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IMRG Online Retailer Interview: Blauer USA

A Q&A with Giuseppe D'Amore, CEO, FGF Industry

IMRG Online Retailer Interview Blauer USA

In our third retailer Q&A, we spoke to Giuseppe about heritage, social media, and multichannel strategy.

Tell us about Blauer

Blauer is an original brand, started in 1936, and today there is still a Blauer family in Boston. The brand is one of the four main suppliers for polices forces, hospital workers, and firemen. So when you see a movie that’s based in New York and you notice a police officer, you can’t see the brand of the uniform he or she is wearing, but you can be sure it’s Blauer.

15 years ago we were able to start importing Blauer products into Europe. At first we focused on importing only original items, but immediately after two seasons, we realised that would be challenging for the development of the business, because we were limited in colour and size, and because there were only men’s sizes available.

It wasn’t long afterwards that we applied for our worldwide licence and started to design the Blauer collection. We kept the iconic characteristics of these items — the side zip-ups typically used to hold a gun, as well as the typical ‘Blauer’ fabrics like high visibility materials — and we continued to develop the collection over the following fifteen years. We started with just four items, and now we have a collection of about 350 pieces, so the collection has grown massively.

So that’s the short story of the long life of Blauer.

What markets do you currently trade into?

Mainly European markets, especially Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as in the countries of Scandinavia. Now, we’re also developing new markets in France, and also the UK.

We’re also exploring new key markets like Japan, China, and the United States. Japan we’re going to start from next season. The challenge with a market like China is that so far only luxury brands have been able to succeed there. But now, as sportswear brands are starting to develop, there’s a new generation that’s more confident in buying from abroad.

We also have plans to trade in the USA as well, within the next year. Obviously, that’s where Blauer started, but our USA partners who have been focused on making uniforms were afraid of diluting the brand by introducing casual wear. Now, after fifteen years they’re confident about the expansion, and together, we can plan and execute a real global strategy.

With only a few stores, which are mainly wholesale, how do you approach a multichannel strategy?

We have two main digital customers — Zalando and Amazon. They sell our goods at the same price. What we do is to find a new way between multichannel and single channel. We call it hybrid sales. We first kicked this off during the last Autumn/Winter season.

We fix a budget for our wholesale customers, for buying. If they have hit that budget, and as such they don’t have an item that a customer wants to buy, the seller has a unique code that they can use to sell an item through our site. It’s a new way of working, and we were the first retailer to do it. This means that wholesalers are not cut off from the digital business.

Does your marketplace presence pose any risks to the brand, or offer any advantages?

There are both risks and advantages when it comes to marketplaces. If you’re working with someone who is not following standard procedures — having mid-season sales, making markdowns in certain periods, it could be very bad. We have 95% turnover with wholesalers, so if they were to check on the web and see that there are a lot of marketplaces discounting what they want and when they want, this is a really bad situation, and they call us and say, “This marketplace is discounting the product. That’s your responsibility.”

We work with marketplaces, but we bet a lot on ourselves, on our official site, because of course there are a lot of people who shop on online marketplaces, but we want to invest more in our internal database. And I’m sure that if there’s an opportunity to buy something at the same price on Amazon or on our site, someone will be more confident buying from the official Blauer website.

Does your heritage as uniform designer inform your marketing and communications?

Yes, we constantly try to communicate the heritage of the brand. In this market, anything can happen, but when a brand has something to say, a heritage to tell people about, that is something that will always remain. You can always tell the brands that have a story that informs customers about the company, and products that carry the detail and story of the brand.

You can’t invent that, you can’t buy heritage. You either have it or you don’t. So it’s very important for the future that you communicate the past.

Of course, it’s always important to reinvent your brand, but you should never forget your past.

Do you use social media a lot?

We use Facebook, as well as Instagram, and we’re working with influencers more and more. Of course we use each channel for a different purpose, whether that’s to grow awareness of the brand, or to increase turnover. And the budget that we use for each varies, because the goals are different.

Right now, in our opinion, Instagram is getting even stronger, especially now that there’s an opportunity to sell directly from the platform, whereas six months ago that wasn’t possible.

Our content can be divided into three categories: product, people, and story. The products we sell, the people buying our products (the protagonists, if you will), and the stories about the brand.

For example, on one of the campaigns we ran, we shared the story of a trip we organised in Texas, with real people on the road. So we had real people for a real brand, telling their stories from their own lives and experience. That gave us something to tell each week. We weren’t just talking about products.

The influencers that we work with are people who reflect the image of Blauer. For instance during a journey, or a day in the city, they wear our products and post some content on the social channels. We prefer video, especially in Instagram stories. It’s a way to bring the user and the brand closer, to make the product more accessible, as something anyone can wear and use to create their own look.

It’s very important to us to have a holistic view of all the channels. All the communication, all of the channels, all of the video that we create is harmonised. Everything is managed by one person, because all platforms need to complement each other.

 

Commentary from Ciaran Bollard, CEO, Kooomo

Working with a company with such a deep-rooted history like Blauer, it’s so important to preserve brand values and align online and offline strategies when making the move into the digital commerce space.

Blauer is the perfect example of a brand that has taken niche products such as law enforcement uniforms, and developed their offering into a mainstream clothing catalogue that has customer appeal on a global scale, but still pays homage to its roots. It’s clear to see that Blauer’s past plays an integral role in the brand’s future, and that is what sets them apart in the hugely competitive world of ecommerce.

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