lunes, diciembre 08, 2008

Las marcas de gran lujo empiezan a sufrir

Joyas de Bulgari

The New York Times reporta sobre como Bulgari, Cartier y otras marcas están recortando gastos ante el creciente golpe de una recesión global - que bien podría convertirse en depresión. Copio:

In Bulgari’s case, if Mr. Trapani, the company’s chief executive, cuts too deeply, he risks harming the brand’s image of opulence and exclusivity, carefully honed over decades and reinforced by stars like Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Scarlett Johansson, wearing Bulgari on red carpets at Cannes or the Oscars.“Instead of talking about stars and spending, you think about cutting costs,” Mr. Trapani said during an interview in his office overlooking the Tiber. “Luxury is not immune.”

with the company’s profit plunging 44 percent in the most recent quarter, and its stock suddenly tarnished, he has no choice. Shares closed Thursday at 4.76 euros, less than half what they were a year ago.

Since the 1990s, sales of luxury goods have exploded, along with the growth of a well-heeled new global elite, turning once little-known European brands into giants and transforming chic addresses like Fifth Avenue, Bond Street and the Champs-Élysées into veritable open-air malls for the upper middle class.

Few brands epitomized this trend better than Bulgari, which has grown to 259 stores from just 5 when Mr. Trapani took over as chief executive in 1984. Demand for Bulgari’s bold combinations of sapphires, diamonds and emeralds seemed insatiable as sales boomed worldwide, lifting the company’s revenue to more than 1.1 billion euros, or $1.41 billion.

Even as Wall Street collapsed this fall, Mr. Trapani presided over the star-studded opening of the flagship Bulgari store in Paris, and the debut of its first company-owned boutique in the Middle East, with separate parties for men and women in Qatar.

Now, reality has caught up with Bulgari and the rest of the industry. Sales at the 125-year-old jeweler rose an anemic 2 percent in the third quarter. Analysts are pessimistic about a recovery in its current fourth quarter, a period that is responsible for an outsize portion of the company’s annual results. And demand for luxury goods is expected to drop by 3 to 7 percent next year, according to a recent study by Bain & Company, the first time the sector has recorded an annual sales decrease since Bain began tracking it in the early 1990s.

There is no sign of a pre-Christmas rush at Bulgari’s boutique on the Via Condotti, where Richard Burton once bought diamonds for Elizabeth Taylor, and where unique pieces start at 70,000 euros, or $88,900.

“It’s not politically correct to show off in this environment,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, a partner at Bain who specializes in luxury goods. “Even if they’re not affected in terms of purchasing power, consumers feel it’s ethical to spend less. They don’t want the additional piece of jewelry.”

In response to the times, Mr. Trapani has embarked on broad cost-cutting that includes shelving plans for new stores, except in locations where leases have already been signed.

Burberry has announced a similar initiative, while Richemont, the owner of Cartier and Montblanc, is limiting openings to a few fast-growing markets in the Middle East and Asia.

“Past slowdowns were more regional in nature and people could perceive the end game,” Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s chief executive, said in an interview. “This is global. We were with an investor last week who has had to rerun his worst-case scenario five times in the last five months, and we’re still not there yet.”

Bulgari is also renegotiating existing leases with landlords to save on rent, Mr. Trapani said, and even pressing suppliers for better deals on diamonds, sapphires and other precious stones that are the raw material of its most expensive creations.

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