- R21 Holdings, Inc. on Wednesday said that Laurie Van Brunt will be president and CEO as of June 25. At the same time, Michele Pascoe has been named chief financial officer and senior vice president, and Stephen Sommers has been named chief marketing officer and senior vice president, according to a company press release.
- Most recently Van Brunt was president of Soma Intimates, the lingerie banner at Chico's FAS, from 2010 to 2017. There she led a transformation by repositioning the brand as an omnichannel retailer and matching its aesthetic to market demand, growing sales from $87 million to $350 million, the company said. She has also held executive positions at J.C. Penney, Chadwick’s of Boston and Lane Bryant when it was still part of The Limited.
- Pascoe arrives from financial consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, where she provided financial advisory services for retail organizations, and previously held CFO positions with Marsh Supermarkets and Charming Shoppes/Fashion Bug Division. Sommers most recently was CMO at specialty retail and wholesale apparel brand Vineyard Vines, and before that was vice president of global brand marketing at Under Armour.
Rue21 last fall emerged from a bankruptcy that lightened its debt load and its store count. The teen apparel retailer shuttered some 420 stores in the process, now operating 752 stores in 45 states, mainly in malls and outlet or strip centers, and online.
Van Brunt was tapped because of a well-rounded resume, having "successfully led, built and turned around specialty store apparel brands," according to a statement from Michael C. Appel, who is chairman of the board and has served as interim CEO.
The teen apparel retailer suffered badly in the tough retail landscape of recent years, and from missteps of its own, including an over-expansion following its 2013 takeover by private equity firm Apax Partners, and a late-2016 executive shakeup that left the company rudderless. While sales surged early on, the company became complacent, adding store after store and mostly ignoring e-commerce for longer than its peers, while consumer tastes and shopping behavior changed in the opposite direction.
The space in which it operates, what was once called junior apparel, has also been under pressure, and rue21 faces newly emboldened competition in the space, with Abercrombie & Fitch's Hollister brand, Gap's Old Navy and Ascena's Justice all on the rise.
The new team probably has a short window to turn things around, and that includes updates to stores, its website and its supply chain. A turnaround is possible. Rival Aeropostale — which was saved in the nick of time during its own bankruptcy process in 2016 when a consortium of mall owners stepped in to buy it — appears to have managed a successful recovery. The stores have been drastically revamped and Simon Property Group CEO David Simon, whose company now owns half, told analysts in April that the retailer has stabilized and has been a "good investment," according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha.