- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NEW YORK — Cartier, the French-founded luxury company, boasts a centurylong history in the United States, something few American-born brands can say.

Sure it has soaked up some glory with its 100th birthday celebration this year, but the company’s attention seems fixed on the future: It participated in a program that had business- and design-school students evaluate the jeweler and make suggestions to court a new generation of customers.

Christian Dior, Hermes, Lalique, Louis Vuitton and sunglasses maker Luxottica also participated in the Design and Marketing of Luxury Goods, a joint interdisciplinary course at Columbia Business School and Parsons the New School for Design. Students had access to top company executives, scoped out the competition and rated the overall customer experience.

At one point, they posed as shoppers — but they left without bags. Cartier isn’t in many students’ budgets, reports Courtnay Thomas, a new recipient of a Columbia MBA, with a laugh.

But you know the saying: You have to know your customers.

“Back when [Cartier] had American clients like the Morgans and the Forbes, Cartier decided to serve them better by coming to the U.S.,” explains Frederic de Narp, president and CEO of Cartier North America. “Innovation and invention also has been important.”

He adds: “We have to follow the client, and yes, the client is changing. We’re also trying to pick up future clients.”

A wedding engagement might be the best occasion for Cartier to solidify its relationship with younger customers, Ms. Thomas observes. Her group suggested creating a separate bridal “experience,” devoting a specific area of the store to wedding-related jewelry, hosting brunches for couples, even supporting a concierge service.

With perks like that, Ms. Thomas says, “you get that customer back into the store for anniversaries and birthdays.”

Other suggestions were to build a watch bar and hold parties for new owners in an effort to build loyalty. Considering the economy, “loyalty” was a big buzzword with the students.

At least one student, Eloise Kordaris, thought the flagship store was due for a modernization, creating more of a spalike, zen atmosphere while adding flat screen TVs.

The watch bar, fashioned after a sushi bar, would acknowledge that many people already know — or think they know — what they want before entering the store, says Ms. Kordaris, who is going into her senior year at Parsons. Instead of being treated as a browser with an afternoon to spend in front of jewelry cases, perspective watch buyers could get a streamlined experience, saddling up to the bar and ordering, say, a classic Tank.

Their research showed that, thanks to the Internet, many watch shoppers already have done their homework and are looking for a speedy transaction, Ms. Thomas adds.

Cartier’s guiding motto is the jeweler of kings, the king of jewelry. It traditionally served royalty. But the new customer, while we wanted to make sure the heritage of Cartier was at the root of anything we recommended to them, we needed to address ‘the new royalty,’” Ms. Thomas says.

That “new royalty” is molded in the spirit of someone like President Obama, Ms. Thomas says: determined, busy and authentic.

Mr. de Narp says he’s taking the suggestions seriously. “We always want to be part of the culture.”

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