By  on April 24, 2007

NEW YORK — Brooks Brothers is preparing to enter resort settings across the U.S., starting May 1 with a smaller store format called Brooks Brothers Country Club Collection.

This is the first time that Brooks Brothers is aggressively launching stores devoted to an affluent audience at leisure or on vacation though the 189-year-old retailer has been selling merchandise in its existing stores under the Country Club label for many years.

Almost as a prelude to the new store concept, Brooks Brothers lately has been promoting its Country Club collection by sponsoring PGA golfers Scott Verplank, James Driscoll and Tripp Isenhour, and featuring the collection in windows.

"The Country Club label in the store has grown so much that we've decided to give it its own exclusive home," Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and CEO, said in an interview. "Performance pieces have always been part of Brooks Brothers, but not in such a formalized way."

The first Brooks Brothers Country Club Collection shop will be a 2,188-square-foot unit opening May 1 on Grand Boulevard in Sandestin, Fla. Other locations will launch in June in Newport's Brick Market center; the La Encantada shopping center in Tuscon, Ariz.; and on Main Street in Southampton, N.Y., in the former Saks Fifth Avenue men's store. In October, a unit will open in Pineapple Square in Sarasota, Fla., and in March 2008 at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach, S.C. That will be followed by an opening in April in the Pearland Town Center in Pearland, Texas.

"For the retail rollout of Brooks Brothers Country Club Collection, there are two prototypes," Del Vecchio said. "We will have a smaller store really carrying only the Country Club label, and a larger format that will carry a good selection of our regular sportswear collection, but it will not have the formal side of the label. The small store is about 2,000 square feet; the other is between 5,000 and 6,000" square feet, or about half the size of a typical Brooks Brothers unit.

"At this point we're considering this a test," added Del Vecchio. For test purposes, "it's really going to be all over the place. Some of the locations are very seasonal. Others are less seasonal."

For the rollout, Brooks Brothers has expanded the Country Club merchandise into "a complete collection," said Simon Kneen, vice-president, creative design director. "We had the label. Now it's become a stand-alone collection. It's really a total look," which, he said, is being enhanced by the latest in fabric and performance technologies, including stretch and wicking. He also said the collection incorporates a lot of color, has a marine look this season and emphasizes apparel for tennis, golf and cricket.

The concept is a reflection of the Brooks Brothers' strategy since its acquisition in December 2001 by Retail Brand Alliance Inc., a privately owned company run by Del Vecchio, to return the retailer to its roots, with higher quality, timeless styles.

Del Vecchio described the look of the Country Club Collection store as being similar to a "country club pro shop, with washed-out colors, wood paneling, tin ceilings and a cash register resembling a bar-casual vintage. The inspiration is very old monied Newport, back to the Vanderbilt era.

"Brooks Brothers Country Club gives us the platform to offer a universe of products focused on a sophisticated, sports-minded lifestyle," Del Vecchio said. "We are opening our first stores in resort markets, which are both natural destinations for our existing customers and an opportunity to build relationships with new ones." He also cited the possibility of wholesaling the collection to pro shops.

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