Two years ago, Vera Bradley CEO Rob Wallstrom talked about customer engagement as a critical strategic priority, along with generating brand awareness, evolving brand perception, driving store and site visits, and inspiring brand engagement.

While the company’s recent fourth-quarter performance didn’t quite meet expectations, amid a challenging retail environment, Wallstrom is confident about where the brand is headed.

“Our marketing efforts drove customer engagement by increasing brand visibility and igniting a social movement with our multi-faceted ‘It’s Good to be a Girl’ campaign,” Wallstrom said. “It intensified emphasis on influencers, social, mobile, and video content, generating over 500 million impressions, a nearly 20-fold increase over last year through national ads, editorial content, and gift guidance such publications as People StyleWatch, InStyle, Glamour, and Seventeen, even appearing in Oprah’s favorite things, holiday gift guide online, and digital ads on Hulu, Pandora, and the Conde Nast network and increased influencer and celebrity marketing.”

Even though fiscal 2017 was a challenging year, Wallstrom noted, the company made meaningful progress against key elements of its long-term strategic plan.

“In product, we continue to create beautiful solutions for our target customer through functionality and innovation in our core classifications of fashion bags and accessories, travel and campus, and continue to add product categories to enhance our lifestyle, such as in home and beauty,” he added. “We expanded our collegiate initiative to represent over 70 schools and announced six licensing agreements in the areas of bedding, hosiery, swim, tech, stationery and publishing for products that will debut throughout 2017. These products should increase our brand exposure, allow us to attract new customers, provide additional distribution, and drive traffic to our digital flagship.”

Vera Bradley opened four full-line stores, all in its new modern store design, including its flagship store in SoHo and its highest traffic and volume store in Disney Springs in Orlando. It also opened six factory outlet stores, continued to make improvements to verabradley.com, preparing for the relaunch of its digital flagship, which was completed in February 2017, and added additional distribution to approximately 130 Macy’s, Belk, and Bon-Ton department stores.

“We have a strong brand, a talented team, and a solid financial foundation and our focus on ensuring Vera Bradley’s prosperous future,” Wallstrom noted. “However, our transformation is taking longer than we had originally planned and the overall retail environment and accessories pace are significantly more challenging than anticipated.”

Wallstrom expects another challenging year.

“But we remain keenly focused on the future and the long-term health and growth of the business,” he said. “We will continually challenge our cost structure and look for ways to work more efficiently and effectively, while continuing to invest in areas of the business that will drive revenue growth. As we enter fiscal 2018, our No. 1 one goal is to grow our customer count. We must drive more traffic into our stores and into verabradley.com.”

To accomplish these objectives, Wallstrom listed three primary areas of focus:

Drive brand desirability through a robust marketing program

Drive product desirability through focusing on our core assortment and strategically leveraging licensing opportunities to expand the brand reach

Strengthen company’s distribution network, focusing on driving comparable sales in its core businesses, including continuing to strengthen digital flagship and relocating or closing underperforming stores.

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