To get a window into J.Crew’s comeback campaign, look no further than the Brooklyn waterfront, where the retailer opened a new shop yesterday in Dumbo’s Empire Stores. Far from a cookie-cutter mall store, the J.Crew shop is infused with individuality, from the 19th-century warehouse setting to its six-chair barber shop and assorted local offerings.
Such features suggest the influence of CEO Jim Brett, who used to work in the very same building–as president of Brooklyn-based furnishings retailer West Elm–till he was recruited a year ago to lead a turnaround at struggling J.Crew. While at West Elm, he energized the company’s growth by turning it into an artisan-driven, locally inspired brand.
J.Crew, which focuses on classic American styles, had been a growth brand for years after the chain opened its first store in 1989 in South Street Seaport. As of May, the company operates 228 J.Crew retail stores, 175 factory stores, and 121 Madewell stores, a women’s denim-based brand. While Madewell has soared in recent years, the flagship brand has struggled to rediscover a relevant identity and sales have been slumping.
In announcing financial results in May, the company acknowledged, “2018 represents a pivotal year for the company.” The company plans to launch a range of new products and a data-driven personalization engine, “culminating in the J.Crew brand relaunch in September, just in time for the most important fall and holiday seasons,” the company said.
The pivot is evident at the Empire Stores outpost, J.Crew’s second in Brooklyn (after a Williamsburg shop that opened in 2014). In Dumbo, the store features a location of Fellow Barber, which calls itself a high-end, traditional men’s grooming parlor. Fellow Barber opened its first shop in Manhattan in 2006 and has opened five more New York City stores since then, as well as two in San Francisco. The store also houses the Ludlow suit shop, named after the brand’s signature men’s suit, and carries an assortment of local brands including American Heirloom, Brooklyn Candle Studio, Druthers and Only NY.
Why put a store in Dumbo? Well, the CEO knows it well. Plus, the waterfront neighborhood is becoming foot-traffic heaven, while retaining some DIY flavor. “We’re so inspired by Dumbo’s creative, dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit,” said Vanessa Holden, J.Crew’s chief marketing officer. “That collaborative energy sparked our new retail concept in partnership with Fellow Barber. Together we’ve created a real neighborhood magnet–a daily destination for great clothing, expert grooming and local knowledge.”
On Aug. 8, J.Crew will be hosting an opening celebration at the new store. There will beer tasting with Threes Brewing, ice cream from OddFellows, Fellow Barber gift cards, and other samples.–By Arden Phillips