At Victoria's Secret, men lay out a plan for a female-driven turnaround

Victoria’s Secret, founded with the idea men should feel more
comfortable shopping for the women in their lives, is trying to
reframe itself as a brand that’s actually made with female
customers in mind. But that’s a tough message to deliver when
most of your management is male.

“There’s a big belief in the company that we need to
evolve,” Victoria’s Secret Lingerie Chief Executive Officer
John Mehas said during a question-and-answer period at the annual
investor day in Columbus, Ohio. “We need to be led by her, for
her.”

Parent L Brands Inc. laid out a multipart—if
still-vague—plan on Tuesday for turning around Victoria’s
Secret: an updated brand strategy that’s more inclusive, a
refreshed in-store experience and a still-in-development marketing
overhaul that won’t alienate core shoppers.

The irony wasn’t lost on shareholders who raised the issue
with Bloomberg News during a break. Of the 11 speakers during the L
Brands event, excluding an introduction from Amie Preston from
investor relations, just three were women. And only one gave a
presentation: Amy Hauk, CEO of Victoria’s Secret’s Pink
line.

Investor reactions
One investor, who asked not to be named, said on the sidelines of
the event that he and his peers were in Ohio trying to determine if
the current leadership can pull off the brand revamp, especially
since the management team is predominantly male. He called the
shortage of women presenting striking.

Another meeting attendee asked during a Q&A session why the
company chose Mehas, rather than a woman, to lead the lingerie
business. L Brands founder Les Wexner noted that all the leaders of
the brand have been women previously. “John is the first guy, so
we don’t want to be discriminating,” he said to laughter from
the audience. Mehas then gave a second response to the question,
before Hauk jumped in: “As a woman, I’d like to comment,” she
said to more audience chuckles, before talking about the evolving
Pink customer.

Victoria’s Secret has been trying to reconnect with customers
who’ve increasingly turned to rivals that embrace female
empowerment and diverse body types, like Aerie and ThirdLove,
rather than Victoria’s Secret’s traditionally sexy and skinny
aesthetic. That has hit comparable sales, a key retail metric,
which have dropped for five straight quarters at the underwear
chain.

To be sure, it has made some steps toward an overhaul: The
company said in May it would pull its fashion show from network
television after 23 years. Ed Razek, who crafted the chain’s
annual event with the defining image of lingerie-clad models with
angel wings, left over the summer. Earlier this year, activist
investor Barington Capital Group LP pushed for changes and
successfully nominated two new women to the board, bringing the
share of female directors to more than 40 percent.

‘Sick’ Epstein
Still, the company has further to go in shaking its overtly
sexualized legacy. The chain’s founder, Roy Raymond, originally
came up with the idea of a women’s lingerie store aimed at men
after he went to a department store to buy his wife some lingerie
in the 1970s. He didn’t love the experience and felt there should
be a place where men would be comfortable shopping for women’s
underwear. It didn’t help the brand earlier this year when
Wexner’s ties to
disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein came under scrutiny.

Wexner employed Epstein as a personal money manager for years,
building a relationship close enough for Epstein to buy his
Manhattan mansion before severing ties more than a decade ago.

“Being taken advantage of by someone who was so sick, so
cunning, so depraved, is something that I’m embarrassed I was
even close to. But that is in the past,” Wexner, 82, said in
his opening remarks.

For now, investors seem willing to wait a little longer to see
if Victoria’s Secret can reverse a sales slump and revamp its
outdated image. The lingerie brand is determined to wean itself off
discounts and is in the early stage of a marketing overhaul to
address customers’ evolving view of what’s sexy, according to
presentations by the company’s executives.

Learning from missteps
L Brands shares rose on Tuesday, a sign that investors are giving
the company the benefit of the doubt. The company was short on
specifics, however, and the fact that its marketing is only in the
early stages of being overhauled—despite years of losing market
share—may eventually be a cause for concern.

Hauk acknowledged the company was “too slow to change” with
its customer base, adding that Pink has since had success slimming
down inventory choices, refocusing on college students, leaning
into sportswear and working to include more diverse models in its
marketing. She sees the division’s athletic wear generating $1
billion in sales by 2022.

“We are committed to learning from some of the missteps,”
she said.

At sister brand Victoria’s Secret, the turnaround plan isn’t
quite so defined. “Amy and the team are a little further ahead
than we are,” Mehas said of the marketing overhaul.

“There’s an opportunity to take a step back and evolve the
brand,” he added during the final Q&A session. The
Victoria’s Secret customer “has been very vocal on what she’d
like to see from us: whether it’s inclusivity, whether it’s
#metoo, whether it’s different profile of models, whether it’s
rethinking the show, and we’re essentially in agreement. The
point is it’s a fine line in terms of rethinking the next
evolution of the brand, and we’re being thoughtful about what
that looks like.”
–Bloomberg News

Source: FS – Advertising Blogs !
At Victoria's Secret, men lay out a plan for a female-driven turnaround