The premise of the chart is that vendors go through various stages, from the entrepreneurial crucible stage on the left to the all-but-dead company shell on the right. Each of these stages can be summarized by the three independent variables of quality, marketshare, and PR spend. (These lines represent high level abstractions of general trends, and may not apply to every vendor as positioned).
Some notes. Companies go through at different speeds. Some companies stay in one spot. Some companies “begin” in the middle of the chart. The positioning of the companies on this chart are where I see each of them today. Your mileage may vary.
Here are the stages and clusters:
- New company serves demanding clients in authentic environments significantly better then competitors
- Company’s founder is hands on
- People often love the products without necessarily recognizing the company that made it (i.e. "this is my favorite hat" said by an owner of a Vermont Originals hat without knowing the name "Vermont Originals.")
- Fiercely passionate customers, who are "in the know," are very loyal to the company
- The company has significantly higher prices than competitors
- Quality is paramount
- Customers can still call or email and get the owner (and often work through any problems)
- Company is iconic, with widely recognized popular and unique items
- Great pride is taken in the brand
- Items are expensive, but high quality
- New items are extensions of old
- Companies gain increasing brand recognition well beyond passionate base
- Often new management
- Purge of old employees and suppliers/branded vendors
- Take the customer base for granted - many loyal customers find themselves buying less and less
- Leverage the look and the feel of the brand
- Vendors open mall stores, for example
- There is significant confusion for traditional customers
- Some classics remain (but fewer and fewer)
- There are wild fluctuations of prices (higher prices, then massive sales)
- New products are low quality and relatively expensive
- The companies increasingly outsource production to low-cost providers
- They have giant PR budgets, first trying to differentiate themselves from their past, then relentlessly trying to invoke it (and readily making stock photos available to bloggers)
- Customers start to experience return-fatigue
- There is a big opportunity for upper management to personally cash in with a one-time windfall, sacrificing long-term employees
- Companies are no longer differentiated in the marketplace
- They bear no resemblance to their original selves
Virtually every product sold by the companies in the two categories on the left are made in the United States. Contrast that to the companies on the right. In the middle, J.Press, Barbour and Orvis have a mix, with a good amount made in the UK.
- Vineyard Vines has gone through this cycle incredibly quickly.
- Leather Man Ltd has reasonable prices despite straddling the Crucible/ Precious categories.
- L.L. Bean is peering into the abyss. I can now only buy six items from L.L. Bean with any confidence: Norwegian Sweaters; Boat and Totes; Bean Boots; Chamois Shirts; Flannel Shirts; Ragg Socks. It is worth noting that none of these are made in China and the socks, bags and boots are all US made.
- Ralph Lauren is still one of the few companies where women can still find truly classic items, and quality remains good.
- Barbour is dancing with the devil. They don't want to be any more to the right than they currently are.
- It is not surprising that Sperry Topsider and L.L. Bean Signature share the same PR firm, LaForce + Stevens.
Let me end with two premises.
- First, over a twenty five year time span, there will always be classic khakis, shirts, and shoes available. But their availability at any moment in time is suspect and unpredictable, thus savvy customers buy ahead.
- One must let go of old favorites, as well as look for new and promising companies.
My husband used to work at Gartner as an analyst and helped me with this chart.