Let’s face it, 2020 will be remembered as the year global industry had taken a monumental hit; due the pandemic. Amongst the hardest hit, were none other than fashion retailers. In fact, retailers had been pushed forward to focus on new innovative and fresh ideas to power through the hardships that COVID-19 brought upon business on a global scale.
The U.S. Polo Assn., the official brand of the United States Polo Association (USPA), the nonprofit governing body for the sport of polo in the United States, and one of the oldest sports governing bodies, having been founded in 1890. A multi-billion-dollar global brand maintains worldwide distribution through 1,100 U.S. Polo Assn. retail stores, department stores, sporting goods channels, independent retailers and e-commerce. The brand offers apparel for men, women and children, as well as accessories, footwear, travel and home goods in 180 countries worldwide.
And it doesn’t stop there. Recently ranked the 5th largest sports licensor in License Global magazine’s 2020 list of “Top 150 Global Licensors,” U.S. Polo Assn. is named alongside such iconic sports brands as the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.
And with the help of CEO and President J. Michael Prince the brand was able to persevere during the tragic onset of the pandemic. Thankfully, the American fashion apparel brand eventually held onto its place as one of the top American and Global retailers in the world. In 2017, Prince was appointed President and CEO of USPA Global Licensing. During Prince’s time he has overseen the USPA’s iconic sport-inspired U.S. Polo Assn. brand, which has a $1.7 billion global footprint and is represented across 180 countries worldwide. Prince has overseen the company’s 1,100 global retail stores, digital commerce, global partnerships, as well as a plethora of operational and financial management strategies. Additionally, Prince supports the company’s global broadcasting business, Global Polo Entertainment(GPE), which showcases high-profile polo games reaching over 5 million viewers worldwide through multiple-content platforms.These amazing financials statements and overall brand growth have not gone unnoticed.
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U.S. Polo Assn. launched its sport-inspired Summer Collection for 2021 in the Florida Keys. Coming out of an optimistic spring, the brand aims to refresh for summer with the perfect blend of casual and sophisticated looks like classic dresses, crisp cotton shorts and bright sportswear. The collections provides youthful and vibrant styles that exude a return to the great American spirit! Hyper brights are combined with a preppy finish and shot by relaxing by white sandy beaches.
“As we look forward to brighter days this season, our Summer 2021 Collection demonstrates a happy spirit with bright printed linen shirts and tropical pieces,” says Brian Kaminer, SVP of Brand and Product Development for U.S. Polo Assn. “This season we combine our classic styles with innovative colors, bold printed options and stand out pastels.”
U.S. Polo Assn. is known for its sport-inspired, classic American style and each season the brand takes it to a new level with fresh colors, high quality fabrics and iconic styles.
“We welcome our global consumers and sports fans around the world to shop, in store and online, our iconic, classic summer looks that are sport-inspired and show our authentic connection to the sport of polo,” said J. Michael Prince, President and CEO of USPA Global Licensing, which manages the global, multi-billion-dollar U.S. Polo Assn. brand.
Nantucket Whaler, a lifestyle brand, is inspired by exploration and island history dating back to 1837. The brand’s heritage is steeped in the mystique of Nantucket Island and the generations of people who built a life exploring the sea. Nantucket Whaler style translates the grit, strength and endurance of those early nautical explorers into well-crafted clothes for modern consumers who embody those same core values.
And what I find inviting is the brand’s sustainable efforts moving forward. The brand has recently curated a collection of sustainable items whose production is better for the environment. Much of the brand’s authentic collection is designed and manufactured in the U.S.A., including in New England. The apparel assortment this season ranges from “slub” knit, garment dyed polos and cool linen shirts to swim shorts and casual SUPIMA® tees, all durable and versatile for the warm sun and salty breezes.
“With summer fast approaching on Nantucket Island, we are excited to reopen our flagship store and share our Nantucket-inspired Summer 2021 Collection with locals and tourists alike,” said Brian Kaminer, SVP of Brand & Product Development for Nantucket Whaler.
Forbes recently had a chance to interview J. Michael Prince about why he believes this year’s disruption has pushed the industry to be smarter and more innovative, how he intends to cultivate Gen Z customers to experience the brand better and how as a nearly $2 billion brand spanning more than 180 countries, they continue to focus on a multi-year plan of global retail growth, digital excellence and brand elevation!
JD: Given that you have well over 1,000 brick and mortar stores worldwide, how has the pandemic affected the business and how the U.S. Polo Assn. overcome these challenges?
J. Michael Prince: Let me start by saying, U.S. Polo Assn. was on pace to have another record year in 2020 on all fronts until the pandemic took hold. By late March 100 percent of our global brick and mortar business was shut down. While most of our storefronts have since re-opened, we recognized a dramatic increase in online buying that has remained. With that said, we learned that great brands are accessible through many channels of distribution, delivered to consumers how, when and where they want it, with each channel supporting the others. Retailers must go to where the customer is and that is what we are doing, expanding omnichannel. We had already committed to an aggressive global e-commerce roll out plan, but the pandemic brought an even greater sense of urgency to deploy e-commerce sites globally. Right now, we have 30 websites in 15 different languages, with many having an e-commerce component.We also know that customers still want to look at and touch product, socially shop with friends and family and be part of an in-person, emotional experience. Overall, I believe this year’s disruption has pushed the industry to be smarter and more innovative, and to focus even more on what matters most for the consumer.
JD: In your words, how does brick and mortar retail relate interchangeably with ecommerce platforms.
JMP: Looking at how quickly the marketplace has been disrupted and evolved over the past year, I believe that having a healthy retail store portfolio that complements your online business is critical for brands. Ultimately, we are social creatures, and consumers will still desire some type of personalized and emotional experience as they engage with brands. The key is to find that right balance. And adapt in a quickly changing environment. As a nearly $2 billion brand spanning more than 180 countries, we continue to focus on our multi-year plan of global retail growth, digital excellence and brand elevation.
JD: How has U.S. Polo Assn. made sustainable business efforts with USPAGL and J. Michael Prince overseeing both brands?
JMP: As a global team, we continually ask ourselves ─ how can we do more to leave the earth in a better place for future generations? We had been doing some great things around denim production and sustainability for several years, and denim represents a large part of our business. But this year, we celebrated Earth Day 2021 with the official global launch of USPA LifeTM, the brand’s holistic and long-term sustainability program that includes significant global product initiatives. We are engaging our licensee partners around the world and working on sustainability practices and goals, but USPA Life is a marathon for us, not a sprint. With the expanse of our business, our long-term commitment to improving the environment will make a meaningful impact over time. The “next generation” of sustainable U.S. Polo Assn. products is part of the Spring 2021 Collection in certain stores and online now. The USPA Life products and packaging available now include polo shirts and other apparel made from high quality recycled yarns and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) sustainable cotton; denim produced with yarn made from recycled water bottles; and some packaging and hangtags produced from recycled materials. Customers will be able to recognize USPA Life products with new branded hashtags and know the item was made with materials and processes that are ultimately better for the environment, including production methods that reduce water waste and/or environmental pollution. We want our customers to feel positive wearing our products and recognize our brand’s contribution to this very important global initiative. Great brands and their consumers can all play a part in improving our global environmental footprint.
JD: Talk to Forbes readers about the social impact relationship between the U.S. Polo Assn. brand and the United States Polo Association (USPA).
JMP: U.S. Polo Assn. is the official brand of the United States Polo Association (USPA), one of the oldest governing bodies of sport in the country. Therefore, when customers purchase U.S. Polo Assn. product, they own a piece of the sport of polo. Our design inspiration is consistent in that it comes from our authentic connection to the sport that encompasses over 130 years of tradition, heritage and classic, American styling. As part of our connection with the USPA, we support some 200 polo clubs across the U.S. and Canada as well as several international clubs including Copenhagen Polo Club in Denmark, Cowdray Park Polo Club in the UK and Korean Polo Country Club in South Korea. Philanthropy is at the core of the U.S. Polo Assn. In fact, a portion of revenue from the sale of U.S. Polo Assn. products are used to fund many of the operational activities of the USPA. U.S. Polo Assn. also contributes to several charitable events around the world including the Royal Charity Cup in the UK, Sentebale Polo Cup, Polo Africa/African Youth Polo Teams, Queen's Cup Pink Polo in Thailand, Manipur Statehood Day in India and the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® benefiting Susan G. Komen®, and the Collegiate Partnership Program (CPP), just to name a few. It's also important to state that as a brand and a sport it is vital that the U.S. Polo Assn. and the USPA collaborate to promote equality both on and off the polo field. One interesting fact about the sport of polo is that it’s a co-ed sport, with women and men playing on the same field together. Most people don’t realize that polo is one of the only team sports where female and male athletes can compete with, and against, each other at all levels from youth and collegiate to professionals. Female players not only represent a large percentage of players, but also include the fastest growing segment of the sport in the United States. USPAGL recently produced an Emmy Award-nominated television show that took an in-depth look at inspirational and fearless female polo players. The show was released in conjunction with the U.S. Polo Assn.’s Women’s Initiative, a global brand campaign celebrating female polo players and supporting other important women’s initiatives. It was recognized at both a regional and national level for bringing this to light and for profiling such inspirational women, reaching more than 60 million households across an international audience. It can be viewed on-demand at globalpolo.com, USPA Global Licensing’s premier destination for all polo content.
JD: How do you intend to grow the Gen Z demographic?
JMP:, U.S. Polo Assn. is a brand that is authentically connected to our sport and one that gives back. We don’t have to make anything up to gain fans, followers and consumers. Our classic style flows from the sport of polo and we know that authenticity is meaningful to the younger demographics. Our philanthropic contributions to the sport, equine welfare, and global concerns like disease and hunger around the world are also a large part of our authentic story. And we continue to work on enhancing sustainability to make a large global impact, as I mentioned prior. To reach our Gen Z and younger Millennials we use social media with content that includes authentic, sport-inspired video and photography as well as youthful, vibrant, lifestyle scenes. We also use influencers, many of whom are professional polo players themselves. Today we have more than 6 million followers worldwide across our various platforms. Another area that’s particularly new and exciting for us is gaming and esports, which will further elevate the worldwide presence of our sport-inspired brand and is aligned with our digital strategy. We have entered into a collaboration with industry leader GameSquare Esports and feel our brand is a tremendous fit for the large and growing gaming and esports audience – a young demographic that values authenticity, innovation and style. We are in the 3rd year for our Collegiate Partnership Program to support college polo clubs by giving them performance jerseys, game whites, gear bags, along with a financial donation. We continued to support these amazing college polo teams and student athletes even as activities were limited last year from the pandemic. In support of our U.S. Polo Assn. brand, the players posted some amazing, inspirational images on social media that attracted thousands of new followers. Most recently, we are the presenting sponsor for the upcoming USA Today High School Sports Awards (HSSA) where the best athletes across multiple sports categories will be honored for their accomplishments, including, for the first time ever, in the sport of polo. It’s been an incredible opportunity to support these outstanding student athletes, and to expose them to the authenticity of the U.S. Polo Assn. brand. Finally, we are focused on youthful consumers with one of our long-term goals being to revolutionize the retail consumer experience. We opened the smaller, 1,000 sq. ft. footprint of our “High Goal” Energy Store prototype in the metro area of Hangzhou, China, one of the entrepreneurial tech hubs. For background, the best players in polo are called “high goal players.” This is the type of environment that appeals to these Gen Z and younger Millennials, proven by the fact that this was our top performing store in China pre-pandemic. The innovative store enables consumers and the U.S. Polo Assn. team members to engage in a more intimate way if they choose. For example, customers can check themselves out in a high-tech mirror, take a selfie with friends and shop in-store/buy online with no touch transactions. It’s a place where these consumers can be comfortable to hang out, plug in or unplug, and shop.
JD: Tell us about USPA Global Licensing’s (USPAGL) new lifestyle, e-commerce brand Nantucket Whaler®.
JMP: Nantucket Whaler, a lifestyle brand, is inspired by exploration and island history dating back to 1837. The brand’s heritage, like U.S. Polo Assn., is an important factor ─ it’s steeped in the mystique of Nantucket Island and the generations of people who built a life exploring the sea. Nantucket Whaler style translates the grit, strength and endurance of those early nautical explorers into well-crafted clothes for modern consumers. While our flagship store is located at 7 Old South Wharf on Nantucket Island, and open from May to October, much of our business comes from the brand’s new e-commerce site. We view Nantucket Whaler as a start-up that offers authentic, Nantucket-inspired apparel and accessories in the affordable luxury category. Think all-weather jackets, cozy sweaters, light linen button downs and our Nomad pants that rival some of our strongest competitors in the space. We were pleased to see that sales have been up substantially from the previous year and the digital business continues to accelerate. It’s notable too that Nantucket Whaler supports the non-profit organization, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), in its dedication to the conservation of whales and dolphins through inspiring global action.
JD: As President and CEO of USPA Global Licensing (USPAGL), the company that manages and oversees both U.S. Polo Assn. and Nantucket Whaler, where do you see the business going in the next five years?
JMP: Digital will remain a focus. Today we have 30 U.S. Polo Assn. websites and six million social media followers with goals to grow to 100 sites and 10 million followers in the coming years. On the sports side, we recently launched Global Polo TV (GPTV), the premier livestream destination for live and on-demand polo and lifestyle content worldwide, accessible at Globalpolo.com and on major apps including iOS, Android, Roku and Amazon Fire, with our most recent broadcast of the 2021 U.S. Open Polo Championship reaching 6.5 million viewers around the world. Beyond digital, USPAGL remains on the offensive as we continue to exercise flexibility and nimble action, through unprecedented times, to build U.S. Polo Assn. globally through our diverse and forward-thinking initiatives. For example, expanding into new global markets with industry leaders like Alpar de Brazil, the region’s leader in apparel, footwear and sporting goods and largest distributor of leading brands like Nike, Adidas, Champion and Lacoste. We are also working on some projects that will bring entre` into new areas of our business. These are very exciting times for brands that are forward-thinking. USAPGL was able to meet last year’s difficulties and overcome them with strategic thinking and aggressive action. Our long-term goal is to grow by about 100 stores annually beginning in 2022 and double revenue in the coming years. USPAGL remains optimistic through strong leadership, continued partner/licensee support and consumer-focused initiatives online and in-store, U.S. Polo Assn. will continue to build an authentic connection to the sport and carve out its current place as one of the top 5 sport licensors in the world.