Lyft Brands Group LLC is a brand management company targeting quality brands with strong awareness and potential for long-term global growth.
The company licenses world-renowned brands across multiple industries and territories through strategic planning, impactful marketing and long-term partnerships with industry-leading licensees and operators who share the company’s vision and approach towards expanding brand presence and driving revenue.
Below are the highlights of the interview conducted between Sara Fernstrom – Chief Executive Officer of Lyft Brands Group and The Tycoon Magazine:
BRIEF US ABOUT YOU AND YOUR JOURNEY SINCE THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER.
In my final year of college, I interned full-time for CNBC and the NBC Today Show which helped me get my first job in the prestigious NBC Universal Page Program. There I rotated between different departments at NBC Universal to get a full rounded understanding of everything the company does, how they all work together, and help me decide on my future career path.
From there my career accelerated quite rapidly. After two years working at NBC, with a good network of contacts and an understanding of the inner-workings of Hollywood and consumer products, NBC helped me get through the door at Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
Working for CAA, a high-power Hollywood agency, truly inspired me and had a big impact on my career. All my colleagues were all highly competent, at the top of their game, and extremely passionate about their work. I truly thrived in this environment surrounded by innovation and the most brilliant minds of the industry where the ground-breaking ideas were formed and developed into multimillion-dollar business deals. The exposure I got from working alongside our clients ranging from the world’s most acclaimed movie stars, emerging and world-renowned fashion designers, and C-level executives at fortune 500 companies, at a fairly young age was truly remarkable and helped shape my career and my work forever
I was promoted to an executive within 2 years, and my area of focus at CAA was to develop consumer product lifestyle businesses merging our clients, my network of product manufacturers, and major global retail chains. For instance, together with Cindy Crawford we created a lifestyle brand called Cindy Crawford Style; a budget-friendly collection of home furnishings and accessories sold exclusively in all of JC Penney’s 1,093 stores. It was quite remarkable to go from zero to several hundred million dollars in the first year launching a new brand, but the star power and global consumer reach of the clients allowed us to negotiate incredible deals with the world’s biggest retail chains with three to five year guarantees.
After ten years of working at CAA and UTA, I decided to peruse a long-time dream which was to start my own company; Lyft Brands Group in 2015 where I am today. Lyft Brands Group is a brand management company targeting top quality brands with a strong awareness and potential for long-term international growth.
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN ONE-WORD OR ONE-SENTENCE?
Conceptual, creative, and unrelentingly honest
WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE OF MOTIVATION?
A strong desire to be at the forefront of innovation in the way we create and build brands and businesses in different parts of the world that allows us to succeed. I’m a very curious person and learning how to do things differently and better for our customers and our brands to help ensure we continue to stay relevant in an ever-changing and highly challenging market environment is a huge motivator for me. It also allows me to grow in my career, as well as the people around me by empowering and coaching them to be successful.
Lastly, I have always surrounded myself with very smart people that can bring new ideas to the table and push me to do better as well.
TELL US ABOUT THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED TO WITHSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE INDUSTRY.
Part of Lyft Brands Group’s model is providing an alternative business model to brands whose operational model is no longer cost-efficient or working. These brands are often capital intensive to operate primarily due to managing a global business that includes everything from inventory management, store leases and store staff, local sales teams and buyers, global import, export, and distribution costs. What we’ve been able to do for a number of successful brands and their global business is licensing out one or more product categories and territories internationally to licensees that are experts within their territory and can more easily spread the costs across multiple licensed brands. This allows the brands to still maintain the control of the brands by working closely with each licensee, ensuring the brand looks and feels the same in every country yet withstand significant operational costs required when running a business across the globe.
DESCRIBE IN DETAIL ABOUT YOUR COMPANY AND ITS UNIQUE SERVICES/PRODUCTS.
Lyft Brands Group creates, builds, and manages our own and other’s brands in the fashion and retail industries. Everything we do relates back to our mission of building strong global brands. Our focus is to enhance brand equity, drive global awareness, and customer engagement for sustainable profitable growth.
We create licensing partnerships, extending the brands into other sectors such as accessories, clothing and home furnishing and we partner with best in class local distribution partners (licensees) to increase brand loyalty by localizing the product assortment, marketing and messaging to be relevant to each country and culture while maintaining consistency through our brand management system.
We sit at the intersection of many of the forces driving today’s consumer retail landscape. Our knowledge spans business categories, product classifications, retail channels, and geographies. We have long and trusted relationships with the best-in-class local product, distribution licensees, and retail chains across all major territories globally. Our unique position in the market is our deep-rooted knowledge of storytelling, industry expertise in consumer products, and licensing which allows us to effectively manage and grow brands on a global basis.
BRIEF US ABOUT THE CURRENT INDUSTRY SCENARIO FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE.
Before Covid-19 the retail industry was already going through a transformative shift but what exactly the post-pandemic future of fashion retail will look like, I think is too premature to say. There’s still a lot of uncertainty faced by customers, businesses, and governments and I think it will remain that way while everyone adjusts to the new post-pandemic reality.
Enforcing social distancing will be a key factor to reopen, and this, of course, is challenging for retail stores, sales, and design for example who are more dependent on working more closely together. A transformative shift from in-store to online had already been going on for years but with the limitations set by Covid-19 it’s no longer an option not to be developing a plan for online sales, it already has to be in place at this point in order to do business. It’s been interesting to see how fast many companies have been able to evolve their online business since the outbreak with many more retailers now offering online orders with roadside pickups or customers making appointments in advance of visiting the stores. The demand for contactless commerce will continue to grow, with initiatives like online orders before store visits, home delivery or curbside pickup becoming more popular even as stores reopen.
But this will most likely only be an option for luxury and premium brands that have well-staffed stores and make up for the low number of customers with bigger individual sales and higher mark-ups. Mass market and fast fashion brands will not be able to scale this solution to their customer base or justify the costs if it is to be implemented.
Another aspect of our industry that requires a new approach is the traditional way of managing a wholesale business. The sales seasons for our local partners for wholesale particularly in Europe are normally centered around tradeshows as a key element to showcase the brand and network with all the key industry buyers and decision-makers in one place. We already saw an increased number of brands and distributors developing digital showrooms before COVID-19 and for many this is no longer a choice but a requirement to do business.
I’ve also seen over the last twelve – eighteen months an increased appetite for brands with local production capabilities both among our distribution partners and among the end customer, as well as the appeal of second-hand. I can only assume this will sustain post-pandemic and during the future of fashion and retail where shipping goods all around the world to lower production costs just does not seem the way of the future.
There are clearly a lot of changes that are happening quickly shaping the future of fashion and retail, but as long as we continue to move with the changes and evolve our business to remain relevant, I remain optimistic about the future.
STATE US YOUR MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS AND YOUR COMPANY’S ACHIEVEMENTS UNDER YOUR LEADERSHIP.
One of the first brands LBG worked on was Ben Sherman, originally known as a British men’s shirt brand. LBG helped lead a corporate global restructure of the brand, identified opportunities for growth, updated and unified brand vision, streamlined e-commerce, launched several new product categories, and secured a dozen new licensees. This resulted in an increase in sales of 400% in the initial three years with global expansion to 52 countries.
More recently, LBG was brought in by a Swedish women’s apparel brand, Odd Molly, where we identified core inefficiencies in production, logistics, inventory management, product design and assortment, marketing, and finance processes. I was then asked to function as an interim co-CEO overseeing operational activities. We freed up cash flow by converting an existing global wholesale business to a successful licensing model with new licensing agreements in Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Benelux, UK, US, and Canada. We refined brand DNA, aligned and adapted a new assortment strategy to support international expansion and reduce complexity, readjusted the marketing spend, and focused on growing strong brand equity.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AND YOUR COMPANY IN THE NEAR FUTURE? TELL US ABOUT YOUR FUTURE GOALS.
Lyft Brands Group is constantly evolving with the changing market, which now in a post-pandemic economy is ever important. We are re-evaluating our position in the market to ensure that we can provide our brands the best service and remain competitive. As part of that we plan to increase our efforts within the direct-to-consumer sector. We will look for partners with a competitive edge within the direct-to-consumer sector as well as operate some directly ourselves.
We are also looking to expand our portfolio of brands within outdoor, versatile casualwear and opportunities for our brands to manufacture locally as opposed to one manufacture producing for all countries.
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE TO THE BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS?
My advice to budding entrepreneurs would be that if you have something you are passionate about take the leap and pursue it. There is nothing more gratifying than fulfilling your dreams. With that being said, there will be challenges and hurdles to overcome, but take each one as they come and use it as a learning experience to further your business path. You need to constantly be at the top of your game and understand the ins and outs of your industry as your success relies on you. Believe in our instincts, however, also always be open to advice from more experienced individuals. During my time at NBC Universal, each Page was able to set up 30-minute personal informational meetings with any NBC Studio executive. To this day I still think back on all I learned from these successful individuals.
Sara Fernstrom -CEO Lyft Brands Group