The Accelerators: The leaders fueling established companies’ catapulted growth
Since joining 60-year-old Claire’s as CEO in mid-2019, Ryan Vero has focused on evolving the accessories company “from the mall’s biggest retailer to a global brand powerhouse,” he said. That’s included expanding the company’s global retail footprint, both by opening new stores and linking with an abundance of new retail partners, as well as entering new product categories and building on signature offerings, like its piercing services.
“When I came on board, there was a great foundation to build upon,” he said. He noted Claire’s placement as an OG direct-to-consumer brand, with 90% of its products still designed or sourced exclusively for its own channels.
The pandemic’s disruption to Claire’s business provided value in the form of time, which Vero used to launch the in-swing “reinvention” of the company’s store portfolio. Since, its percentage of mall stores have decreased from 75% of the fleet to 60% — though Vero said Claire’s still wants to be in “the best” Class A and B malls. In the last year alone, it’s opened 200 stores globally.
But the biggest retail change was the company’s all-in move into consumer products retail. It now counts 30,000 retail doors, with newly established or expanded partners including Walmart, in September, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Albertsons grocery store, a range of toy stores and CVS.
“We’re going to be where the consumer is,” Vero said.
The metaverse is no exception; Claire’s launched an interactive Roblox experience dubbed ShimmerVille in October. As for further digital expansion, it introduced a subscription program box via its e-commerce site in September 2021.
To drive the company’s accelerated growth, Vero has essentially rebuilt Claire’s C-suite, bringing on CMO Kristin Patrick from PepsiCo and CIO Rohit Kapor from Starbucks, plus a new CFO, CHRO and deputy general counsel. A new president of Claire’s Europe business, Richard Flint, was appointed in January. But, Vero stressed, many current employees have been with the company for 30-40 years.
Along with Claire’s global headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, it operates a European headquarters out of Birmingham, England and employs a sourcing team based in Hong Kong. Nearly one-third of its business is done outside of North America. Vero’s goals include growing the business in Europe, where Claire’s already operates stores in 17 countries. He also wants to increase the company’s number of franchise partners, which now include players in South and Central America.
Product expansion is on the roadmap, too. “Ramping up” Claire’s presence in the beauty space is a priority, as is entering categories adjacent to current offerings, through licensing deals. Vero said he’s eying apparel and home products, and hinted at a future launch of “larger footprint products” that would be sold digitally. After all, Claire’s stores, which typically house 8,000 products, are only 1,000 square feet.
On the same note, Claire’s is building on its popular piercing service, recently launching nose piercing in North America and Europe. Piercing services can now be booked through an online scheduling feature, with new in-store tablets supporting the experience. “We’re going to keep evolving the [piercing] experience to maintain our global leadership in the category,” Vero said, pointing to the growing competition in the market. Claire’s provided 4.5 million piercings in 2021, he said.
Moving forward, Vero wants to stay the course as it stands, with a focus on building on retail partners and stores. As for the latter, the company is now developing a “next-generation store of the future” concept, meant to “enhance the in-store shopping experience,” as well as inspire self-expression and social posting. A Claire’s store soon opening in Paris will introduce some of the components.
Despite Claire’s European business largely being closed due to Covid restrictions in the first quarter of the year, the company managed to generate $275 million of EBITDA in 2021, and it saw 20% comparable store sales growth over 2019 in North America.
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