Will Lands’ End be the next American trad brand to become Italianized? Today the Wall Street Journal carries a story with the headline “New Lands’ End CEO Delivers High Fashion—and a Culture Clash,” and the subhead, “At the catalog retailer, frumpy duds are out, strappy heels are in; ‘It doesn’t look like Lands’ End anymore.'”
Last February the company appointed a new CEO, Federica Marchionni, who had previous held executive roles at Ferrari and Dolce & Gabbana. The result?
“It doesn’t look like Lands’ End anymore,” said Lee Eisenberg, the company’s creative director from 1999 to 2004. “There was never the implication that if you wore Lands’ End you’d be on a beach on Nantucket living the perfect life.”
The company was already floundering, but it just delivered a $19.5 million loss after a profit of $73.8 million the year before:
While cuts may be changing (the buttondowns seem to have shrunken collars), overall the men’s page looks fairly trad; it’s the women’s department where the winds of fashion are rocking the Lands’ End ship most strongly.
Continues the story:
Interviews with a dozen former Lands’ End executives paint a picture of a company adrift long before Ms. Marchionni took the helm. Missteps were amplified when it was owned by Sears’s, these people said, as managers ordered excess merchandise based on unrealistic plans. When sales fell short, the company was forced to markdown unsold goods, hurting margins, these people said.
A Sears spokesman said Lands’ End posted some of its most profitable years under Sears, and that Lands’ End management, not Sears, was responsible for decisions made at the time.
Lands’ End was founded in 1963 as a mail-order supplier of sailboat equipment by adman Gary Comer, who moved warehouse and phone operations to Dodgeville in 1978. The call center, staffed by farmers’ wives, took pride in answering phones in one ring.
After stepping down as CEO in 1990, Mr. Comer served as chairman until 2002. He fostered a familial atmosphere, often walking the halls in jeans and sweaters. He liked to say, “Take care of the customers, take care of the employees and profits will take care of themselves.”
The latest comment on the WSJ page is probably a good summary of the sentiments of Tradsville:
Someone please give me an example of an established brand dumping its core customers and then reaching new heights of success in new markets? this is several bridges too far.
Click here for the whole story, and if you hit a paywall, copy and paste the headline into Google and that should remove it. — CC