Fossil Group, the global watch, apparel, and accessories brand, wants to make a smaller footprint on the environment and a larger impression on its customers. That’s why it’s rolling out new store designs that convey both artisanship and environmental stewardship. But as striking as they are, the stores are not the star of the show. “The product is the hero,” says Bob Higgins, vice president of global real estate and retail development.
Higgins has come by this retail philosophy through a lifetime of experience in the industry. He started his career as a Brooks Brothers retail store manager, so he knows the business from the ground up, and his experience there gave him a well-rounded knowledge of what connects consumers with a retailer.
Previously Fossil’s vice president of real estate and retail development for North America, Higgins stepped into his new global role two years ago. Today, he oversees real estate and retail development for 558 stores globally—249 of which are in North America—and works from the company’s corporate headquarters in Richardson, Texas. He works with a team of five midlevel directors who report to him in what he calls a global matrix structure; he also travels extensively, developing partnerships with third-party vendors.
Those vendor relationships are coming in handy as Fossil prepares to debut several prototypes for new store designs. Higgins, alongside Chad Spencer, senior director of global environmental design and retail development, is responsible for implementing these designs at many of Fossil’s locations.
One concept, the Fossil Full Price Store, exudes authenticity and an earthy groundedness through natural woods, soft gray grained plank flooring, plants, industrial-style tables, wooden stools, and leather mannequin busts. The earth-toned palette of the store is brightened by an infusion of color from Fossil watches, handbags, wallets, and satchels.
Another prototype that will be rolled out over the next nine months is the Maker Concept, which has a sleek, simple aesthetic focused on customization, personalization, and connected accessories. “Even though the designs are very clean interpretations, they are still true to the brand and the customer experience,” Higgins says. “We want our stores to feel authentic, approachable, and warm.”
The new Fossil stores will be smaller in size in an effort to be more environmentally conscious, Higgins adds, explaining that the full-price stores will now range from 800 to 1,000 square feet rather than from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. This focus on being environmentally friendly while still serving Fossil’s customers is a perfect encapsulation of Fossil’s brand, according to Higgins. “Craftsmanship and authenticity are core values to Fossil Group,” he says. “We are approaching our brand enhancements in an organic fashion.”
Higgins is also reviewing the company’s global portfolio of stores to target remodels, renovations, and conversions. Fossil Group is fine-tuning some current stores and closing underperforming locations with plans to repurpose some items. “We are excited about reinvesting in our fleet of stores and bringing down costs in this dynamic and volatile retail climate,” Higgins says.
With all this on his plate, Higgins’s role is a demanding one. “This is not a nine-to-five job,” Higgins says. “I’m never disconnected except when I’m sleeping. Texts, emails, phone calls are a constant process because I have people reporting to me from different time zones and different continents.” To stay connected to his team, Higgins meets with its members on a regular basis. “I am a firm believer in weekly scheduled meetings and/or conference calls with my team because they deserve my undivided attention,” he says.
Higgins’s leadership style has helped lead him and his team at Fossil to continuing success, but he also credits his retail career successes to “growing up” in stores. “For the first seven years of my career, I was in store management, where I learned to listen to the customer,” he says. “It’s a great way to roll up your sleeves and live the store experience. Also, each time I was asked to relocate, I said yes, which brought me different experiences, sometimes within different cultures. I believe that contributed to my global view.”
As Fossil continues to evolve, rolling out new store designs and stores with smaller footprints, Higgins’s open-mindedness will help ensure that the company never stops improving. “It’s about listening, evolving, course-correcting, keeping an open mind, and challenging yourself and your team on how to make things better,” he says.
Photo: Kathy Newton