For retailers, Covid-19 did a lot more than create supply chain disruptions causing huge inventories of unwanted items and changes in customer behaviors. Retailers put innovation on the back burner. According to The Wall Street Journal, retail brand-businesses “paused” innovation for the past three years. A playing-it-safe strategy was adopted by multiple retail establishments. Best Buy, Nordstrom’s and The Gap are cited as retailers with “a dearth of new products, styles and colors.”
Now that the urgency of Covid-19 has abated and with consumers shopping in person again, there is a race for newness. As one consultant indicated, ‘Something as simple as a new flavor, color or style can create demand. With a decline in newness, we are boring consumers to death.”
Innovation is generating products, services and experiences that are breakthrough and transform the market or the organization addressing known or unknown human needs. Innovation reflects higher risk. Innovation is life-asserting for brand-businesses. But, so is renovation.
Renovation is improving the efficiency of or evolving the performance of existing products, services and experiences. Renovation reflects lower risk and should happen on a continuous basis.
Both innovation and renovation are critical for brand-business success. Lack of innovation – and renovation – are not just about “boring people to death.” Lack of innovation – and renovation – is brand-business mismanagement. This is because without innovation (or renovation) the brand-business stultifies.
Based on The Wall Street Journal story, one might think that retailing is in yet another predicament: no new products or services. Worse yet, because of the difficulties faced to Covid-19 and its aftermath, retailers are more risk averse. Risk aversion is anathema to innovation and renovation
Except at Claire’s. Claire’s is a shining star in retail, unmentioned in The Wall Street Journal article. Claire’s has been a font of innovation and renovation. If you think Claire’s is just that ear-piercing, affordable earrings teen magnet, mall kiosk you would be wrong.
Let’s set the record straight. In case you missed it, Claire’s Holdings LLC was recognized by Fast Company’s (the monthly business magazine) prestigious, annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2023. Claire’s was number two on the retail sector list. Fast Company recognized Claire’s creative brand-business strategy that turned Claire’s into a global, powerful, fun fashion brand. Additionally, Fast Company cited Claire’s ability to connect with its consumers through surprise and delight with on-trend offerings, consistency of the total brand-business experience and its caring customer service.
For those who do not have tween, teen and/or young girls in their household, Claire’s is an American retailer of accessories, jewelry, and toys. Claire’s is a “fun fashion destination for jewelry, cosmetics, accessories and ear piercing.
On its website, Claire’s indicates that it is
“… a global brand powerhouse for self-expression, creating exclusive, curated and fun fashionable jewelry and accessories and offering world-leading piercing services. The company operates under two brand names: Claire’s and ICING.”
Founded in 1961, Claire’s
“… operates 2300 Claire’s stores in 17 countries throughout North America and Europe and 190 ICING stores in North America. Claire’s also sells Claire’s products in thousands of concessions locations in North America and Europe… and Claire’s has more than 300 franchised Claire’s stores, located primarily in the Middle East and South Africa.”
While many retailers were drowning in excess merchandise and figuring out what to do to survive the holidays, Claire’s was proceeding with its innovative growth strategy. Underlying its strategy is an exceptionally clear understanding of Claire’s target audience. Claire’s calls these individuals “Genzalpha.” According to Claire’s, the Genzalpha cohort is
“…fearless, authentic and wildly creative in the ways they show up, and our brand is a platform that creates space for them to express all sides of themselves.”
By knowing its prime prospects, their needs, problems and values, Claire’s became a tween, teen and young girls brand-business juggernaut. Rather than being Covid-19 risk averse, Claire’s has been relentless. And, its focus is not specifically on individual products. Claire’s is innovative in experiential ways.
For example, Claire’s has a presence in grocery stores. This makes sense. Lots of Claire’s customers go to the grocery store with their parent(s) or caregivers. Claire’s creates custom programs for each grocery store. There are currently 2200 grocery locations. These programs offer curated selections of Claire’s hair accessories, jewelry and cosmetics. According to Progressive Grocer, a grocery trade publication, Claire’s is present in Kroger and Albertson’s as well as Food City, WinCo, Giant Eagle, Smart & Final and Schnucks. And, according to The Business Journals, Claire’s is planning to open an additional 230 more in-grocery-store locations. Claire’s has programs in non-grocery stores such as CVS, DSW, Walmart and Macy’s. These special programs are in addition to the 2300 global stores and the 190 North American ICING Stores.
In continuing to be where its customers and their parents are, Claire’s inked an agreement with Walmart last September to expand Walmart’s selling of Claire’s products to 2500 Walmart locations. There are also 360 Walmart locations with Claire’s stores inside.
Claire’s focus is on fun fashion and self-expression. For Claire’s audiences, being an individual with a unique “look and style” is essential. But, so is belonging to the Claire’s community. These are the customers who want to be different just like all of their friends.
To bring Claire’s brand-business to life, Claire’s opened a new store in Paris, France, this March 2023. The Paris location is a testament to the future of the Claire’s brand. As described by Claire’s president of Europe,
“We want our customers to feel inspired – through our product, our content and our innovative creative partnerships – but most importantly, through the shopping experience itself. The new Paris store is a portal into our brand world and a glimpse into our future. Full of immersive experiences and innovative touches, we’re inviting consumers to have fun, experiment and co-create with Claire’s.”
ENP Newswire, an online newsletter, describes the Paris store as follows:
“The 1,200 square foot Paris store is designed for total brand immersion with experiences and social storytelling at its core. An ear-shaped ‘chandel-ear’ designed by (Nicola) Formichetti (Claire’s Creative Director in Residence) celebrates the brand’s #EarPrint campaign, whilst two dedicated ear piercing studios showcase Claire’s industry-leading service and a content creation studio invites consumers in to have fun with creativity. The store will serve as a launch pad for exclusive, new products and test lines while hosting a steady rotation of experiential and pop-up events.”
Not resting on its brick-and-mortar presence around the globe, Claire’s partnered with Formichetti and V Magazine. The idea is to shine a youth-oriented spotlight on “photography, fashion, music and culture for the new generation.” Called MINI V, the magazine will be “… a nonstop festival of artistry, beauty and inclusivity by exploring today’s fashion and pop-culture trends and sparking important conversations around topics like cyberbullying, self-acceptance and political policies through powerful essays penned by Gen Z activists, artists and politicians.”
As Ms. Formichetti said at the Paris store opening with the news of the MINI V magazine,
“Claire’s and I believe in individuality, and together we hope to send the younger generation on an enjoyable and fun journey of self-expression,’ said Nicola Formichetti. ‘With the launch of MINI V, we have a unique opportunity to offer young consumers tools to unlock their personal style while also providing a space to explore deeper topics and a powerful platform to share their voices.”
Contrary to The Wall Street Journal’s discussion of innovation in retailing, Claire’s shows how innovation is more than flavors, colors and style.
Innovation and creativity involve both risk and courage. Creativity is not an isolated event. Creativity is not a process. Creativity is not a department. Creativity is a cultural mindset. Creativity takes all kinds of ingredients. It takes time; it takes energy; it takes enthusiasm. It involves passion for an idea. Claire’s created a great global creative, innovative community focused on its customers.. Claire’s created a place where people are more concerned with the quality of the inspiration rather than the quantity of the ideas.
Claire’s took the time to progress from an ear-piercing brand (more than 100 million ear piercings since the service began over 25 years ago) to a brand-business helping its customers be themselves and express themselves by providing the products for self-expression in a fun, fashion-oriented experience.