VOL. MMXIII..No. 209

In Conversation | Thought Leaders and Iconoclasts

The Strategic Business: Brian Valmonte on the Secrets to a Successful Brand



One of the revelations in Diane Von Furstenberg’s new book, The Woman I Wanted to Be, is that the $200 Billion company started without a business plan.


“My biggest fault is my impulse,” admits the designer and chief executive of DVF. “It’s also my greatest quality. I had no recipe, I had no plan for decades. It’s only now that I realize I need a business plan.”


That’s not so surprising for Brian Valmonte, b. on brand’s newly named partner and business strategist.


Brian cut his teeth as a seasoned business and tax analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and he says even with today’s startup juggernauts, business plans are still thought of as optional.


In his first interview since joining the firm, he shares the lessons learned from the frontlines of finance.


B. ON BRAND: Your past career was in hardcore tax and finance at PwC. Why did you decide to make the switch to pure retail?


BRIAN VALMONTE: I started as a financial analyst quite young, and I think when you start a career at such an early age you inevitably hit a point when you realize: wait, maybe I’m destined for something altogether different.


I was deep in the trenches of untangling corporate tax eligibility for some of America’s biggest companies, but frankly, I was tired of cleaning up their messes.


The creative and strategic process that drives a successful retail company has always fascinated me. It’s this pure nexus of business, customer, and product. And let’s face it — anything is sexier than tax.


Brian cites convenience apps like Washio as just one example of a startup that may be challenged over the long-term. “A lot of these businesses offer a nice-to-have rather than a real need. An economic downturn puts them at risk.”

Why are so many mass-market retailers struggling to reinvent their brand — what are they missing?


 There is a certain finesse to analyzing the marketplace, your product offering, your customer, and your competitors.  Those aren’t the only things to consider but we can all agree that retail hasn’t evolved fast enough to meet customer expectations. I think two important factors come to mind: timing and targeted expectations. 

{ “Innovation happens when the product or service has been revolutionized and moves the needle to the point where it creates an entirely new marketplace that didn’t exist before.” }

When it comes to timing, you have to be ahead of the game.  If you’re already seeing profit margins declining or competitors re-positioning themselves because they are listening and watching the customer more closely than you are, you’re probably too late and it’s going to be an uphill battle. I think most of us can think of one very big American retailer who has been consistently challenged. They’re chasing instead of leading.


Brian Valmonte 2015

Brian Valmonte in the offices of b. on brand in San Francisco. “When someone comes to us wanting to launch a new business, I look for the deep insight and bold action plans that both disrupt and expand the definition of the market.”


You’ve worked with several b. on brand clients already, what is it you consistently reinforce with them when it comes to developing their business strategy?


Well, like Diane Von Furstenberg says in her book, have a business plan and a financial plan.  The whole exercise itself is valuable even if it’s not 100% accurate – and it often isn’t.  It’s your roadmap.  It allows you to set goals, strategies and realistic expectations. I’ve met with a lot of MBA’s and seasoned executives who think their ideas are so brilliant that they can skip this critical step.

 When someone comes to us wanting to launch a new business, I look for the deep insight and bold action plans that both disrupt and expand the definition of the market.

uniqlo-is-about-to-beat-gap-in-sales-1438694635.06-396351 courtesy Bloomberg News


Mass market retailer Gap Inc. has faced serious challenges and Japanese retailer Uniqlo is taking them to task, as reflected in recent sales figures.

Here in Silicon Valley, new companies are launching a plethora of new twists on relatively commonplace services and products. Will they succeed over the long-term? Who are some companies worth watching?


Before the last economic crash it was all about “luxury.” Today, it’s “innovation” but so many start-ups are not really that innovative, they just tied their pony to someone else’s technology to make their idea seem innovative. A dry cleaning app is not innovative, but look how many people jumped on that and so many other “convenience” bandwagons.


Innovation happens when the product or service has been revolutionized and moves the needle to the point where it creates an entirely new marketplace that didn’t exist before.


For me, Tesla, Airbnb, and Uber are innovative brands because they have disrupted the status quo and altered how we live and interact with the world.  





Airbnb and Uber are just two brands that Brian believes have the power to redefine their respective business sectors.

Luxury brands have been in the news a lot, mostly because of the talent shuffle. As much as luxury fashion is about creativity and art, it is still very much a business. Can the two coexist — what’s the business challenge?


It goes back to what I said about timing and realistic expectations.  All brands and products grow at different rates.  Luxury brands in particular require constant investment and a broad range of products and licensing to help support the prestige but niche projects like haute couture collections. Chanel is the textbook example of a brand that has dozens of business units that support the top of the pyramid: couture. But as many brands have learned, that’s a difficult business model to replicate.


>> Want to weigh in? Contact Brian Valmonte atBrian@bonbrand.com

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