Blogging from the Luxury Summit: The Revival of Gump's
Gump's began to lose its focus after it was sold several times, and by the 1990s Hanover Direct bought the company and began selling low-end merchandise through the catalog but still sold high-end merchandise in the stores. This was a big disconnect for the company because the two halves were catering to different audiences, the store in San Francisco still appealed to luxury consumers but the catalog had an audience which appreciated mass-market collectibles.
In 2005, private equity investors bought the company and decided to restore the brand. They hired Marta Benson who had a long career with Smith & Hawken and Restoration Hardware and who had started off as a retail buyer. When Benson came on board she looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the company creating brand standards and editing and focusing what the store sold in order to make it more refined and positioned higher than mass market brands. She changed the catalog team and store team into one team that selects for both catalogs and stores so that they would have a shared vision. The store deepened its association with luxury brands such as Baccarat, Lalique, Nymphenburg and Herend. They also started a line of branded goods including a home fragrance collection.
Gump's also revitalized their gallery showing new artists, especially ones that focus on home design and contemporary craft. In the 1940s and 1950s the gallery at Gumps had shown many famous artists but it had languished in recent years. Benson is also using the power of philanthropy as a way to give back and engage the community in a way that is consistent with the store values . They are creating a fund to establish a Gump's scholarship to the California College of theArts, raising money through an upcoming lampshade fashion show.
The Gump's consumer is older and has a lot of things. She comes to Gump's for gifts and for small items. The emphasis is on conscientious consumption-- it's not about having a lot of stuff but about having things that last and provide beauty, creating brand stories. She says that everyone has a "Gump's story" and that is one of the reasons that she is not planning to open stores in other cities. Instead the focus is on bringing the catalog brand in line with the tradition that the flagship store represents. Sometimes when a luxury brand loses its way it has to return to the things that made it great in the beginning.