Is Bankruptcy Looming for J.Crew?

J. Crew’s Financials Aren’t Good

A Reuters article, dated 11/16/16 is speculating that J.Crew is considering a spin-off of their successful Madewell division, in a likely attempt to raise cash. According to the 3rd quarter 2016 results, J.Crew stores had a 7% sales decline and including Madewell, had roughly $1.5 billion in debt and just $38 million in cash. This is not a healthy place to be.

What happened to one of the best specialty retailers in America? It’s easy to blame mall traffic, but those shoppers are shopping elsewhere and online. By the way, J.Crew has had an exceptional e-commerce site for many years.

They got caught in a maelstrom of changing trends and self-inflicted wounds.

The 4 Biggest Reasons J.Crew is Struggling

Millennial shoppers are the most strapped generation in decades. This largest demographic in the history of the US, is now 16-33. They are the most diverse American generation ever, with a wide range of tastes. Their shallow pockets have given rise to fast-fashion, consignment, rental and vintage apparel sales. I don’t think they aren’t interested in fashion, but clothing is discretionary after rent, school debt, healthcare, transportation and food costs. 

J. Crew had been dogged by inconsistent quality and styling.

J. Crew had been dogged by inconsistent quality and styling.

J.Crew seemed to target this growing base with lower quality materials in an attempt to decrease or hold prices. They also dabbled in trendier silhouettes, adding to the brand confusion. In the classic business you walk a fine line, to offer the expected, with a touch of newness to excite the customer.

Seemingly, in an attempt to be all things to all customers, they alienated fans that saw them as the quality, hip “American” lifestyle brand in the mall. They should have embraced their monopoly as a reliable, premium brand and let the rest of the generic tenants duke it out.

J.Crew had what they thought was a winning formula, cotton/spandex Capri pants, cashmere sweaters and cotton tees. They rested on formulaic laurels while customers were discovering more comfortable, durable and flattering fabrics in athletic apparel from the likes of Lululemon and many others. The rapid adoption of athleisure was lost on J.Crew. They didn’t see that customers were embracing a new casual. They should have evolved some of their assortment to address the exodus, in new fabrications or styling with a J.Crew spin. They just launched, in fall 2016, a “brand-right” athletic apparel collaboration with New Balance, maybe too little, too late. The athletic apparel market has much less elbow room at this point.

There are new kids on the block. At one time, J.Crew was the epitome of the modern prepster. They blended an urbane twist with classic American looks, to define an eclectic, cool state of prep. This wearable market position had a wide audience with fashion and traditional customers.

This late summer 2016 product is what they are know for, classic with a twist.

This late summer 2016 product is what they are known for, classic with a twist.

In recent years, they veered off course with poor quality or trendy items, overly eclectic pairings and strange colors, a road too far for their loyal customer.

As J.Crew confused its customer, they created a vacuum for other rapidly growing, consistent brands to fill. Kate Spade has taken away legions of suburban and urban women of all ages with their whimsical, colorful vibe. Vineyard Vines offers the traditional country club and aspiring wanna-bees,  preppy classics, that really resonate with Millennials. J. McLaughlin attracts the hard-core suburban prepster with uber-traditional, quality clothes. Tory Burch skims off the East Side, preppy customer. Club Monaco speaks to the contemporary, classic customer. These five brands are growing and nibbling at J.Crew’s forgotten following. The pie is only so big and their slice is getting smaller.

There continues to be significant markdowns across categories.

There continues to be significant markdowns across categories.

The stores need a facelift. The above brands have bright, organized new store formats. J.Crew’s shops are cluttered, chaotic and dark and the wood paneling feels very Brooks Brother’s 1992. They don’t highlight their best categories in a focused, shoppable layout. The brand experience needs a serious intervention, a difficult task, with mountains of debt.

None of these opinions are probably news to J.Crew. This is a formidable company with tremendous talent. Maybe they became too insular or content?

This product is a bright spot in the Fall 2016 assortment.

This product is a bright spot in the Fall 2016 assortment.

Amidst the clutter this fall, I’ve seen glimpses of the best of J.Crew. Time will tell, if it’s enough to save them from a painful bankruptcy. It’s not looking good based on 3rd quarter results.

Most retailers never achieve the iconic consumer and fashion industry respect of J.Crew. I’m rooting for them to turn this ship around.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

Are Sporting Goods & Outdoor in a Death Spiral?

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

 

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post!

 

 

 

 

 

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Tough Retail: 7 Ways to Grow Your Consumer Brand

Seismic Changes Are Happening to Retail

Under-employment, stagnant wages, historically high school debt, credit card debt, large healthcare deductibles, staggering urban rent, first homes, weddings and new babies, is there any wonder why Millennials seek value in their discretionary purchases like apparel, accessories, footwear and home?

This is the overhang from a deep recession, the Affordable Care Act and lackluster recovery. It has given rise to the Amazon-effect, outlets, successful discounters like TJX, fast-fashion, rental, consignment and intense comparison shopping. Who can afford to pay full-price?

Practically every retailer and brand is chasing the most cash-strapped generation in decades, because the Millennial generation, ages 15-33 is now the largest population in the US, finally surpassing the much wealthier Baby Boomers and Generation X.

A quote in the Wall Street Journal on May 12, really caught my attention. “Non-discretionary spending on health, insurance, education, and housing has taken an extra 4% out of personal consumption expenditures in 2015 compared with 2000, according to Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. That has reduced the discretionary spending available for traditional retailers by $500 billon, more than the combined annual sales of Walmart Stores and Costco Wholesale combined.” No wonder  we are seriously over-stored.

Traffic is down at brick and mortar retailers, everyone is trying to explain it, but the reasons are actually quite obvious. There are huge headwinds on spending, so consumers are chasing good deals or staying home.

Online retail, even though it represents less than 10% of all purchases is the fastest growing retail channel. This reflects the ease of comparison shopping, selection and simplicity for insanely time-strapped consumers. It isn’t the best way to browse or make impulse purchases. Who goes on Amazon, just to see what’s new?

Survival Strategies in Tough Times for Consumer Brands

What should apparel, footwear, home and consumer discretionary companies do to combat intense spending headwinds? Here are seven ways to grow in tough times:

Offer brand value. Brands with a consistent, clear identity and experience will rise above the clutter and command higher prices than weak concepts and me-too products. Think Apple, Nike, Under Armour, Kate Spade, Madewell and West Elm.

Be strategically focused on core strengths. It’s necessary to test new things, but focus on your sweet spots, invest in your strengths and best brands. Don’t get romanced with low-value, expensive projects and extensions.

Value great design. Creativity and innovation create demand and pricing power. Big marketing efforts without great products to back them up, won’t fool consumers, who value authenticity.

Look for untapped markets or niche opportunities. For instance, the  underserved plus-size markets for women and men, trending activities, hot fitness trends, growing sports, hobbies, etc..

Increase DTC efforts. Many stores will close, decreasing available doors for your apparel, footwear and consumer products. Your direct to consumer efforts online, with company-owned stores, pop-up stores, partnerships, direct mail etc., will help you control your brand message and destiny.

Think beyond Millennials. Brands with cross-generational “lifestyle” appeal will weather the competitive storm better than discretionary fashion brands just targeting Millennials. Baby Boomers have the greatest wealth in the history of the US and are due to inherit even more, even though they also took a hit during the Recession.

Take risks. This is counterintuitive in bad times. Hire experienced and visionary people who can execute a well-balanced strategy of taking creative risks while covering established business.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

 

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

Women’s 5 Fall 2014 Fashion Essentials

Stylish women seem effortlessly modern and have a certain je ne sais quoi. What’s the secret? They understand that a great wardrobe is a continuous evolution not a revolution. The fashion-savvy build upon their curated closet seasonally, with a handful of new items that have the power to change everything. Here is my round-up of five essential, trend-right items for Fall 2014, that will simply give you an up-to-the minute look:

Fall 2014 Fashion Must-Haves

Fall 2014 Fashion Must-Haves

1.  The slip-on sneaker. Sneaker style is white-hot. The not-so-humble “slip-on” in modern materials, such as metallics, leather, quilted, perforated, printed or embroidered, has my vote for the casual shoe of the season. Pair them with jeans, skirts, dresses, athletic pants, just about everything, for a comfy update to your fall footwear wardrobe. Think Vans, Steve Madden, Dolce Vita, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Joie, Vince, Prada, Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo and just about all the usual suspects.

2. The clutch bag. There is something so elegant, so fresh , “clutching” a bag when everyone else is schlepping a sack over their shoulder. The clutch is a sure glam-slam.

Clutch bags come in envelope or clasp styles or and the more user-friendly wristlet clutch; either way it is an instant fall 2014 style update. I particularly like them in a pop of color, textural metallic or animal print, paired with neutral clothing. Check out Valentino, Alexander Wang, Marni, Proenza Schouler, Smythson, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Ted Baker, Kate Spade, BCBG and many more.

3. The athletic jean. Jeans are down-trending as women are wearing athletic or “athleisure” looks in and out of the gym. The trend has gone beyond basic yoga pants to spandex blend and nylon pants in 5-pocket jean-styling, cuffed sweats, boyfriend shapes, cargo details, etc.

Pair fitted pants with an oversized sweater, layered tops or sexy top for the gym. Pair baggy sweats, boyfriends or cargos with smaller, close to the body tops. See some of the best at Athleta, Carbon 38, and Net-a-Sporter.

4. The graphic top. “If you see something, say something”. The lowly graphic tee or top has been elevated to fashion status this season. Words have the power to express something about the wearer, simply amuse, suggest or confuse the audience. Text is powerful and playful, a small investment for an instant seasonal update. Look for intarsia sweaters and printed sweats and tees from Madewell, J Crew, Zara, Pam and Gela, Haute Hippie, Free People, Current/Elliott, Alexander McQueen, etc.

5. New outerwear. Outerwear is daily wear and more people see us with our coats on than off. An investment in an updated trench, parka or jacket can change-up your current wardrobe and attitude in an instant.

Look for down-filled, shine, quilted, luxe leathers, pop colors and metallics in puffers, 3/4 styles and cropped moto jackets. I particularly like casual styling in upscale materials. My favorites include Moncler, Burberry, Barbour, SAM., Mackage, Via Spiga and Uniglo.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

 

Wrong Prescription for Coach’s Ills

Coach continues its downward slide. Sales in 3rd quarter 2015, dropped 15%. Some blame currency issues and the over-proliferation of outlet stores. Note to leadership, it’s the merchandise. Stuart Vevers strategy is stodgy, European and not much fun. The sleepy handbags are more matron than Millennial. Note to pundits, Millennials love outlet shopping. I still contend that their turnaround strategy is seriously flawed and too dependent on overly competitive apparel. I wrote this post in 2014 and not much has changed except Michael Kors and Kate Spade are hitting some headwinds, as well.

Coach’s 2014 first quarter profit fell 20%, while aspirational fashion rivals such as Michael Kors and Kate Spade continue to ratchet impressive gains. Coach experienced a steep drop in North American accessories sales. Coach’s strategy for slumping sales is a planned full lifestyle assortment, to include apparel and a greater emphasis on higher priced bags over $400, the volume sweet spot.  They recently hired a new creative director Stuart Vevers, to take over for Reed Krakoff (who is resigning); his first product introductions will be in Fall 2014.

Coach spring 2014 styles

Coach spring 2014 styles

As a Coach watcher and stock holder, this strategy goes down like bad medicine. Instead of aiming to win in the sweet spot, they are abdicating to the competition. Michael Kors’ apparel is a footnote to his successful handbags, watches and shoes. Kate Spade offers some of the most whimsical, colorful, bags, shoes and accessories and apparel is secondary. Tory Burch is a shoe and bag story with apparel paling in comparison.

Accessories are the democratic categories in which women of all ages and sizes can play, women’s apparel is stuck in a highly competitive funk.

Coach was riding high, in the early 2000’s. Their then colorful, fresh, “C” logoed bags were the “it” bags for the aspirational designer masses. Over time, they became ubiquitous, as every hairdresser and soccer mom carried them. As they down-trended, they didn’t follow with renewed  innovation, instead made the critical mistake of looking back and doing a rehash of the sturdy, vintage Legacy styles. These unrefined bags, although colorful, looked like a clunky 1980’s LeBaron instead of a chic 2013 Audi. The competition was forging ahead with exciting materials, color and patterns, like Michael Kors’ glam styles, Kate Spade’s playful totes and tech cases, the silicone Furla Candy bag and styles by Rebecca Minkoff, Marc Jacobs, Ted Baker and Longchamp.

The current assortment is sleepy at best. It feels like a lightly-veiled nod to Salvatore Ferragamo. They played it safe and sexless. There is no emotional must-have draw. Even with 25% off coupons, one is hard pressed to spend the deal. The prospect of a larger selection in the $600 plus range is a miscalculation of opportunity. They need to focus on modern, forward  materials, shapes and details in the $400 range sweet spot; then offer additional showstoppers in the $600 plus range.

Coach went too safe.

Coach went too safe.

A  key asset for Coach is their well-priced, quality shoe line. They offer slightly more wearable shoe heights than Kors and at prices lower than Kate Spade. I hope they don’t think they need to raise prices and heel heights to get a new customer. Maintain the $198 average price point and expand the selection to include more options of fashion-forward sandals, pumps, wedges, loafers and boots.

This great American brand has had a small stumble. When you take fashion risks as good brands do, you will trip-up sometimes. This brand has a cold, but certainly isn’t terminal. They just need the right prescription for renewed health.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Coach – Stellar to Stumble

On the short-list of first-class American fashion brands, Coach certainly makes the top ten. The nature of market leaders is their willingness to take chances. No one becomes an Olympic skater holding the rail.

Coach fourth quarter 2012 North American sales were down 2% over last year, which sent the stock tumbling this week, in spite of increased international sales. North America accounts for two-thirds of the company’s business.

I have great respect for the aspirational luxury bag and accessory seller. They have turned a 72-year-old leathery dowager into a fashion powerhouse with their risk taking market leadership. There are far too many lackluster brands, that stand for nothing. I give them credit for ground breaking newness and willingness to take bold moves.

As an avid Coach watcher, the answer for the poor results is obvious. For many successful years, they addicted their logo-adoring masses to fresh shapes and colors of their iconic fabric “C” patterns. These signature looks fulfilled the fantasies of mainstream wanna-be social climbers. Unfortunately, the patterned bags have become, all too common on the arms of every stroller pusher and tweeny bopper in the mall.

Fall 2012 Coach Legacy bags

Fall 2012 Coach Legacy bags

They saw this coming. In second half of 2012, they took a radical step and introduced the Legacy collection. I never warmed up to this collection of vintage leather Coach styles in bold colors. They bet the ranch on Legacy and it dominated the second half assortment. I awaited its pending arrival and wanted to love it. Somehow, it didn’t feel modern, and the traditional leathers seemed a bit dowdy in a digital world. Perhaps it is the sea of wristlets and cross-body bags, aimed at an over-indulged teen? It doesn’t have the freshness of their more innovative styling. The only thing it had going for it was color. I give them an A+ for trying. This is the fashion business and leaders sometimes stumble.

CEO, Lew Frankfort is blaming the lack of demand on “competition.” Some say Michael Kors is taking a bigger share. I think the iconic Kors bags with the MK charm, are getting a tad stale, too. Kors does a larger shoe collection and dominates in uber-hot fashion watches. Kors stores have a consistent mix of accessories, apparel and shoes and isn’t reaching for an entry-level teen. I think Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, Tory Burch and others are sucking the aspirational luxury winds in bags.

Coach won’t stay on the rails for long. This champion will bounce back. In bags, I think they need to explore more luxe leathers, modern materials like colorful patent leather and even silicone, as well as bold new shapes. They are talking about relaunching their shoe collection. I think their shoes offer tremendous value in terms of fashion quality to price. Expanding fashion jewelry and watches is an opportunity as well. Stay tuned. See Coach.com

Fall 2012 Coach loafers - A modern twist on a classic

Fall 2012 Coach loafers – A modern twist on a classic

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies. Follow me to get the latest posts

She doesn’t have to have it….

For the past several years women’s apparel sales have been lackluster. Handbags and shoes have taken the spotlight and continued to outperform while apparel languishes. The excitement in shoe and bag design is palpable. Designers have continued to up-the-ante in footwear and bags, in bold colors, fresh materials and pushed the limits on new shapes. Confidence has spurred a creative explosion in these categories. This has added up to multiple seasons of big personality accessories winning hearts and wallets, in a down cycle of consumer sentiment.

Women’s apparel is another story. Here are several reasons for the depressed fashion phenomenon.

There is a lack of creative risk taking in apparel by wholesalers and retail merchants; call it retail sameness, fear of failure, wholesale and retail firms have a bad case of stage fright. They’re driving with eyes in the rear view mirror and trading down on quality. Many look to the past for the future and figure the safe road is the way to hunker down. Recessionary assortments of apparel are a counter intuitive bland diet for a customer with no appetite. Consumers have to be stopped in their tracks and wined and dined with fresh novelty and must-have styling.

There is a dearth of contemporary brands for the wealthiest segment of the market. Boomers+ have the money, but there is a lack of fashion forward casual brands suitable for the aging customer. This segment must choose between dowdy mature offerings or “do I look foolish” in this uber-short contemporary dress? Consequently, they turn to forward accessories to look current without looking like a sorry soul. This is an opportunity to reach a big underserved market.

Size matters. There is a lack of larger sizes for an “expanding” population of all ages. Women bigger than a size 12 or 14 can’t find much in most specialty or in mainstream areas of department stores. A huge part of the population is literally ignored. Larger women have to turn to the democratic accessory and beauty departments for a fashion update.

It is frustrating to shop for apparel in traditional store formats. Most women today are strapped for time, have short attention spans and an overwhelming sea of options. It is difficult to shop for an item, when most department and specialty stores are organized by collection.  If she needs a white top, she is forced to shop a whole store or department to find the item. A harried consumer will bypass department stores for the ease of shopping a simpler format with item depth, like J. Crew. Handbags, shoes, cosmetics, jeans and lingerie tend to outperform other areas. These departments are classifications, not collections and easier to shop. Part of the rapid growth of online shopping is that it simplifies the process. It quickly nets the offer to classifications.

The best accessories come from wholesale branded companies like Prada, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Longchamp, Coach, Michael Kors, to name a few. Bags and shoes are two areas where there is little private label. Consumers are validated by brand authenticity and the inherent status of branded accessories. For the most part, private label apparel is subject to large committees of leadership, who all put their stamp on the offer. Subsequently, they can water down the soup.

Accessories are the easiest way to update last year’s wardrobe. Apparel like accessories, is an emotional buy. It is unfortunate that most traffic doesn’t covert to a sale, only a disappointed customer. Compelling merchandise is the key way to improve conversions. If wholesaler and retailers continue to offer vanilla assortments, the consumer will continue to spend her disposable income on the latest accessories and technology.

 The following pictures are “best-foot-forward” displays from some major retailers. Their brand identities are indistinguishable. Do you think “she’s gotta have” this merchandise?

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix&Pond consulting…strategic and creative product development and brand consulting.

Timelessly Chic – Newport News

2012 is undoubtedly one of the most colorful years in women’s fashion. Neon color and uber brights will stop you in your “espadrille trodden” tracks. These enchanting hues can transport a working girl from cubicle to samba, in a flash of Tangerine Tango!

Amongst the colorful chaos stands a timeless, American, nautical inspired trend. I call it Newport News, elegant, simple, a tad preppy and screaming good taste. It perennially rears its lovely head in transitional seasons, like early spring and summer. Think dry cottons…canvas and twill, breezy voiles, openwork sweaters, rope soles and handles and leather luggage details. Simple two-toned stripes and nautical motifs are the primary graphics.

Newport News - American Nautical Trend for 2012

This is more of an important accessory story, than full-blown “down-on-the-docks” dressing. It can just be one refined item like J Crew’s sequined anchor top or as simple as a striped boat neck from Rugby. Make it modern by pairing refined pieces with more casual ones. Like sequins with denim or a sateen striped clutch with a rustic knit sweater. Bottoms include denim shorts, slim and flared jeans, as well as pleated long or short skirts.

In shoes, think fabric…espadrilles, ropey wedges, ballet flats, as well as boat shoes. For bags there are roomy fabric totes, wicker clutches, back packs and sturdy leather bags. Longchamp’s white Le Pliage totes are also perfect “nautical chic”.

Officer’s navy and sail white are the primary tones, but can be accessorized with brazen accents of banana, poppy, emerald or orange.

The best “Newport News “accessories and clothing can be found from the beloved, usual prepster suspects…Rugby, J Crew, Madewell, Kate Spade, Milly, Tory Burch, Sperry, Coach, Longchamp, and Ralph Lauren.

Newport News is a natural trend for home decor. The contrast of polished with casual textures, is perfect for an urban loft or coastal cottage.

Dix&pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.

 

Accessories Update: Graphic Art

Designers are getting graphic this spring with dramatic, scene-stealing black and white accessories. These mighty shoes and handbags are going to command the attention of classic style icons and fashion-loving city slickers alike.

Dynamic black and white houndstooths, checks, stripes, dots, geometrics and florals are adorning wedges, espadrilles, pumps, sling backs, platforms, sneakers, flip-flops, totes, shoppers and more. These high-contrast patterns make a huge statement and generally prevail over an entire outfit. They are emotionally driven items and highly useful in a woman wardrobe, so are sure to fly out of the stores.

Graphic black and white accessories are seen on all levels of the market, but the some of the best shoes and bags are from Salvatore Ferragamo, Ann Klein, Sam Edelman, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzman, Christian Dior, Alice and Olivia, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, Charles David, Pour La Victoire and Converse.

Scene-stealing graphic accessories for spring 2012.

Scene-stealing graphic accessories for spring 2012.

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