Ralph Lauren & J.C. Penney: A Study in Partnership vs. Ownership

Look for our full coverage of the American Living program at Penney’s this week . . . 

The Ralph Lauren/Penney’s collaboration speaks to a larger trend: the fast-moving world of retail has moved beyond traditional “private label” and into lifestyle branding, and from ownership to partnership; a new world in which retailers and brands do what they do best rather than pretending that everyone can do everything. Wal-Mart’s most recent change in the apparel division (moving sourcing and product development to New York) isn’t about favoring the Big Apple over Bentonville, it’s about taking less ownership of manufacturing by re-partnering with suppliers who do it best, and augmenting private label by partnering with brands that come with instant consumer awareness. If that means licensing brands rather than owning brands (a la Op), then so be it. Macy’s partnered with Zoom Systems and J&R Electronics knowing that they need to be relevant in consumer electronics while acknowledging that they don’t have the expertise, or time, to build the category internally. The premise of Lauren’s Global Brand Concepts (a concept in no way intended to remain a Penney’s-only project) is that Ralph Lauren’s well-honed brand development expertise has earned him the cred to churn out proprietary power brands for specific retailers without putting his name or logo on the products he creates. As for Penney’s, in spite of their terrific private brand building track record (Arizona anyone?) rather than arrogantly plowing ahead with a sea of self-created brands, they had the wisdom to partner with the king of lifestyle brand creation for their biggest power launch. Remember all of the nay-saying about Penney’s partnership with Sephora? J.C. Penney knows when to say “Don’t try this at home!”

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