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What Now? Ralph Lauren Discontinues the Polo

I recently did my annual patronage to the Ralph Lauren store to buy a variety of Polo’s. This is the first time I couldn’t find the iconic shirt. Upon further investigation, I was told, “We no longer carry that shirt.”

Now just to be clear, we are talking about the shirt that is commonly referred to as the Polo. Yes, the one that created the category that is commonly called…well, POLO!

This is like Coke coming out with a new Coke. Oh wait! They did that and it didn’t end well.

This shirt has been around since 1972. The cotton material is fantastic, getting better with age. Wrinkles easily fall out from a standard wash. The fit is trim with a longer back. The collar is stiff, holding its shape, yet comfortable.

Now, just to be clear, they still carry other shirts that might resemble the “original” design, but they have either changed the material or the design. It’s not the same!

With success, companies will find competition. We’ve seen brands become so popular, it becomes the generic word for a type of product, such as Kleenex, Google, or Xerox. This process is known as genericization and in some cases, it can result in the company losing their trademark.

With over 50 years of success, Polo has had all kinds of competition. We’ve seen so much saturation with their product, it becomes less desirable and unique. The typical killer is when it is available at deep discount stores or outlets.

The product went out of favor in the 90s but made a moderate comeback. They have played with different materials and shapes, but in my opinion, they all come up short from the classic. This seems to be a typical attempt to chase competition, versus remaining true to your customer.

Many companies would love to have this problem. It’s a dream to think about your offering becoming the generic word for category. While most would believe this is a large company challenge, even smaller companies have offerings that run their course. The product life cycle is something that is common across all industries. Every company must maintain portfolio management, pruning aging products and introducing new concepts. They also must keep the offering fresh with new technologies and advancements.

A trigger to revisit your offering can be based on Gross Profit Margin. When companies began to reduce margins to increase volumes or to remain competitive, it is likely time to revisit their offering or strategy. This can happen slowly over time and companies struggle to maintain profitable growth. They may improve efficiencies or take advantage of volume purchasing strength, but they will most likely have to make tough decisions soon.

It’s sad to think Ralph Lauren has given up on the classic shirt. We have seen other companies struggle with aging products as the consumer tastes evolve. They say fashion is cyclical. I would hope to one day see the classic find its way back to the shelves. In the meantime, if anyone has access to someone at Ralph Lauren, I would be happy to receive any obsolete inventory to hold me over until the product is back in favor.

Dale Robinette is facilitating a year-long Scaling Up program with 5 leadership teams beginning January 2023. Each quarter, this group will learn best practices around People, Strategy, Execution and Cash. We are looking for leadership teams that are interested in growth and have a clear and compelling drive to achieve it. They must be passionate about their mission and willing to lean in and do the work to provide opportunities for their company and their community.

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