How to Build A Brand: Joe Mimran
words by Lance Chung
For years, Joe Mimran has been hailed as Canada’s King of Fashion. And for good reason. With an impressive CV that includes creating brands like Club Monaco, Alfred Sung and Joe Fresh, Mimran has been responsible for helming some of our country’s most successful exports in the retail market. Now, as he heads into his newest venture as a dragon on CBC’s massively popular Dragon’s Den, Joe Mimran lays down the law on exactly what it takes to create a successful brand in today’s unpredictable business environment.
You’ve built some of the biggest brands to have come out of Canada. What is the one thing they all had in common that contributed to success?
Integrity of design is very important, as are consistency and voice. You have to have the ability to project and clearly see what success looks like. As well, how do you find a seam in the market that you can own?
When you started these brands, did they come from a personal passion of yours, or rather an opportunity to fill a hole in the market?
It’s always about a hole in the market, first and foremost. But what drives that is a love and passion for design and finding something that really speaks to the consumer at that time. You have to also be able to bolt on all these other aspects that make a business go, because you can’t win with just design alone.
What does integrity of design mean to you?
For me, it comes from a real place. You must intrinsically feel passionate for what it is that you’re putting out and not compromise for the sake of a consumer segment. You have to believe in something for it to ring true with the consumer. Some businesses are also built on just purely commercial ingredients, which can work very well as well. But personally speaking, it always felt better when it was about something that I did believe in and that I loved to do.
Did you have any experiences where what you believed in did not align with what consumers were pushing for? How do you balance the two?
I think it’s very difficult. A lot of brands will lose their way pursuing commercial aspects, which will save them in the short term, but destroy them in the long run. Speaking from my own experiences, there was a time in the mid-80s to early 90s when acid wash jeans were having a moment. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I missed a big commercial trend, but wanted to stay true to the brand. In the end, sure it may have hurt me commercially, but it kept my brand intact and ultimately worked for me. In those situations, do you change your positioning, or tough it through and hope that the market will come back to you? Those are really tough questions in the fashion industry.
You also don’t want to alienate your current set of consumers to chase a trend.
Absolutely. I think that’s always the hard part in fashion. How do you evolve a brand’s personality in spec with what’s going on without losing your true identity?
How large of a role has market research played for you?
Well, I never have been one for research. I believe in research, but I don’t believe that it will be able to necessarily tell you where the customer is going to be 12 months from now. It won’t necessarily tell you what demand you can create for something that has not been seen. Research in fashion is sometimes too late. You have to have very good forecasting skills and a very strong gut instinct.
How did you get your brands to resonate with consumers in the past?
It’s very different today than it was twenty years ago, where you did it by traveling and spotting customer segments that you were aligned to, and then served up a proposition that would then hit a chord. When you look at Joe Fresh, for example, we were in a food environment and it was very important to me that the colours were delicious, that they were appetizing. If it was all black and neutral, you were in the wrong environment for it. It mirrors the food environment and experience so that you don’t feel alienated from what it is that you’re about to buy. The words we use, the way we talk, the humour in the way we spoke to the consumer, the unexpectedness of the distribution, the honesty of the price points without cents on them — all of these things spoke to a brand vision and direction that resonates with the consumer and it’s not always intellectual. It’s a complete feeling.
Nowadays, there are so many options in the marketplace, especially with e-commerce and social media. How do you instill brand loyalty so that customers keep coming back?
It’s all about the promise. The consumer is demanding, you can never take them for granted. If you’re about design integrity, are you delivering? Are you constantly improving on that proposition? That’s the only way you can get people to stay with you. Every brand struggles with that, particularly today where the consumer is bombarded and has a plethora of alternatives and can shop at any time of the day, and in any matter that they want. It’s a much more challenged environment than it’s ever been.
Do you think there is still stock in creating a logo-driven brand?
I think the whole issue of logo or no logo will be one that will be forever there. In the early 90s, the logo was a kiss of death because you had just come off of the high-flying 80s. At that time, being too conspicuous in who you followed and where your loyalties were was not where the market was at all. It comes and goes, and it evolves. In the end, it’s all about what people want to project. I don’t care what trend it is, it always comes back to that.
A lot of great brands that exist today know that a great product is not enough to compete in the marketplace. With Club Monaco and Joe Fresh, how did you build customer delight into the retail experience?
In terms of that, there is a limitation of how much you can do. When I did Club [Monaco], one of the things we did was focus on store design. We had a boxing ring in the middle, we had a café in the back – we did things that were so out of the box that it was a very interesting experience. Today, it’s more socially driven. What really drives the consumer is what a brand is doing from a social perspective. How are they engaging their community of shoppers and co-opting them into the brand’s voice? Have they become an extension of that brand voice? That’s the new world, and what has to be done in the new world. They are looking for inspired brands that will move the consumers to be more than they are.
You’re a new judge on Dragon’s Den. What were some of the common elements that you noticed were missing from the contestants who didn’t make it through?
I think the hardest thing for entrepreneurs is to find the seam and articulate that against a strategy for how you’re going to turn it into a real business. Your idea may be good, but is there truly a customer for it? And then, do you have a skillset to make it into a real business? It’s not enough to have a good idea and the drive. Having said that, I would never, ever deter anybody from trying to follow their dream of being an entrepreneur. One of the great things you can do in life is to try and break through and do something that is unique, and try to succeed at it. But there are certain basic elements to that: know your numbers, make sure you understand what you’re asking for, have a good business plan. It’s remarkable how some of these basics escape people. The chance of success is very slim when they ignore those fundamentals.
What have you learned from your experience on the show?
There were several things that were interesting about being on the show. The first was being back in the place of a starting entrepreneur. There’s a lot of empathy when you’ve been there. You start to have flashbacks when you see people in that state. Some of them are good, and some are not so good. You really do feel for them. For me, that made me much more empathetic. The other experience was just working with the other judges, each of whom come with their own successful CV and businesses. To see them in action was super interesting and thoughtful. The ego is also a pretty important aspect in being successful. You have to have a good, strong ego to want to put yourself out there and drive forward daily. That was really fun to interact with the other dragons.