Hermès seemed destined to become part of LVMH’s luxury empire. Not so fast
爱马仕当年似乎注定要成为路威酩轩奢侈品帝国的一部分。且慢

脱缰之马 The one that got away-书迷号 shumihao.com

IN THE AUTUMN of 2010 le tout Paris of business braced for the sad, if predictable, end of an era. After 173 years and six generations, Hermès, a purveyor of handbags to bankers and neckties to their husbands, was to become part of LVMH. The champagne-to-evening-gowns mastodon, home to Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, among many others, had disclosed a stake of 17% and rising. Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s boss, with a knack for closing in on companies he admires, had only to pick off a few Hermès heirs ready to cash out. Bankers assumed the “wolf in cashmere” would take mere weeks to gobble up his elegant prey.
2010年秋季,巴黎的商界名流迎来了一个时代的悲惨(虽然是可预见的)终结。创建173年、历经六代人的爱马仕(Hermès)将要成为路威酩轩集团(LVMH)的一部分。爱马仕卖手提包给银行家,卖领带给她们的丈夫。路威酩轩这个庞然大物销售从香槟到晚礼服的各种奢侈品,旗下拥有路易威登和克里斯汀·迪奥等众多品牌。它已披露持有爱马仕17%的股权,而且还在上升。老板贝尔纳·阿尔诺(Bernard Arnault)擅长捕猎自己喜爱的公司,他只需要再搞定几个准备套现走人的爱马仕家族继承人就行了。银行家们认为这头“披着羊绒外套的狼”不出几周就会把他优雅的猎物吞进肚中。

Fast forward to autumn 2020, and the various descendants of Thierry Hermès not only still control their family’s firm, they have beaten LVMH at its own game. One of their own, Axel Dumas, has reclaimed the helm from an outside manager. Mr Arnault has all but scarpered off the Hermès shareholder register and moved on to other targets, though not always successfully: on September 9th LVMH said it would not go ahead with a $17bn bid for Tiffany, an illustrious American jeweller. By just about any measure, Hermès has led the luxury pack, nearly trebling revenues between 2010 and 2019, to €6.9bn ($7.7bn). Operating margins last year hit 34%, best in the industry. Even as it has been roiled by covid-19, its market capitalisation has risen this year to €78bn, while big competitors have shrunk.
时间快进到2020年秋季,蒂埃里·爱马仕(Thierry Hermès)的后裔不但仍然控制着这家家族企业,还以其人之道还治其人之身,击退了路威酩轩。他们中的一个——阿克塞尔·杜马斯(Axel Dumas)——从一个外聘经理人手上收回了船舵。阿尔诺已经差不多从爱马仕的股东名册上消失了。他转向了其他目标,虽然也不是一帆风顺:9月9日,路威酩轩称不会继续以170亿美元的价格竞购美国著名珠宝商蒂芙尼。从几乎任何方面看,爱马仕都已引领奢侈品行业,它在2010年至2019年间收入增加了近两倍,达到69亿欧元(77亿美元)。去年的营业利润率达到34%,为业内最高。在遭受新冠疫情冲击之时,其市值今年上升到780亿欧元,而大型竞争对手的市值悉数缩水。

Plenty of companies, particularly those with family histories, resist the lure of takeovers by bigger rivals. Often the decision is guided by pride rather than financial sense. Hermès provides a road map of how to stay independent—and how it can pay off.
许多企业,尤其是那些有家族渊源的公司,都会抵挡被更大的竞争对手收购的诱惑。通常,这类决定是基于尊严感而非财务上的判断。爱马仕提供了一张路线图,显示如何保持独立——以及这能带来什么样的回报。

The first step was to keep the wolf at bay. Though listed since 1993, most of Hermès’s shares belonged to 60 or so descendants, split into various branches. Hermès threw up all manner of defences. Mr Arnault was publicly rebuked as a corporate raider (less polite language was used). Lawyers attacked the underhand way in which his stake was built through complex financial products that skirted disclosure rules (LVMH was later fined €8m by the markets regulator). Ultimately, Hermès family members eager to remain in charge created a structure which pooled just over 50% of shares, committing themselves to owning their stakes come what may until 2031. By 2017 Mr Arnault had given up.
第一步是把狼关在门外。尽管早于1993年上市,爱马仕的大部分股份由约60个家族子孙持有,分散在多个分支部门。爱马仕拿出了各种各样的防御措施。阿尔诺被公开谴责为企业掠夺者(当时用的词更难听)。律师抨击他使用狡诈手段,通过规避披露规则的复杂金融产品增持股份(路威酩轩稍后被市场监管机构罚款800万欧元)。最终,那些急于保住掌控权的爱马仕家族成员创建了一个结构,汇集起刚刚超过50%的股份,并承诺无论如何都会持有自己那一部分直至2031年。到2017年阿尔诺已经放弃了。

The second step is to use independence wisely. That Mr Arnault coveted Hermès is testament to its good management. But the general rule in the past decade has been that multibrand conglomerates like LVMH, Richemont (home of Cartier and Montblanc) or Kering (Gucci and Saint Laurent) hold an edge over single-brand outfits like Burberry, Prada or Hermès. The cost of building new e-commerce capabilities can be spread more widely; size gives a bargaining advantage with landlords. Creators are lured to the biggest names in a virtuous loop of desirability.
第二步是明智地利用独立性。阿尔诺对爱马仕的觊觎从侧面印证了这家公司的出色管理。但在过去十年中,一般来说,路威酩轩和历峰集团(Richemont,旗下有卡地亚和万宝龙)或开云集团(Kering,旗下有古驰和圣罗兰)等多品牌企业集团要比博柏利、普拉达或爱马仕这样的单品牌团队更有优势。建立新的电子商务功能的成本可被更广泛地摊薄;公司规模大也带来了同房东还价的底气。在一个吸引力的良性循环中,最大牌的品牌更能引诱设计师。

Hermès might have struggled to compete head-on. So instead—and this is the wise part—it played to its strengths. While rivals flocked to the fashionable, ostentatious and cutting-edge, it erred on the side of discretion, timelessness and tradition. Its biggest hits today, the Birkin and Kelly handbags that often sell for $10,000 or more, are refreshed versions of what it has sold for decades. It can do whimsy and eye-catching: its website currently features a functioning porcelain skateboard, a snip at €3,350. And whereas a Dior dress will last one season, an Hermès product is for life. As creative directors shuffle from one brand to the next, at Hermès the same designer has overseen menswear since 1988.
爱马仕原本可能难以招架正面竞争。所以它宁愿扬长避短——说它明智正是在这里。当竞争对手们涌向时尚、浮华和尖端之时,它选择留在审慎、永恒和传统这一端。它现在卖得最火的产品——售价通常在一万美元以上的铂金包(Birkin)和凯莉包(Kelly)——是它已经卖了几十年的手袋的翻新版本。它也有异想天开和抓眼球的东西:目前它的官网上有一款真的可以拿来滑的陶瓷滑板,售价3350欧元,真是够便宜的。一条迪奥的连衣裙流行一季,一件爱马仕的物品却可以用一辈子。在时尚界,创意总监们从一个品牌跳到另一个,而爱马仕自1988年以来都是同一位设计师在负责男装。

Understatement works as a strategy only because Hermès enjoys an aura of exclusivity. This gives it pricing power to sell knick-knacks for over ten times what they cost to make. Waiting lists for Birkins stretch for years. Because much of what it sells carries through the seasons, Hermès does not need discounts to get it off the shelves. That preserves both margins and the brand, a luxury group’s most valuable asset. The firm claims not to have a marketing department. It is the kind of claim a clever marketing department might dream up, but Hermès does spend only around 5% of revenues on advertising and promotions, half the share of rivals.
低调之所以能用作一项成功的策略,是因为爱马仕具有尊贵和独享的光环。这给了它强大的定价能力,能以超出制造成本十倍多的价格出售饰品。铂金包的等候名单已经排到了几年后。由于它销售的大部分产品不会在一季后就过时,因此不需要靠打折来清空货架。这既保证了利润,又维系了奢侈品集团最有价值的资产——品牌。这家公司声称自己没有营销部门。这可能是一个聪明的营销部门设计出来的说法,但爱马仕的确仅仅将收入的约5%用在广告和营销上,是竞争对手该比例的一半。

The stolid approach has paid off in the pandemic. Sales will probably drop this year because of store and factory closures in the spring. But Hermès looks in better shape than its competitors, says Luca Solca of Bernstein, a broker. It is less reliant than they are on Asian tourists shopping in Paris or New York. It makes most of its wares itself, so does not need to bail out third-party suppliers. Demand wobbles are less of a problem given those long waiting lists. And if well-heeled consumers are to spend in a recession, they favour timeless brands.
在疫情中,这种不动声色的方式收获了回报。由于春季时商店和工厂被迫关闭,爱马仕今年的销售额很可能会下跌。但它的状况看起来要好过竞争对手,经纪商伯恩斯坦(Bernstein)的露卡·索尔卡(Luca Solca)说。它不像对手那么依赖亚洲游客到巴黎或纽约购物。它自己制造大部分商品,所以不需要救援第三方供应商。鉴于购买等候名单之长,需求波动的问题也没那么大。而如果有钱的消费者要在经济衰退期花钱,他们会更青睐不会过时的品牌。

For success to endure, Hermès heirs may require one more thing. The company is a digital laggard. A mere 2-3% of its sales last year came from its website, half its rivals’ share. Its Instagram account—a measure of a brand’s buzziness—has just 10m followers, compared with 41m for Chanel or Gucci. It lacks younger consumers who inject brands with vitality; according to Citigroup, a bank, only a quarter of sales are to Gen-Zs or millennials (the oldest of whom are about to turn 40).
为让成功持续,爱马仕的继承人可能还必须做一件事。这家公司在数字化方面落于人后。去年它的销售额只有2%到3%来自网站,是竞争对手比例的一半。作为对品牌热度的一种衡量方式,它的Instagram账户仅有1000万名粉丝,而香奈儿或古驰有4100万。它缺少能为品牌注入活力的年轻消费者。据花旗银行称,爱马仕的销量中仅有四分之一卖给了Z世代或千禧一代(他们当中年龄最大的即将满40岁)。

Tough as leather
坚韧如皮革

Mr Dumas is alive to this. Hermès has started to branch out into cosmetics, offering aspiring shoppers a cheaper entry point than Birkins (or skateboards). It has invested in a Chinese venture, Shang Xia, that may be useful if consumers in China—big buyers of luxury goods—start coveting local baubles instead of French ones.
杜马斯很清楚这一点。爱马仕的触角已经开始伸向化妆品,这为向往它的产品的购物者提供了比铂金包(或滑板)更便宜的入店门槛。它已经投资了中国企业“上下”。如果中国的消费者(他们是奢侈品的大买家)开始青睐本地产的饰品而非法国货,这一步可能会有用。

Such moves are not so different from Mr Arnault’s. He might have executed the same savvy strategy at Hermès; LVMH executives still speak of the “brand that got away” with reverence. But the Hermès clan can draw satisfaction from the fact that their investment in the family firm has yielded returns of over 400% since 2010—even juicier than if they had traded their stakes for LVMH shares. ■
这样的策略和阿尔诺的那套差异不大。如果他当年拿下了爱马仕,可能也已经在这家公司实施了同样的明智策略。路威酩轩的主管们至今仍充满敬慕地谈及这个“差一点就到手的品牌”。但是,爱马仕族人们可以从一个事实中获得满足感:自2010年以来,他们对这家家族企业的投资已经产生了超过400%的回报,比他们当年能换取的路威酩轩的股份回报更丰厚。