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Staying true to J Crew

mickey drexler
J Crew CEO, Mickey Drexler

“Transforming a brand into a socially responsible leader doesn’t happen overnight by simply writing new marketing and advertising strategies. It takes effort to identify a vision that your customers will find credible and aligned with their values.” – Simon Mainwaring

I have always been a fan of J Crew in the US, sharp positioning, great casual wear, and right on target. Yes, competition never went away but these guys seemed to be on target and were one of the places in their category to visit.

So what happens when competition increases, perhaps ranges go off a little or the brand promise might have even wandered off target a little? Faced with increasing shareholders’ demands and increasingly fickle customers what options might you take?

One option is to get real with the original brand promise, understand the changing dynamic more intimately and above all stay very true, whilst adapting to the core of the brand promise. Consumers are generally sticky to a brand promise that is genuine and proven over time, such as J Crew.

Or do you, as many retailers have tended to do, in creating a new category of inexpensive (read cheaper) product ranges to satisfy that market that you initially never went after any way? Can this two tone strategy actually work or do you alienate the very core of the target customer?

In a recent article from Business Insider, we saw the option taken by J Crew. With sales rapidly declining and the company being forced to lay off 10 per cent of its corporate staff, it’s no surprise that CEO, Mickey Drexler, is attempting a dramatic turnaround for the brand.

However, the current strategy is creating a lot of chatter among the J Crew customer community and it’s not all positive. J Crew has recently launched a cheaper sub brand called J.Crew Mercantile. While technically not an outlet store, it is highly likely this strategy could majorly hurt the brands image and reputation, especially as it was once highly regarded by the fashion elite as their go to staple.

The interesting thing here is that J.Crew customers are actively voicing their concerns through blogs and social media, expressing confusion over the new cheaper sub-brand, and of the product design decisions that are also taking the brand far away from the premium simplicity it once had.

Yet, is Drexler listening? It would appear not. The strategy to make this premium brand more accessible to the masses is great to boost profit in the short term, but its alienating and putting off the loyal customers who will see the brand through in the long term. Ultimately the newly attracted price-sensitive shoppers are like magpies and as soon as a new shinier and cheaper brand comes on the scene, their loyalty and credit cards will leave J Crew behind.

We understanding that J Crew finds itself in a sticky situation that many retailers find themselves in, needing to boost sales quickly and seeking the quickest strategy to do so.

We can’t be all things to all people, nor can we deviate from what we are great at – our “place in the sun” is exactly that – we only have to see the dark clouds circling overhead at J Crew.

Brian Walker is Founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group and can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or

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