Danier gets its runway groove on

With designer collaborations and a fresh retail concept, Jennifer Steckel Elliott is giving a 40-year-old leather brand a makeover.
1. jennifer

For as far back as she can remember, Jennifer Steckel Elliott has focused on creativity, an appreciation for the art and science of branding, a keen awareness of results and driving growth.
“Commercials in our family were more important than the TV shows,” she says. “My dad taught me to respect creative not for creative’s sake, but for the role it plays for the brand, the consumer and sales.”
Growing up, her father was in retail ad sales, so Steckel Elliott cut her teeth in the retail marketing world early, spending her formative years in Winners and Sporting Life.
Steckel Elliott started her career at the Gap working on marketing strategy before learning the agency ropes as an account exec with Ogilvy & Mather. She soon returned to retail, working with IBM, Golf Town Canada and Fit For Sport in the U.K.
As VP marketing at Danier Leather, those interests, and her dad’s lessons, continue to inspire Steckel Elliott.
“I think what we’re trying to do differently…is balance the creativity and the business without sacrificing one for the other,” she says of Danier’s more fashion-forward brand strategy.
The approach is working. In her three-and-a-half-year tenure, Steckel Elliott has led the revival of the brand, achieving sales and profit lifts, as well as a 400% spike in press coverage for fiscal 2011. Not bad for a brand that was known more for its basics than its fashion savvy.
Steckel Elliott says her challenge was to fuel existing customer interest while attracting new, younger ones. “We wanted to really evolve and become relevant to more people,” she says. “Even though we were mass, we weren’t reaching out to everyone.”
A key strategy was to heighten the brand’s fashion appeal through its visual presentation. Danier had focused on classic styling, but it didn’t offer visual inspiration and aspiration. So it dialed up the creative, taking a more fashion mag approach to photographing models for ads and creating window displays by styling Danier pieces with complementary accessories. “It gives instant credibility to Danier in a fashion context,” Steckel Elliott says.
Next was tackling choice and price perceptions. “We really are about affordable luxury,” she says, but the value proposition was not being conveyed, nor was the idea that Danier regularly receives new seasonal items that quickly sell out. To combat this, Steckel Elliott developed the “Three G” strategy, standing for great item, great price and gone, invoking quality and value while luring consumers into the stores.
On the pure fashion front, Danier has focused on upping its designer cred.
The Danier Design Challenge with Ryerson University’s School of Fashion offers paid internships and a chance to design a jacket to be sold in-store, with online and social media driving the voting process.
The challenge creates excitement for consumers while fostering new brand advocates and positioning Danier as a fashion leader. Ryerson has made the challenge part of its third-year curriculum.
“It’s a whole other generation of students who really didn’t know anything about our brand … we’re actually creating the next generation of leather designers,” says Steckel Elliott.
Collaborating with Canadian designers also keeps Danier in the runway spotlight. In 2010 the brand co-created collections with fashion photographer Raphael Mazzucco and designer John Hilifer. This fall, it launched collections by Greta Constantine and George Antonopoulos, with another inspired by Mark Fast, after Fast designed a Danier-produced collection that premiered at London Fashion Week. Toronto-based Philip Sparks will be releasing a menswear collection this spring.
“We’ve been trying to position the brand as having a role in fashion, art, beauty and creativity,” says Steckel Elliott.
Increasing the brand’s digital spend has played a role in the engagement piece. Steckel Elliott led the revamp of Danier.com a year ago, bringing it in line with the new look and adding e-commerce. Her efforts earned a Summit International Award along with increased page views and sales.
The final boost in the brand’s trajectory was changing up the stores themselves.
After consumer research and consulting firm Envirosell evaluated the in-store experience, Danier worked with retail design firm Chute Gerdeman. The resulting interior look, unveiled in November in the Erin Mills and Square One Mississauga locations, sports concrete flooring, wood tables and chandeliers. The concept is being rolled out to more stores.
Leading a team of 18, Steckel Elliott brought creative in-house permanently in early 2009 by hiring Johnny Demetriadis, president of ThirstyCo, as CD. The internal creative team develops everything from bags to advertising and HR materials. Media agencies include Carat and GeoMedia, with digital by Top Drawer Creative.
Moving forward, Steckel Elliott plans to build on existing strategy while continuing to try new methods of navigating the media landscape. “We’re very much test and try, learn and adapt.”

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