Ascena Retail Group on Friday named two new executives to lead its Loft and Ann Taylor brands. Earlier this year the conglomerate promoted Maurices brand merchandising chief Erin Stern to lead its Dress Barn unit.
Andrew Clarke, who since last year has been merchandising chief at the company's tween apparel brand Justice and has two decades of retail experience, has been named Loft president, according to a company press release. Before his arrival at Ascena, Clarke led Kmart apparel for Sears Holdings after having begun his career at Marks and Spencer and led merchandising at French fast-fashion chain Pimkie.
Julie Rosen, who has been General Merchandise Manager at Ann Taylor, has been named President of the Ann Taylor and Lou & Grey brands, the company also said. She began her career at Gap Inc.'s Banana Republic and later founded a consulting firm, working with retailers including Nike, Theory and Chrome Hearts. In 2009 she returned to Gap as SVP of Merchandising for Banana Republic.
Merchandising has been an issue for most of Ascena's portfolio, so it's logical to bring up merchandisers to lead these two brands, which make up the company's premium segment.
But whatever strengths Rosen and Clarke have as merchandisers may not be enough to turn things around. The conglomerate's entire portfolio is suffering, from its discount doors to its plus size banners and these higher end labels. "I just don't see this making much of a change," Jane Hali, CEO of Jane Hali & Associates, told Retail Dive in an email. "They are both in-house people, not a well known designer etc. who would change the aesthetic."
Ann Taylor and Loft are "speaking to middle age, not millennial," she also said. "This customer is spending money on experiences and certainly not career wear."
Comp sales in the most recent quarter declined 7% at Ann Taylor, 1% at Loft, 5% at Maurices, 14% at Dressbarn, 1% at Lane Bryant and 9% at Catherines. Justice comp sales, however, surged 10%. But there may be other bright spots, too. The company recently elevated its Lou & Grey brand, adding it to Rosen's plate even before this promotion, and the casual fashion line was just picked up by Nordstrom.
For many, if not all, of Ascena's banners, though, it's not just the merchandise, Hali also said. The trouble with the company's value brands, Maurice's and Dress Barn, for example, is that shoppers are at off-price stores. And plus size shoppers, for whom its Catherines and Lane Bryant banners are positioned, don't necessarily seek out specialty stores.
"Research has shown that the plus customer wants to shop where the regular size customer shops," Hali said. "They don't want to be outcasts. [Nordstrom, Target] and others are taking this very seriously. And many pure-play and subscription services are going after this customer."
The company's standout is Justice, where Clarke hails from. But his success there may not translate to Loft. "Justice is the only concept that makes sense," Hali said. "Tween fashion is a battle between the mom and the daughter. The daughter wants to look older and on trend, the mom wants her to look her age. Justice has this down."