Commentary

J.Crew Responds To Problems Some Might Call No-Brainers

As the summer season opens in the Hamptons this weekend, all eyes are not so much on J.Crews’ hemlines as they are on its bottom line.  

Late last month, chairman and CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler announced several strategic changes he said were designed “to move us forward in a more efficient and dynamic way.” Translation: we are switching up the leadership and letting go 150 full-time staffers and eliminating 100 open positions to stay out of bankruptcy court.

Among other changes, “the company lost its creative director Jenna Lyons about a month ago,” Walter Loeb wrote for Forbes on April 27. “She had been with the company for 23 years and remains a consultant.” Michael J. Nicholson, president, COO and CFO of J.Crew Group, Inc., also assumed responsibility for the J.Crew Brand and Lisa Greenwald was named its chief merchandising officer. 

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“The brand is struggling. Same-store sales have been down for the past three years; dropping by 8% in 2016, following a 10% decrease the year before,” Mary Hanbury reported for Business Insider at the time.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Khadeeja Safdar this morning, Drexler confesses that it took too long for him to realize how much tech and social media had changed his business. “If I could go back 10 years, I might have done some things earlier,” he says.

“For decades, fashion was essentially a hit or miss business. Merchants like Mr. Drexler would make bets on what people would be wearing a year in advance, since that’s how long it took to design and produce items. Hits guaranteed handsome returns until the next season,” explains Safdar.

“Now, competitors with high-tech, data-driven supply chains can copy styles faster and move them into stores in a matter of weeks. Online marketplaces drive down prices, and design details such as nicer buttons and richer colors are less apparent on the Internet. Social media adds fuel to the style churn — consumers want a new outfit for every Instagram post.”

Not that there haven't been other problems at J.Crew, as a longer look in the mirror reveals.

“J.Crew’s designs grew overpriced, eccentric, and even downright ugly, Joshua Rothman wrote in a New Yorker piece earlier this month that carried the title: “Why J.Crew’s Vision Of Preppy America Failed.” “As one J.Crew blogger put it, in a post called ‘Do You Still Heart J.Crew?,’ the company seemed to be ‘catering to the fashion editors and fashionistas from Fashion Week more than the base of loyal aficionadas’; it tried to create a daring, post-prep aesthetic and overreached. There were quality-control problems, too, and missteps with fit.” 

Rothman made a visit to a nearby retail store that triggered a more personal — if telling — response: “The names of the products — the Ludlow and Crosby jackets for men; the Rhodes and Maddie pants and Campbell and Regent blazers for women — fixed J.Crew in a certain place and milieu. Once, this was comforting. Now it felt odd to be told by a company that I was, or wanted to be, a certain kind of person. I didn’t want to be a member of the J.Crew Crew, or any crew.”

The New York Times ‘Jon Caramanica visits five J.Crew locations trying to figure out what went wrong with the retailer for a “Critical Shopper” piece in the paper this morning.

“I was on my fourth J.Crew when I noticed it, the small signage that explained the large problem that is bedeviling this company, and many like it,” he writes. “It was on a table of men’s pants on the second floor of the Rockefeller Center store. The pants, khaki chinos ($68), were fine — a little stiff, maybe, but not irredeemable. The sign next to them, though, offered a different value proposition.

“‘The No-Brainers,’ it read.

“This is, at best, patronizing, a way of communicating to your customers that you know better than they do,” he concludes. “Grab a pair or two of these pants, and maybe a couple of these shirts (another sign was on that table) and never again devote a moment of critical thought to your wardrobe acquisition!”

In the end, he buys an $88 pair of lime-green, linen-cotton pants. To each, his own, indeed.

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