Straight as an arrow
By Walter Ang
June 18, 2004
Philippine Daily Inquirer
"I'm impressed with the phenomenal traffic. It's outstanding!" said the head of a worldwide menswear label when he visited the Philippines for the first time. Human traffic inside malls, that is.
Clearly, Philippine mall culture has delighted Ian Ross, president and CEO of Arrow, a brand known for its menswear that's sold in more than 90 countries. Ross recently undertook a Southeast Asian inspection tour of Arrow stores including countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. The Philippines was the last stop before he returned to headquarters in New York City.
The Philippine market is relatively new for Arrow in Asia, with countries like Thailand starting operations way back in 1974. However, Pinoy men have proven their mettle when it comes to metrosexual fashion sensibilities that match the rest of Asia. Arrow's growth has been steadily increasing since it opened its first store in SM City Manila in 2000. Now the brand is being sold in 10 department stores as well as 12 boutiques nationwide.
"The Philippine market is very good. It has posted double digit increases every year!" Ross credits the expansion to local licensee Benito Lim. "This guy is very aware of what's going on in the market. He has the capability to react to the needs of the market and be proactive," said Ross.
This foresight for market demand has translated into this year's collection, decidedly hipper than last year's plain, formal designs. 2004's showcase of long sleeved polos and short sleeved polo shirts are adorned with candy color hues that come in patterns like stripes and checks. The fabric range includes cotton, polyester and a new material called Dryfit.
Ross points out that, "the Arrow brand may be 150 years old, but the image is getting younger and younger. The designs are a lot more fun here since people in Asia wear more color (compared to Europe and America)."
To anticipate fashion forecasts and stay on track trends, Arrow headquarters releases a style manual to all its licensees twice a year. "This guide lets our licensees in on the latest information on color, trends, fabrics ? everything!" enthused Ross.
Ross emphasizes that information sharing within the Arrow family of licensees is constant. "We have a global conference every year where there are workshops, updates and sharing of success stories. All our licensees attend with all our consultants ? from designers to suppliers and manufacturers of fabric, buttons and any other product related to clothing," Ross explained.
Plans for the year are laid out at these conferences, but nothing is set in stone. "We don't dictate. It doesn't work if you do business that way. Our business model is different from other brands because we give our licensees the freedom to do adjustments for their respective local markets."
This CEO who hails from Canada and joins marathons in his free time describes Arrow as "a market research and customer driven organization." Ross further explained, "Everything we do, we do for the customers. We have a lot of retail stores and it gives us the opportunity to process feedback right away. Its gives us a big leading edge in finding out if something is not working."
Keeping an eye on such a large network of licensees scattered all across the globe certainly keeps Ross busy. Proof of this is his already fully booked calendar. He's scheduled to visit even more licensees in other countries till the end of the year. However, it is this attention to preserving the network, these open channels of communication and the provisions for localization that enable Arrow to stay current and in tune with its market.
The company may be more than a century old, but its ability to evolve has kept it running alongside newer and younger labels. "We constantly test our products. If it doesn't work, (we) sweep it under the rug and do something new," said Ross.
The philosophy is evident when one sees how Arrow has grown and diversified. What started out in 1851 as a one-room workshop in New York churning out collars and cuffs for men has grown into full men's line as well as a broad assortment of apparel for women and children. The Philippine outlets have so far only introduced the menswear, but Ross confirmed that "plans are already being made to eventually bring out the lines for women and children, definitely something to look forward to."