In early March we began reporting daily on how brands were dealing with Covid-19. But it’s become clear that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption, so we decided to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal is to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.
UK-based Rocco Forte Hotels has responded to the continuing confusion surrounding Covid testing for travellers from the UK by launching its own innovative ‘Fit to Travel‘ partnership service. The group, which operates luxury properties in locations including Sicily, Rome, Florence and Puglia, has partnered with Blue Horizon, which will arrange for self-test kits to be couriered to and from people’s homes, entirely bookable online – affording maximum convenience for families in the run-up to half-term. A guaranteed certificate is then produced within 72 hours of travel. The test costs £169, or £129 for Rocco Forte guests who will be given a £40 discount code upon confirmation of reservation. Chairman Sir Rocco Forte said: “These are trying times but I am keen to do anything that will enhance travel and allow our customers to holiday and enjoy themselves. Testing in the UK before traveling to Italy reduces much of the hassle and helps make the trip as seamless as possible. Upon arrival guests will find our usual hospitality and service.” For those travelling last-minute, testing is also available on arrival, with results within 48 hours, at three Rocco Forte properties. Hotels across Italy are facing mass cancellations after the UK was added to Italy’s Covid at-risk list last week, requiring those travelling from the UK to either provide evidence of a negative test in the last 72 hours, or agree to be tested on arrival (risking quarantine if positive). For those choosing to be tested on arrival there is also the issue of some airports only offering testing between 9am-5pm.
Dropbox has announced that it is becoming a “Virtual First” company. Remote work (outside an office), says the company, will be the primary experience for all employees and the day-to-day default for individual work. “Once it’s safe to do so,” they said in a statement, “ we’ll continue to facilitate a cadence of in-person collaboration and team gathering either through our existing real estate or other flexible spaces. We’ll call these collaborative spaces Dropbox Studios, and we’ll have Studios in all locations we currently have offices – whether they’re dedicated spaces in places we currently have long-term leases and a high concentration of employees (San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, and Dublin to start) or on-demand spaces in other geographies. Every employee aligned to one of our offices will have access to a Studio. To ensure a fair and consistent employee experience, we felt it was important to be prescriptive about how these spaces are used – so Dropbox Studios will be specifically for collaboration and community-building, and employees will not be able to use them for solo work. While there may be some exceptions based on team and role, employees will also have flexibility to relocate outside of locations where we currently have offices. There will be some parameters but the choices will be much greater. As a result, we expect Dropbox to become more geographically distributed over time, and hope this offers our teams more choices in where they live, work, and hire from. Utilization of Dropbox Studios will vary by team needs, so we may set up new ones as our geographic distribution and employee concentration changes. Next, we’re embracing what we call “non-linear workdays.” We’re setting core collaboration hours with overlap between time zones, and encouraging employees to design their own schedules beyond that. As our workforce grows more distributed, this will help balance collaboration with needs for individual focus. We want to prioritize impact and results instead of hours worked.”
Target, Walmart and Tractor Supply Co. might not seem like the coolest places to sell apparel, but brands can’t afford to be picky these days. Levi Strauss is the latest to embrace them: The denim brand plans to expand its presence to 500 from 140 Target stores by next fall. Levi’s had been selling its lower-priced brand Denizen at Target for almost a decade, but began selling its more expensive main label at the big-box retailer last year and is happy with the results. It is also launching a separate partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods, another relative retail winner during the pandemic. These partnerships come as department-store sales remain depressed. In the most recent reported quarter, Macy’s and Nordstrom saw sales decline by 36% and 52%, respectively, compared with a year earlier. At the same time, mass merchants have been winning more apparel business. Apparel and accessories sales jumped 11.7% at Target in the quarter ended Aug. 1 compared with a year ago, while Walmart-owned Sam’s Club saw its home and apparel revenue grow 10.8% in the same period. Even Tractor Supply Co. saw double-digit percentage growth in apparel. That is also good for the mass merchants because apparel falls into one of their higher-margin categories. Steve Madden is another brand that gave a shout-out to big-box retailers in its latest earnings call, saying that those vendors would be its “growth customers” in 2021. Walmart and Target already accounted for 31.5% of Steve Madden’s accounts receivable last year, and the apparel brand said in late July that sell-through rates at those wholesalers had returned to pre-pandemic levels.
High-end restaurants are starting to jump on the cook-it-yourself meal kit trend. New York’s Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, for instance, is offering a $275 chicken dinner that customers cook themselves at home. The EMP dinner kits feed two to four people and feature a chicken with brioche, black truffle and foie gras stuffing, plus roasting tips for the bird. Alongside are a cheesy potato gratin and baked squash with seaweed, and an apple tart or similar dessert. As a throwback to the three-Michelin-star experience, there’s also a jar of EMP’s signature granola, the perennial parting gift for diners in the restaurant, considered one of the world’s best. Every take-out order will provide 10 meals to people in need through Rethink, a hunger-fighting nonprofit. The intention is to offer the kits until the restaurant reopens, but the EMP team are also planning to offer special holiday meal kits for Thanksgiving and Christmas. EMP’s fancy chicken is the latest in a series of high-end meal kits that have proliferated as a result of the coronavirus. This summer, Carbone offered $500 takeout boxes delivered to the Hamptons, with dishes designed to be cooked and finished at home, like spicy vodka rigatoni pasta and Mario’s meatballs – and a minimum order of $2,000. Still on offer is the $800 Temaki bento box from Masa in New York, that includes its signature Osetra caviar-topped toro; hand rolls are DIY. In San Francisco, Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn provides the Crenn Kit Luxe, a changing offering which might include dishes like caviar and koji rice tart, brioche, tomato and melon salad, cocktails, and dessert, along with video preparation tips from her team ($155 per person). Another notable Bay Area chef, Michael Tusk, has to-go pasta kits from his restaurant Cotogna for cooking multiple meals at home, including tagliatelle with summer squash and their blossoms and spaghetti alla carbonara ($155 for four). Michelin three-star Alinea in Chicago is already offering Thanksgiving packages that include free-range turkey with infused cooking butter, sage stuffing, and green bean casserole for $325 to $895. “We’ve already sold $250,000 of Alinea Thanksgiving,” says co-owner Nick Kokonas. “We’re capping it at 2,000 turkeys. It will be the equivalent of 10,000 covers.”
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