Crew’s New Captain: Can Drexler Reverse Ailing Brand’s Drift?

NEW YORK — Texas Pacific Group may have finally found its J. Crew exit strategy in Millard Drexler.The investment group Monday named former...

"Mickey is an excellent merchant, [however,] it’s different from being a great business operator. There are some questions with the operations of J. Crew’s business," said Elaine Hughes, ceo of E.A. Hughes & Co. executive search. "When J. Crew was at its best, the vision came from Emily Woods, and someone else was running the business. Putting [Mickey] in charge of everything is questionable." But she added that, at Gap, the merchandise in the stores defined the stores. "If Mickey can get the product to have a point of view and it can be translated in the stores, that would be great."

"Mickey’s strengths play into J. Crew’s weakness," said Todd Slater, retail analyst at Lazard Freres. "For J. Crew, it gets a proven merchandise prince who has fallen from the ivory tower and is available to take on this reclamation project. And for Drexler, he gets both a financial and personal reward. He can recover his reputation. J. Crew suffers from all the common ailments of a discombobulated specialty retailing store. Its merchandise is unfocused, it has made poor real estate decisions and management played musical chairs, which all negatively impacts consistency."

Slater said Drexler could improve J. Crew’s store productivity by upscaling the brand and moving away from the overstored teen segment.

Dana Eisman Cohen, a retail analyst at Banc of America Securities, said, "J. Crew has lost its way identifying itself in the marketplace and they do a terrible job at merchandising the product on the floor. Mickey’s talents are very suited to the problems."

Jennifer Black, retail analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, believes there are opportunities for J. Crew to be unique. "What is missing is a timeless, yet chic line at compelling price points."

Ellis Verdi, president of the DeVito/Verdi ad agency, observed that "J. Crew needed someone with a new creative vision. [Drexler] can expand the store base, and they need to make the store and the catalog more exciting."

Donald Ziccardi, ceo of Ziccardi Partners Frierson Mee, said, "I think [Drexler] always felt that he wanted to be an entrepreneurial executive and wanted to go into his own business. [Drexler and Texas Pacific Group] are investing $20 million and there will be a lot of changes. They’ll re-look at the merchandising mix and the branding. They’ve lost their image and need to get it back."
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