Holt rolls out younger skew campaign

September has been a busy month for Holt Renfrew....

September has been a busy month for Holt Renfrew.

Already, the upscale retailer has launched an advertising campaign that reaches out to younger customers, mounted its first-ever nationwide event, and pulled out of e-commerce. Not bad, considering the chain’s new vice-president of marketing, Ashley Konson, has been on the job for less than four months.

Konson, who honed his marketing skills over 13 years at Nestlé, Disney and Imax, says his twin passions of ‘brand building and entertainment’ inform his plans for Holt Renfrew.

‘If world-class retailing is about anything today, it’s about connecting with your customers,’ he says, ‘and building a really exciting, rewarding shopping experience.’

In some measure, Konson is continuing down the path set out last fall by his predecessor Richard Blickstead (who has since left for home improvement retailer Rona). At that time, Holt Renfrew made public its strategy to attract more baby boomers without alienating its core clientele of older customers, who accounted for about 60% of sales.

In May, the retailer hired Roche Macaulay & Partners – the Toronto-based agency behind the youth-targeted ‘Diversity’ campaign for ill-fated Eaton’s – to develop a new image.

The agency has come up with a series of six newspaper ads. The first shows a thirtysomething woman having a laugh with two kids on what appears to be a crisp, fall day. ‘Has no idea which paper towel is more absorbent,’ reads the text, which is accompanied by the new tagline: ‘For who you are.’

‘The tagline is really vital to this campaign,’ says Konson. ‘Because whether you’re this busy homemaker or a busy, time-stressed executive type, what we’re saying is Holt Renfrew recognizes the reality of your lifestyle and can meet many of your fashion and lifestyle needs.’

Konson has also set out to better integrate the store’s marketing efforts. To that end, the tone of the advertising is being carried through to signage and displays, the retailer’s fall catalogue and even in-store events.

According to Konson, the strategy is working, albeit slowly.

‘We’re making some progress,’ he says. ‘We’ve been able to absolutely maintain in overall figures our loyal customers, and we’ve made some good – not outstanding, but good, solid progress – in beginning to build our [younger] customer base.’

The one area in which Holt Renfrew appears to be headed backwards is e-commerce. September saw the retailer put an end to its online sales, downgrading its Web site to a marketing and information tool.

Getting out of e-commerce was a good idea, says retail analyst Wendy Evans, of Toronto-based Evans & Company. A recent study of e-commerce sites conducted by her company ranked Holt Renfrew’s site very poorly, especially on customer service. That’s not good, she says, when service is among the pillars of one’s brand positioning.

‘If you don’t deliver what you’ve promised, then you’re just creating bad customer relations. Better not to do it and [simply use the site] to bring people into the store,’ she says.

Konson agrees the e-commerce effort didn’t work with Holt Renfrew’s positioning.

‘If we’re going to make our brand synonymous with making our customers feel special, it’s all about the feel, the touch, the texture of clothing. You can’t get that on the Internet,’ he says. ‘So we’ve moved away from putting a lot of focus and a lot of money into our Internet transactional capability.’