SM’s Parisian puts its best foot forward
The Sy group established by retail magnate Henry Sy Sr. may have grown into one of the country’s largest conglomerates, with dominant positions in such key industries as retail (SM Retail) banking (BDO), real estate development (SM Development Corp.), mall operations (SM Prime Holdings Inc.) and tourism (SM Hotels and Conventions Corp.), but the multi-billion-peso empire will always have a soft spot for shoes.
That was where it all started, after all, with Sy—the Philippines’ richest man with his family estimated to have a net worth of $12.9 billion—setting up a small ShoeMart in downtown Manila 58 years ago with the firm belief that if he could just sell one pair of shoes to every Filipino, then he would be a successful man.
Thus to this day, no matter how busy his daughter Teresita Sy-Coson is, she unfailingly spends at least three hours every second Thursday of the month patiently inspecting shoes laid out on a 2,000-square-meter space at the Mall of Asia. Sy-Coson, who chairs SM Retail, looks through the latest shoe designs from various suppliers to help determine which ones will find their way to the department store floor, all proudly bearing the brand Parisian, the top house brand of The SM Store.
Parisian did not become one of the country’s most recognized shoe brands by accident, rather by careful and deliberate design, executed by the shoes group under the baton of SVP Eugene Saw, who is also Parisian Business Unit’s head.
For many years, the group was content for Parisian, which was established not long after the company was put up and inspired by the elder Sy’s travel to Paris, to be known mainly as a value-for-money brand within easy purchasing reach of most Filipinos.
But in 2008, as part of the upgrading of the SM group as a whole, it went through a repositioning, from a plain value brand into one that can hold its own among fashion brands.
“Shoes will always be in our DNA. As such, it is imperative to push the brand to be the top footwear brand in the Philippines,” Saw tells the Inquirer.
Adds Sy-Coson: “We continue to put the same focus on the Parisian brand as Mr. Sy did. We refreshed the brand to cater to the current market and introduced new designs and marketing concepts. As the company grew evolving from a shoe store to a department store and then into a mall, SM expanded the Parisian line to serve different types of customers. We continue to innovate and revitalize the brand, bringing fashion trends from Paris to a new generation of shoppers.”
The repositioning of Parisian also coincided with the reorganization of the department store group, such that the shoes division now functioned as a full-range business unit, with its own merchandising, operations and communications team. This made the shoe group directly accountable for its market position, be it Parisian or other in-house brands such as Salvatore Mann and Milanos.
“Despite being the number one department store, Mrs. Coson saw the need to go beyond what we have done in the past to ensure long term success. Thus, the concept of Merchandise Business Unit was formed that enabled us to have razor sharp focus in growing the different lines of our business. In our Business Unit’s case, it allowed us to have more freedom in exploring different ways of growing the shoes and bags business. With our own merchandising, marketing and operations team in place, we were able to execute our plans from the merchandise conceptualization stage to marketing of the products, down to the actual selling inside our stores with more precision,” Saw says in a statement.
This is a departure from the old system where the various divisions such as shoes or bags and clothes had to share merchandising and operations functions, which means it can take some time for plans, be it product display or marketing collateral, to be executed. That lag can spell disaster in the fickle fashion world.
What the group wanted was to strengthen the already formidable brand, which Saw says separates SM from the other department stores and retail chains. Only SM, he points out, has its own fashion brand, one that has to compete with the multitude of shoe brands on the shop floor.
“The brand is a pull, a come-on. When the shoppers come, they are offered not just Parisian but an entire selection,” Saw says, “But what we envision is for Parisian to be known as the fast-fashion brand for shoes. No other shoe brand positions itself as fast-fashion shoes.”
The turning point for Parisian came in 2010 when the Parisian brand was reintroduced in the Philippine Fashion Week, the biggest fashion event in the Philippines. That became the launch pad of the brand’s new look and collection. It was amplified by the collaboration with some of the top names in the local fashion scene, like designer Rajo Laurel.
It also went into the celebrity endorsement route, starting with KC Concepcion and now with Nadine Lustre. Parisian likewise strengthened its social media presence, with its Facebook public page now having one million likes, helped along by the power of celebrity and the constant updating to show the latest designs. This helped Parisian tap into a new generation of shoe lovers.
Saw says the company also made sure that the in-store experience “fully embodied the perception that we want to achieve as a fashionable brand. These vast improvements in merchandise and store presentation uplifted our brand image to a whole new level.”
“As Mrs. Coson always tells us, we have to set the trend. She tells us, you sell to today’s and tomorrow’s customers, not yesterday’s,” Saw says.
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