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Innovative and Smart: J. Crew Does it Right

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Preppy with an edge: that’s the J. Crew style. But style alone doesn’t equal success. Just ask Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle and Aeropostale, whose sales and profits are plummeting.

J. Crew has over 330 stores and revenues of over $2.4 billion. At the end of fiscal 2013, J. Crew had 257 J. Crew stores, 8 Crewcut stores (for kids in sizes 2 to 14) and 65 Madewell stores, which sell well-made, well-fitting jeans in various styles and washes. Denim devotees are big fans of the brand’s relaunch of their core jean line. In addition J. Crew operates 121 factory outlet stores that feature casual classics and cool colors. This is unlike other factory outlet stores. The policy in these stores is to never carry last season’s leftovers.

Gauging design and fashion trends, and embedding that in the consciousness of consumers, is part of what makes J. Crew successful.

The other part is CEO Mickey Drexler and his skilled management team. Having worked for Ann Taylor, Bloomingdales and Macy’s, Drexler then signed on with the Gap and catapulted them to their vaulted position in the 1990s. He also re-focused and bolstered Banana Republic’s status and started the very successful cheaper outlet chain, Old Navy.

He brought a fresh, new approach to J. Crew when he took the helm in 2003. He understood the need for a dynamic dressy upscale niche and transformed the brand, making it a bellwether in fashion trends and an international fashion leader. Expanding to Canada and London, J. Crew is now on the prowl for possible European and Chinese locations.

Another important link in the J. Crew chain is Executive Creative Director Jenna Lyons. Lyons’ followers see her as an arbiter of style and taste as the retailer wisely markets her fashion sense on their website under “Jenna’s Picks,” and her impeccable must-have choices speak for themselves as those pieces sell and are showcased on Pinterest. Their Pinterest displays are first-rate eye candy and tell a photographic story of stylish outfits paired with complementary accessories.

While J. Crew doesn’t have the number of followers that L.L. Bean or Nordstrom’s has, their Pinterest Style Guide not only boasts trend-setting styles, but piggybacks on the retailer’s successful digital marketing campaigns, which includes targeted personal emails and smart style tips on their website.

J. Crew’s Pinterest presence capitalizes on a couple of big trends in retailing, both in stores and online. One trend is the correlation between “pinning” and buying. Harvard Business Review recently published a study showing that over 20% of Pinterest users actually went to the store to buy something they liked or pinned on their own board.

Secondly, J. Crew makes the “pin” work. The same survey also noted that 80% of customers tend to buy within three weeks of pinning. J. Crew streamlines the pin process, by accompanying each pin with in invitation to click, which takes the user directly to the source. This way, the user can interact with their “Very Personal Stylist” team who will help them pre-order the item before it becomes available in the stores.

This kind of insider information is alluring to the J. Crew shopper, who regularly follows their fashion picks.

Recently, J. Crew has been courted by Fast Retailing, a $27 billion company that has expanded worldwide under the Uniqlo brand. Fast Retailing owns a number of international fashion retailers, specializing in Juniors apparel, and seeks to expand. Going after one of fashion’s top retailers would add a definite cachet to their holdings.

The only hitch is the price: J. Crew wants $5 billion, which Uniqlo (as of yet) is not that receptive to. Regardless, J. Crew is a retailing icon, combining stellar management, expert sales staff and social media savvy in one package, and their model for success is worth emulating.

TAGS: retail, retail trends, retailers, fashionista, fashion, fashion trends, fashion stylist, omni-channel,
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