J. Crew tries on style revamp to recapture sales
J.Crew is shuttering several stores this month, even as it makes changes to styling under new CEO James Brett. Longtime CEO Mickey Drexler stepped down over the summer amid the retailer's debt-burdened struggles.
Meanwhile, though, several news outlets nationwide this past weekend noted the closure of local J. Crew and outlet locations. Those include two of the four Twin Cities stores in Minnesota, cited by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (closing Jan. 27), five in the metro Atlanta area, according to The Current Hub, and an outlet store at Outlets at Tuscola in Illinois, also shuttering Jan. 27, according to news channel WCIA. A request to J. Crew from Retail Dive for details wasn't immediately returned.
Amid the downsizing, Business Insider reports that the retailer is departing from its classical styling to offer a men's shirt designed to be worn untucked, taking a page from menswear startup Untuckit. That brand late last year announced it would expand its merchandising to include women's and children's styles and open 100 brick-and-mortar stores by the end of this year.
In November, as J. Crew reported a devastating third quarter — total revenue fell 5% to $566.7 million against the year-ago period and same-store sales fell 9% — Brett promised that he was working to "reinvigorate the J.Crew Brand to reflect the America of today." The sales numbers were announced along with the brand's plans to shutter 50 stores in 2017 and another 39 for the fourth quarter.
Drexler, who is credited with making Gap a household name and forging the now lifesaving discount brand Old Navy (much like his Madewell effort at J. Crew, which is similarly doing well but is too small to rescue the company), was overburdened with the company's debt toward the end of his tenure. The consequences of that load came to a head over the summer, when the company worked to buy time through a debt swap that pushed some maturity into the future but was widely seen as too little too late.
Drexler also mulled other ways to revive J. Crew. In November, for example, he revealed that he once hoped for an Amazon takeover, though he also said he wouldn't have ever considered selling directly through the e-commerce giant the way Nike has.
The untucked shirt is arguably a Drexler-like move, that, if it gains traction, could help revive the brand. The style is not only akin to Untuckit's successful casual approach but also along the lines of what GlobalData Managing Director Neil Saunders' prescribes for Gap. Gap's flagship brand has similarly fallen out of favor when it comes to fashion, although that retailer remains a large and largely profitable international enterprise with more runway for improvement. With a lackluster if high-quality fashion offering at prices perceived as too high at its flagship, Gap has officially turned to its Old Navy unit, which has rescued its results in most of its recent quarters, for growth.
"Maybe a great fit, a shirt that doesn't come untucked or is designed to wear outside your jeans," Saunders told Retail Dive last fall. "Look at Abercrombie & Fitch, and what they've done with a cotton oxford with a soft wash. It's super-soft when you touch it, and I mean it's really soft. It makes you want to buy it. Or small detailing, the buttons are slightly larger, really nice buttons of obviously high quality. People don't mind spending a bit of money on it. …A little detail on a product can mean the difference between selling it at a discount and selling at full price."
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