Creating Visions at Lacoste | Interview with Marc Laenger
From starting out as a sales person, Marc Laenger has developed his career in the retail sector as a visual merchandiser by learning hands on. Having worked in this field for 11 years, he explains how his point of view has changed. After gaining valuable creative experience, he is now the Global Head of Visual Merchandising for Lacoste.
MiND met Marc in Paris to find out more about his experience and vision for the brand.
Can you talk us through your background?
My very first job was at an Adidas outlet store as a sales person, which is where I learned a lot about customers and retail experience. The store manager realized that I had a sensibility for the products, so he led me down the path of visual merchandising. At that time, visual merchandising was not that well known; there was no school or specific training, you had to learn by doing and by internal training. So my knowledge comes from the field. At Adidas, I learned a lot from daily feedback with my manager. I strongly believe that you never know something until you try it.
I don’t really work as a creative person anymore – of course I have amazing creative people in my team, but I have to think with a vision first. At Lacoste, I have really learnt how to develop a vision, both of the brand and the customer experience. Whatever problem you have and whatever solution you need to find, you always need to remember what your vision is, you need to have a goal. They can be very basic or generic goals, but they help you find a solution.
My director definitely pushes me to think outside of the box. You have to be in touch with all departments to provide the 360-degree experience. This also helps you to deliver it to all experiences, not just the website, outlet or retail – it’s everything, it’s a brand strategy. You need to be at the level of the heritage of the brand. Everybody knows Lacoste and has a story, so it reminds you that it’s all about heritage and emotion – when emotion is involved, it changes the game.
How is retail changing?
The way we are seeing things now is very different from even 2 or 3 years ago. When you ask yourself questions and challenge yourself, you can make the brand evolve and make it more strategic. For example, our strategy is very customer-centric. So starting from that you can see the evolution, maybe not from day to day but from one year to another. Today we are all aware that we need to answer to the new generation, the Gen Z. The Lacoste customer starts from zero, we have products for babies, but also old people are still coming to Lacoste. We need to be versatile and evolve our identity at the same time. This is the biggest challenge.
The best experience I have had with Lacoste is with the new concept called ‘Le Club’ that we started in 2017 and was rolled out globally last year. This concept is managing the challenges of showing the heritage whilst being modern at the same time. We are always challenging ourselves. Everything that we do, not only in terms of visual merchandising, focuses on what the customer expects from us. We ask ourselves: what do we want to show them?
What inspires you?
Every time we need to find ideas or inspiration, we really focus on the product. When you play around with the products, this is the source of inspiration. Of course, we are creative, I have an amazing team of very creative people, but everything that we do revolves around the product. We also have an amazing fashion show, which is a great premise for the brand. Nothing comes by chance.
In the Global Visual Merchandising team that I work in, our team follows the product from the moment that we launch it, until it arrives in the store. I am the head of Global Visual Merchandising. In each region there is a dedicated head of Visual Merchandising who is in charge of following the strategy and the specific markets. The important thing is that there is a bridge between marketing and distribution, so it helps to make it more cohesive at the end of the day.
Technology is extremely important in today’s store design. How do you successfully integrate technology to create an effective in-store experience?
The technology that we incorporate is in the Le Club concept. We are starting to think of the customer in a different way. We are incorporating tablets and screens in stores to complete the experience. Although, we still believe in the savoir-faire that you can only experience within the store. Technology is part of the strategy but it’s not the only strategy. I don’t think it will ever become completely digital because there is still always the interest and excitement to discover what you see online, to visit the stores and touch the products.
“Visual merchandising is all about telling a story.”
What is your favorite product display?
I love the women’s collection – women shop in different ways to men, so we always need to surprise them to keep them coming to the store. We are known as a very masculine brand because of the polo, the history and of René Lacoste, etc. Today, the way that women buy is so different and it’s unique, so we have to work on that in order to be innovative.
Above: Lacoste Store Paris Les Halles
My favorite piece is the black polo from Lacoste; I wear it for every occasion! You can make it your own style. This makes me think about the essence of working with Lacoste – it’s that you come as you are and you will always find your way, you will always find something that will make you think: I belong to Lacoste.
What trends are coming in VM?
It’s difficult to tell, but what is certain for Lacoste is that we will always try to renew ourselves and make the Le Club concept evolve. We will be more playful, more lifestyle focused, because this is how we want our stores to be. We won’t forget about the business of course, but at the same time we will be more inspirational.
There is a growing trend with pop-ups; do you feel the need to do that as a brand?
This need is coming naturally from the markets; it’s usually to launch a new product. Today, the pop-up is just an evolution of our concept – it’s another way to expand the brand without completely breaking from our strategy.
“As long as you have a vision, you can apply it to anything.”
We work by seasons, but we do have product launches as well. Every time we change our windows, we change our collection. It doesn’t mean that you remove the collection; it’s just that you’re editing it.
What advice do you have for young designers who aspire to be VMs?
You never know what the job of a Visual Merchandiser is like until you try it. It’s a very unique journey, because it’s not an exact science. You have to be versatile to be able to adapt. If you want to build your career in Visual Merchandising, you need to be surrounded by people and work together.