By  on April 20, 2007

Brooks Bros. is preparing to enter resort settings across the U.S. starting May 1 with a smaller store format called Brooks Bros. Country Club Collection, WWD has learned.

This is the first time that Brooks Bros. 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.

The all-American company has a history of catering to the country club set with sports-related apparel, including tennis and golf clothes, as well as accessories such as golf bags and golf gloves. The first branch locations outside Manhattan opened about 100 years ago in Newport, R.I., and Palm Beach, Fla.

Even before that, when founder Henry Sands Brooks set up his shop in 1818, the first sale during a blizzard was a pair of men's white flannel tennis trousers. From that point on, Brooks Bros. stores were filled with sporting equipment, which it no longer sells, and related apparel for safaris, tennis, golf, polo, badminton, archery and croquet to outfit generations of athletes, country gentlemen, celebrities and statesman.

Almost as a prelude to the new store concept, Brooks Bros. 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 chief executive officer, said in an interview. "Performance pieces have always been part of Brooks Bros., but not in such a formalized way."

The first Brooks Bros. 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 next month in Newport's Brick Market center; the La Encantada shopping center in Tucson, 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, at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach, S.C. That will be followed by an opening in April 2008 in the Pearland Town Center in Pearland, Tex."For the retail rollout of Brooks Bros. 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," or about half the size of a typical Brooks Bros. 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 Bros. 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 Bros. 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, a cash register resembling a bar — casual vintage. The inspiration is very old-monied Newport, back to the Vanderbilt era."

"Brooks Bros. 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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