A Supreme Case of Coolness?
1 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2020
This case uses Supreme, a skater-clothing brand from New York City, and a framework for understanding the concept of “coolness” (see "A General Theory of Coolness," UVA-M-0953), which is the cornerstone of the firm's success, to set the stage for analyzing consumer behavior. Written using public sources, the case discusses the firm's overall strategy, including limited supply, unique shopping drops for newly released items, and a fan-like customer base. It introduces “coolness” as a marketing term to be explored with the Supreme brand. The case opens with an MBA's first assignment with her new company, in a business strategy role, to learn about the retail fashion business, understand the customer experience, and make recommendations to reengage Supreme as “cool.” While conducting due diligence, the protagonist walks readers through the Supreme shopping experience, introduces what she sees as crucial to “coolness,” and mulls over challenges the brand faces around how to sustain the customer experience through growth efforts.
Aug. 26, 2020
A Supreme Case of Coolness?
It was June 2020 and the United States was just coming out of COVID-19 lockdown. Amelia Sanchez, a recent MBA graduate from a top program, clicked off the Zoom video call in her parents' house in the New Jersey suburbs and considered the surprising words of her new boss, Rose Milton. Sanchez had just started in a business strategy role for Supreme, the skater clothing brand founded in 1994 that had grown to become a streetwear fashion phenomenon. Supreme seemed to be doing well. The Carlyle Group (Carlyle), one of the world's largest private equity (PE) firms, bought half the company a few years before, valuing it at $ 1 billion. Sanchez's younger brother, Carmello, regarded Supreme as one of the coolest brands around. His bedroom was a shrine to the company's products. That's why Milton's words troubled Sanchez.
Milton had talked rapidly, waving her hands for emphasis as she spoke. “For your first assignment, Amelia, we'd like you to figure out how to make Supreme cool again. Times are tough; retail is a mess with the virus. Bankruptcies are coming, and it's not just the virus that has stalled things. At Supreme, we are out of step and need to figure out how to get back to the top. If we don't turn this thing around in two years, we might need to say goodbye to Supreme.”
Sanchez knew that her response to the challenge was crucial to her career at Supreme. She had turned down top consulting jobs to tackle what she thought was a unique project: the chance to be one of the only female MBAs in the office and shape the future of a fashion brand she admired. Sanchez had won the job by networking intensively and was proud to be reporting to Milton, a VP at Supreme who reported directly to the legendary founder, James Jebbia. While she was surprised to be assigned to such a big challenge on day one, Sanchez had been through enough battles early in her career as a junior investment banker covering retail companies to project calm and strength when she responded to Milton, “I understand. How long do I have to come back with some recommendations?”
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Keywords: female protagonist, Supreme, brand positioning, coolness, customer value, consumer insights, autonomy, authenticity, attitude, association, bias, social identification, halo effect, collaboration, partnership, stakeholder analysis, behavioral science, behavior change
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