The Trump brand, found on casinos, steaks, shirts and even wine, has been a major selling point for the Republican presidential nominee, and could end up damaged by his divisive campaign
Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump's self-inflicted wounds threaten not only his White House chances but his business empire's core asset: his name.
Emblazoned on luxury residential towers or sprawled over casinos and used to market steaks, shirts and ties, the Trump brand has long been a central selling point for the Republican presidential nominee, helping him amass a personal fortune estimated at several billion dollars and seemingly unlimited media attention.
But the former reality TV star has a new line of work: having long portrayed his life as a smash success, he has run a divisive election campaign which could drive off customers.
It has already cost him at least one business associate, who was repelled by Trump's remarks on women, veterans, Mexicans and others.
A rival rich man says Trump is toast.
"This is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump, not only for his run for the presidency but his brand, his properties, his businesses," billionaire media mogul Mark Cuban, a supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton, said in a television appearance this month. "He's been scorched."
The Trump Organization, however, told AFP its brand is doing better than ever.
"The Trump brand remains incredibly strong and we are seeing tremendous success across business units," a spokesperson said in an email. "We continue to outperform our competitors and are very enthusiastic about the future and our continued growth."
Because the company is not publicly traded, it is difficult to tell precisely if it has lost the confidence of investors and consumers, but there are worrying signs.
Greeted by protests at its opening in Washington, the new Trump International Hotel had difficulty fully booking its rooms and had to offer discounts, according to media reports. Prior to the opening, noted Washington-based Spanish restaurateur Jose Andres pulled out of the project.
A company representative also dismissed this: "With 10 years of experience with Trump Hotels, I can easily say the opening of Trump International Hotel, Washington, DC has been the most successful in terms of opening bookings," Mickael Damelincourt, the hotel's managing director, said in an email.
The discomfort is not confined to Washington. According to a Forbes poll in April, of 500 comparatively wealthy individuals interviewed, nearly half said they would avoid Trump hotels and golf courses in the coming years.
- Turning off foreign buyers -
Trump-branded luxury apartments, another lynchpin of his business operations, are currently selling below market rates even though they had been priced seven percent above comparable assets a year ago, according to a study by the national real estate brokerage Redfin.
"The Trump brand was really associated with luxury and a cachet that were enough to justify a sizable premium on the market. But this positive association has disappeared," Redfin chief economist Nella Richardson said.
Aspects of Trump's White House campaign could turn off foreign buyers or reduce the prices they are willing to pay, she said.
His repeated attacks on China could discourage wealthy Chinese clients in particular, who make up a large part of the market for his luxury residences.
And his popularity among a segment of the electorate will not be able to make up the shortfall, as not enough of them are likely to be buyers of luxury real estate.
To be sure, there are brands in the United States that have been able to recover after suffering grave crises tied to environmental disasters or political controversies, said Merry Carole Powers, a writer and expert on brands and marketing.
But Trump's case is unprecedented. "Usually when a brand gets caught in a bad public relations operation it was an accident. They didn't mean for that to happen," she said.
But Trump is "blatantly saying, 'I don't care what you think," Powers told AFP.
"We've never seen a brand behave like this."