For most of its 76-year history, New York leather goods maker Coach (COH) has been a one-brand name.
But the luxury company announced some major executive moves on Thursday. The company has landed Joshua Schulman, former president of Neiman Marcus Group’s iconic Bergdorf Goodman store, to lead the Coach brand in a newly created job — a move that strongly suggests Coach Inc is preparing itself to become a portfolio company instead.
Coach CEO Victor Luis has made clear in recent quarters that the company he has led since 2014 is on the hunt for acquisitions, looking to build on its successful 2015 purchase of Stuart Weitzman, a $575 million deal that helped the company gain a bigger toehold in the high-end shoe market.
In addition to hiring Schulman away from Bergdorf as President and CEO Coach brand, starting June 5, Coach said it was putting Ian Bickley, currently head of Coach’s international efforts, in a new role overseeing Coach’s global business development and strategic alliances for Coach and other brands it may own in the future.
Coach is reportedly in advanced talks to buy Kate Spade (KATE), and last year was thought to be mulling a takeover of Burberry (BURBY). With a market cap of $11 billion and ample cash in relation to liabilities, Coach has the means to make a buy.
Whatever brands are in Coach’s crosshairs, the company is making no secret of its intentions to become more akin to European luxury conglomerates like LVMH, Kering, and Richemont, in contrast to the U.S. where luxury names like Coach, Tiffany & Co (TIF), Ralph Lauren (RL) and Michael Kors (KORS) are one-brand companies.
The two appointments announced on Thursday are “an important step in Coach, Inc.’s evolution as a customer-focused, multi-brand organization,” the company said in its press release.
After clawing its way back to growth last year, following two years of enormous sales declines in the Coach brand caused by an over reliance on discounting, it seems as if Coach has decided smaller is better for its namesake brand.
Indeed, under Luis, Coach has begun to repair the damage: It has reported three quarters in a row of comparable sales growth in North America, and last quarter, handbags costing $400 or more generated 50% of sales, up 20 percentage points from a year earlier. As for strategic alliances, Coach has pulled back on its presence in discount-focused department stores like Macy’s, and closed many of its own stores, so it’s clear it needs new avenues.
The very definition of luxury is scarcity and so it looks like Coach will look to make up for top line growth in its namesake brand by making acquisitions. And become less reliant on a single brand.