Guest Column - September/October 2010

Affordable, Accessible Luxury

By Joe Zanone

There will always be a need in the world for luxury items. Nieman-Marcus will not be closing its doors any time soon. Nor will Saks, Cartier or Hermes.

Luxury is status. Luxury is recognition. Luxury is envied. And, luxury in the premium and incentive channel is accessible and in demand—now more than ever.

What Is Luxury?

What defines luxury? According to Merriam-Webster, luxury is defined as:

  1. archaic: LECHERY, LUST
  2. a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort; sumptuous environment (lived in luxury)
  3. a) something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary (one of life's luxuries)
    b) an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction or ease (had the luxury of rejecting a handful of job offers - Terri Minsky)

I prefer to use the third definition to define luxury within the marketplace: "Something adding to pleasure or comfort, but not absolutely necessary. An indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction or ease."

In these turbulent times, I believe that luxury is more in-demand than ever before. I also believe that luxury, luxurious items, luxurious trips and luxurious hotels are seeing the resurgence within this marketplace as economic worries subside a bit.

Pinpointing Luxury

Luxury is not cash, cash equivalent, cheese plates in your room or even a cocktail party.

Luxury is found in every category and under various brands within the premium and incentive channel, and all are easily accessible. Most are even quite affordable.

By definition, luxury is changing at a very rapid pace and can be found in all levels of the pricing curve within a given project. For a classic example, look at the Starwood Hotel Group portfolio of brands. While the St. Regis is by every definition luxurious, it might not be right for the 20-to-30-something crowd. Among that demographic, the W might be a better fit. Westin offers plenty of luxuries and luxurious locations that would satisfy most group participants.

Another example would be Sony, which offers a state-of-the-art, high-definition, 3-D television with huge screens. However, most participants would be just as happy and consider a 46-inch LCD-HDTV a very luxurious item!

I was watching a segment on The Today Show about handbags, and was informed that the "It" bag at $10,000 is no longer the "It" bag. Now shoppers—or incentive programs—can offer very stylish designs that fit the "It" bag description, but at a more affordable price for today's market. Examples within the industry include the Michael Kors Layton Small Messenger Bag at $198 retail, Dooney & Bourke Florentine Vacchetta Small Shoulder Bag at $235 retail and the Kate Spade Five Points Metallic Raina bag at $245 retail.