Janet Carr, MBA ’90:
A strategy for fashion
Janet Carr is not a fashionista. As an undergraduate
zoology major and a graduate student in biology,
Carr was more likely to be found tromping
around in the woods in muddy boots than hosting cocktail parties in a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
Even today, as senior vice president of strategy for NYC-based Coach, Inc., Carr is more likely to spend a Saturday afternoon browsing the bins at a factory outlet than window shopping in downtown Manhattan. So what attracted the self-described former hippie to the top strategy position at one of the more prestigious manufacturers of handbags and leather goods in America? It wasn’t the 50 percent employee discount, she says, though she can’t deny that it’s a nice perk.
“I’ve always liked to look at the big picture. And that’s what this job is. You get to see how all the puzzle pieces fit together and do something about it. Geographically, functionally — you get to see it all.”
Coach, Inc., a company once known primarily for their American-made leather goods, has become equally known for their line of handbags, most priced in the $300 - $500 range, as well as accessories like bracelets, wallets, and belts. Luxury brands often attract buyers motivated by status: the pricier the product, the better it must be. The ethos of Coach is more egalitarian, Carr says. What the company strives to give its customers is what she calls “accessible luxury” and, above all, a product that is stylish and made well from quality components. Contrary to luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, which are hesitant to adjust their line of goods year-to-year (if a woman buys for status, Carr says, she wants the product to signify the same status year-to-year), Coach has made it a priority to offer new products every single month, in an effort keep shoppers constantly interested, and to encourage multiple purchases. It’s a strategy that has kept the company ahead of the curve during the recent recession.
Before taking her current position at Coach, Carr had a similar job at Gap — what she calls “a wonderful brand,” but a company on the downside of its growth curve. By comparison, Coach, Carr believes, is very much on the upside: beyond firming up its business in the United States and Japan, the company is looking to expand its reach into China in the next four to eight years.
The key to knowing how to shape the image of the brand in the future, Carr says, will be to keep closely monitoring and responding to the changing desires of its customers. And in this regard, she says her relative ambivalence about what’s hot and what’s not is actually one of her greatest assets: “I’m not imposing my point of view that way. Instead, I’m really listening.”