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Brand evolution: Stay true to what makes you special

A look at the Pier 1 brand

How do you stay true to what makes your brand special, while adapting to changing market trends and new competitors? For an interesting perspective, check out the brand evolution that’s been taking place at Pier 1 Imports.

In recent months, I’ve been watching the story of Pier 1 Imports with interest. The Wall Street Journal has written several articles about the company’s comeback from the brink of extinction.

What has most interested me is the company’s return to its roots, after straying from its brand identity. The company’s brand evolution over the last decade has been fascinating.

The “me too” syndrome can be costly

For 50 years, Pier 1 Imports has been known for unique home décor, including decorative knick-knacks and eclectic, colorful products with a touch of Asian flare.

With the rise of Target and other home furnishing competitors, though, the company changed its strategy in the early 2000s. It shifted to an “urban chic” aesthetic, offering Scandinavian-inspired furniture and goods in muted colors.

The move proved to be costly – even before the recession began.

Pier 1 lost its appeal for many of its regular customers, and same-store sales plummeted. By the time the recession hit in 2008, the Wall Street Journal reports that the company’s stock was trading at 10 cents. It faced the threat of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

Own what makes you special

Thankfully, the company scrapped its minimalist approach, refocusing on colorful and interesting merchandise and bringing back tried and true products and materials. (Hello, rattan!) These changes, along with other business changes, have led to powerful results.

On May 31, 2012, Pier 1 reported that its three-year cumulative comparable store sales had increased 31.7%.

As of June 5, 2012, Pier 1’s stock is trading at more than $15 per share.

And in November, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Pier 1’s return to an eclectic mix of bright, decorative items, analysts and shoppers agree, has helped the company stage a strong turnaround, despite the recession that killed off competitors such as Bombay Co. and Linens ‘n Things.”

Key takeaways for your brand

I can’t speak to the intricacies and difficult decisions that the executives at Pier 1 have had to make over the last decade. (Though, I can say, I’m thrilled the company has reclaimed its brand identity. Its stores and merchandise ignite the senses!)

Nonetheless, here are some ideas to help your brand navigate the changing competitive landscape in your industry:

  • Be clear on your purpose. Why does your business exist? What is your purpose? No matter what trends and competition you face, use your purpose as your North Star.
  • Avoid the “me too” syndrome. The tricky thing about keeping up with the Joneses is that you can begin to look and sound like the Joneses. When customers have no way to differentiate your business, they often default to comparing you on price. Or worse, they forget about you. You get lost in the crowd. Never lose sight of what makes you special!
  • Clearly define – and communicate – what makes your company unique and different. Besure your unique element is something that matters to your customers. And, be sure that your competitors aren’t claiming it as their own too. (Otherwise, you’ll end up back in the “me too” syndrome.)

Until next time!