The bicycle overtakes the horse
How Bean Pole outperformed Polo through 'total family brand' strategy
By Yang Su-jin
In 2011, Bean Pole, a fashion brand of Cheil Industries, became the first brand in the Korean clothing industry to post 500 billion won in annual domestic sales. With a 30 percent market share in high-end casual wear, the home-grown latecomer tightened its lead over Ralph Lauren's Polo, the once seemingly unbeatable leader in the market segment.
The domestic casual clothing market was created in the 1980s during a brief period when school uniforms were abolished. Since then, the market's growth has paralleled Korea's fast-paced economic development.
In early 2000s, casual wear accounted for over 35 percent of the apparel market, by far the highest among all clothing categories. A gradual nationwide switch to a five-day work week, which instilled the concept of weekend leisure activity, as well as rising acceptance of informal office wear, solidified the demand for casual clothing across all age groups.
Bean Pole quickly detected underlying shifts in the market and began to formulate a "total family brand" strategy for the high-end segment.
By leveraging the brand value of its flagship Bean Pole Men's, Bean Pole was able to branch out into Bean Pole Ladies and Bean Pole Golf, and then Bean Pole Kids, Bean Pole Jeans, and Bean Pole Accessories.
It is the first Korean apparel brand that adopted such a brand strategy, and has enjoyed synergy by assigning a single brand to various sub-line stores.
Prof. Kevin Lane Keller of the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and a strategic brand management expert, explained the difficulty of brand expansion strategy by noting that if a parent brand's equity is not strong enough or if extended brands are poorly implemented, brand equity can be diluted.
Bean Pole avoided these risks through a three-pronged approach of: firstly, securing major brand equity, secondly, successfully running sub-lines to strengthen brand equity and thirdly, "recharging" brand equity by experimenting with new ideas.
Securing brand equity as traditional casual clothing brand
The brand integrity that Bean Pole pursues is young, passionate and smart. Its brand logo is a 19th century British gentleman riding a bicycle from the early industrial era. As part of its efforts to strengthen brand equity, the company invented its own signature plaid pattern and officially registered the design in 2000.
To develop powerful brand equity and enhance brand recognition, Bean Pole produced TV commercials from 1993 to 1998 that emphasized the bicycle logo on all Bean Pole apparel.
The commercials contributed greatly to Bean Pole's image as a maker of high-end traditional men's casual wear, by using the same background music and same storyline for years.
Bean Pole also adopted a no-discount policy in 1993 to change consumers' perception of domestic brands, at a time when Korean brands were largely focused on mid-and low-priced apparel.
Considerable effort went into improving quality and design so that Bean Pole's quality was equal to its price, and designers were empowered to freely propose new and creative designs ― before then, marketers tended to provide the detailed design instructions.
Strengthening brand equity by launching sub-lines
To implement its family brand strategy, Bean Pole organized a process that ensures sub-lines share concepts of the parent brand.
The process begins with the brand's design studio in New York. It was founded for long-term competitiveness and global market entrance. The two-year-old studio hires local design manpower and produces data based on research into global fashion trends, colors, and textiles.
The data is distributed each season to the design teams at the sub-lines for the sharing of concept. The sub-lines then build on the data when designing items.
To bring a British sensibility to the brand, Bean Pole arranged a series of collaborations with British traditional brands and entities over an extended period of time.
It formed a partnership with the University of Oxford and developed products that incorporate the school's coat of arms and its sports clubs.
At the same time, Bean Pole Golf launched a line named "The Open" after the 150-year-old British golf tournament. The line made up 40 percent of total sales of Bean Pole Golf in the fall/winter season of 2010.
While sharing brand integrity with all its sublines, Bean Pole considered each target market's characteristics and brand positioning in relation to competitors in order to adjust the brand's characteristics.
Bean Pole Jeans, for example, underscores much more trendy and modern elements than Bean Pole Men's, and its price range is 30 percent lower than the Men's.
To lure young customers in their teens and early 20s, the brand also opened a flagship store called "U Flat." By doing so, Bean Pole Jeans is now recognized as a "for-the-youth" traditional casual brand that appeals to teens and customers in their 20s, with a much younger and more vibrant feel than Bean Pole.
In line with the expansion in kids and outdoor clothing markets, Bean Pole added a baby line to Bean Pole Kids in 2010 and plans to launch an outdoor line in the spring of 2012.
Recharging brand equity by experimenting with new ideas
Bean Pole aims to invent a "global traditional style" by shedding new light on its current brand integrity and reinterpreting it.
The brand has refused to be confined to its existing style and proposed new products through continuous collaboration with multiple brands, designers and artists.
Since it is not a "designer" brand like its competitor Polo, Bean Pole could have easily been exposed to the risk of outdated or mundane brand integrity. Instead, Bean Pole has successfully managed to avoid such risks through collaboration.
In the process, the trench coat that came out of the collaboration with designer JuunJ. in early 2010 sold out in a single month.
In the same year, the classic preppy look born out of collaboration with the American designer brand Band of Outsiders suggested a new interpretation of British traditional casual wear from a U.S. perspective and conveyed a sense of young and fun fashion.
Bean Pole Accessories also collaborated with Carlos Osman, Giorgio Armani's accessory creative director, to launch a line that gave a new look to Bean Pole plaid.
The line sold well, and the accessory sub-line collaborated with Korean fashion leaders like Kim Min-hee and Son Dam-bi to create their eponymous lines and lure young customers.
In 2011 when the brand made a foray into a New York, it launched a collaborative project with Kim Jones, the chief men's wear designer at Louis Vuitton.
Yang Su-jin is a research fellow at Samsung Economic Research Institute, which provided this report.