicating, when we have something relevant to say we employ the best possible method and venue to say it.  We do not believe in communicating just to communicate.

Has your company’s financial performance been affected (if in any way), by the on-going European debt crisis? Have you encountered a slower demand from Chinese customers?

In the past four years the company has experienced growth and our financial performance has either met expectations or exceeded them.  But the European debt crisis remains a challenge for anyone trading in Europe. No one is unaffected.  However, in times of crisis, some companies step back when they should move forward.

Harrys of London, store at Royal Exchange, London