J.Crew Group is an American multi-brand, multi-channel, specialty retailer. The company offers an assortment of women’s, men’s and children’s apparel and accessories, including swimwear, outerwear, loungewear, wedding, bags, sweaters, denim, dresses, suiting, jewelry, and shoes. It operates more than 300 retail stores throughout the United States. The company conducts its business through retail, factory, crewcuts, Madewell stores, catalogs and online.
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U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama is a high-profile J.Crew customer, she wore the jeweled J.Crew belt for the 2013 inauguration and at the 43rd annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Legislative Conference dinner in Washington.
In 1947, Mitchell Cinader and Saul Charles founded Popular Merchandise, Inc., a store which did business as Popular Club Plan and sold low-priced women’s clothing marketed through in-home demonstrations.
The 1980s marked a booming sales period for catalog retail giants Lands’ End, Talbots, and L L Bean. Popular Merchandise initiated its own catalog operation, focusing on leisurewear for upper-middle-class customers, aiming for a Ralph Lauren look at a much lower price. The first Popular Club Plan catalog was mailed to customers in January 1983 and continued under that name until 1989. Popular Club Plan catalogs often showed the same garment in more than one picture with close-up shots of the fabrics, so customers could get a sense of how the garment looked on the body and be assured of the company’s claims of quality.
Throughout the mid-1980s, sales from catalog operations grew rapidly. “Growth was explosive—25 to 30 percent a year,” Cinader later recollected in The New York Times. Annual sales grew from $3 million to more than $100 million over five years. In 1985, the “Clifford & Wills” brand was launched, selling women’s clothing that was more affordable than the Popular Merchandise line. The brand was sold to Speigel, Inc. in 2000 with the intent to boost sales. In 1987, two executives left the company to start their own catalog, Tweeds. In 1989, Popular Merchandise, Inc. became known as J.Crew, Inc. The company attempted, but failed to sell the Popular Club Plan brand.
Also in 1989, J.Crew opened its first retail store, in South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan.
In June of 2015, The New York Times reported that J. Crew’s women’s division was undergoing a slump because of the company’s failure to react to two market trends: cheap “fast fashion” and “athleisure” items.
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J.Crew at South Shore Plaza in Braintree, Massachusetts
In March 1989, the first J.Crew retail outlet opened in the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, and the company planned to open 45 more stores. Five months after the opening of its first store, J.Crew added two new catalog lines: “Classics” and “Collections.” “Collections” used more complicated designs and finer fabrics to create dressier and more expensive items, while “Classics” featured clothes that could be worn both to work and for leisure activities.
In the fall of 1989, J.Crew opened three new stores in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; and Costa Mesa, California, all locations with strong catalog sales. By the end of the year, retail sales nearly hit $10 million.
Despite 1989 revenues that were estimated at $320 million, J.Crew suffered a setback when its agreement to sell its Popular Club unit collapsed at the end that year. In addition, rumors circulated that the company’s Clifford & Wills low-priced women’s apparel catalog was doing poorly.
J.Crew saw revenues reach $400 million in 1990 but reported that its four existing stores had not yet started producing enough profits to cover their overheads. The next phase of store openings included outlets in Philadelphia, Cambridge, and Portland. The company scaled back its plans for opening retail stores from 45 stores to 30 or 35.
In early 1991 the company hired a director of new marketing development and began efforts to expand their sales into Canada. In April 1991, J.Crew mailed 75,000 J.Crew catalogs and 60,000 Clifford & Wills catalogs to potential customers in the province of Ontario. Response rates to this effort were slightly lower than in the United States, but each order, on average, was higher.
In 1992, J.Crew intensified its push into international markets by hiring a new vice-president for international development. The company already mailed hundreds of catalogs to customers in Japan and Europe, most of whom had become acquainted with J.Crew while traveling or living in the United States.
In 2011, J.Crew opened its first international store in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
In 2012, J.Crew announced four new Canadian locations: Edmonton, Alberta in West Edmonton Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia on Robson Street, and Toronto, Ontario in Fairview Mall and the Toronto Eaton Centre. All locations will carry women’s and men’s collections. Along with 5 new stores, J.Crew announced to opening of two new factory stores in Canada, with one in Vaughan Mills and the other in Edmonton (The second J.Crew in Alberta).
Continuing with its expansion in the Greater Toronto Area, J.Crew opened at Markville Shopping Centre in 2013. In early 2014, J.Crew unveiled its new flagship location in Yorkville – Toronto’s upscale shopping district.
In an interview with the Financial Times in 2011, CEO of J.Crew Mickey Drexler let slip that J.Crew would be expanding to the U.K. with their flagship store being on London’s Regent Street. He indicated that the company would be following up their recent expansion into Canada and Canadian ecommerce with a physical store in England, most likely followed by ecommerce elsewhere, such as France and Germany. Although a few locations were reviewed for the London store, including Covent Garden and the East End, the ultimate decision was to open on Regent Street.
In early 2014, J.Crew announced plans to open brick-and-mortar locations in Asia – to be spearheaded by two establishments in Hong Kong. A women’s store is slated to open in the International Finance Centre, while a men’s shop is in the works for On Lan Street. Both opened for business in May 2014.
Each year the company issues 24 editions of the J.Crew catalog, distributing more than 80 million copies. In 2006, J.Crew introduced Madewell, “a modern-day interpretation of an American denim label founded in 1937.” As of January 2011, the company operates 248 retail stores, including 217 J.Crew stores, 27 Madewell stores, and 9 crewcuts stores, as well as 85 J.Crew Factory outlet locations. Additionally, the company has 76 locations in Japan, which are operated under license by ITOCHU Corporation.
J.Crew Group was owned by the Cinader family for most of its existence, but in October 1997 investment firm Texas Pacific Group Inc. purchased a majority stake. By the year 2000, Texas Pacific held an approximate 62 percent stake, a group of J.Crew managers held about 10 percent, and Emily Cinader Woods, the chairman of J.Crew, along with her father, Arthur Cinader, held most of the remainder.
On November 23, 2010, the company agreed to be taken private in a $3 billion deal led by management with the backing of TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners, two large private equity firms. The announcement of the offer from two investment firms—including one that used to own J.Crew—came as the retailer reported that its third-quarter net income had fallen by 14 percent due to weaker women’s clothing sales. The company also lowered its guidance for the 2010 year. Under the deal as proposed, J.Crew shareholders would receive $43.50 per share in cash, representing a 16 percent premium to the stock’s closing price the prior day of $37.65. CEO Mickey Drexler, the former Gap Inc. chief credited with turning J.Crew around since coming aboard in 2003, remained in that role and retained a “significant” stake in the company (as of September 2010, he holds 5.4% of outstanding shares). TPG, one of the investment firms in the deal, took a majority stake in J.Crew Group Inc. in 1997 and remained majority shareholder until the company went public in 2006.
Shortly after the announcement of the deal, some in the business community criticized the terms of the deal involving the company’s CEO and a majority shareholder. As a result, the “go-shop” period was extended shortly after the initial announcement. In addition, several investigations relating to potential shareholder actions against the company were announced.