The decline of physical retail has hit J.Crew particularly hard in recent years. A mall-brand serving what seems to be an increasingly small customer base of extremely preppy shoppers, by the numbers J. Crew has struggled with the retail reset that is sweeping the segment.
“The bottom seemed to have dropped out of the mothership brand J.Crew,” Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, told The New York Post. “J.Crew is not as compelling a brand if you are part of the declining breed that likes preppy clothes.”
This situation is not lost on J.Crew’s upper management, as the numbers are fairly clear. Total revenue for its second quarter was down 4 percent to $569.8 million, or a loss of $8.6 million. There were some signs of strength — the lower-cost Madewell brand saw its sales pick up by 11 percent, with comparable store sales up 6 percent. But even that good news comes with an edge of concern — specifically whether the low-cost alternative is cannibalizing J.Crew’s base instead of expanding it.
Analysts increasingly worry about the private equity-owned brand’s future. Will J.Crew be the next middle-market brand to join the bankrupt list that seemingly gets longer by the day? Can those numbers be turned?
“While the overall retail environment remains challenging, we continue our disciplined management of expenses and inventory and remain focused on delivering the very best, iconic J.Crew and Madewell products our customers love across all channels,” noted J.Crew CEO Millard Drexler of the company’s most recent quarterly performance.
But J.Crew — other than the standard fair for trying to get out of neutral — is also embracing a little outside-of-the-box thinking these days as it struggles to find a foothold in a new retail landscape. Consumers, a J.Crew spokesperson told us in a recent conversation, aren’t looking for just products to buy — but a reason to get excited about buying.
A Celebration Of Stripes
The holiday in question is National Stripes Day — J.Crew’s new annual celebration of the last day of March and the stripe life aesthetic. No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke — more like a very New England opening act for April Fool’s Day.
“It’s really just to celebrate our love of stripes,” Somsack Sikhounmuong, J.Crew’s head women’s designer, noted in an interview. “Stripes have always been part of our DNA here at J.Crew, whether it’s a deck striped tee, striped button-up shirts or a striped ball skirt. Stripes are such a classic for anyone’s wardrobe.”
Getting back to their corporate DNA is probably about a little more than just simple love of stripes — or from a burning need to perfect that “grandma meets tomboy” aesthetic that J.Crew’s president and executive creative director, Jenna Lyons, describes as her personal style.
But it is about getting personal — and getting consumers invested. Armed with its own hashtag (#nationalstripesday, naturally), J.Crew is building buzz and making the stripes more than a fashion choice but instead a social movement.
Stripes go with everything, Lyons noted, and what they particularly go well with for J.Crew’s purposes is creating social media buzz — and creating a reason for a lot of pictures of J.Crew merchandise to appear on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter for a day.
Plus, there were presents for those who actually went in store on Friday to celebrate in person. For those who bought any striped item in-store, they got an array of brightly colored patches to sew onto their new stripy duds.
It may not seem like a complicated reward — but it is an exclusive one, as those patches were a one-day only gift and are already showing up on eBay for sale.
Will it right J.Crew’s ship?
Unless National Stripe Day becomes as popular as Easter, it is unlikely that it alone can manage the heavy lift of J.Crew’s troubled fortunes.
But National Stripes Day does indicate that apart from rethinking the blocking and tackling of retail — merchandising, multichannel, operational efficiency — J.Crew is also coming around to the fact that the new customer isn’t just looking for a place to shop — they also want a reason to share the experience of shopping.
Shopping isn’t just a journey to the store — it’s in many cases a journey around the web to show off what was bought.