With a new executive team in place, Hartstrings is on a growth path.
The classic children's wear company, started in 1979, has made some major changes in management, which, company executives said, will help to reenergize both the firm's flagship brand and the trendier collection, k.c. Parker.
"After enlisting Kanter International to do an in-depth consumer research study, we overwhelmingly found that our consumer wants the brand to not only service the elegant updated traditional lifestyle but also a more casual-inspired design," said Kevin Mahoney, the company's new chief executive officer, who joined the firm last month. "In addition to this research, it was also concluded that our consumer wants to shop the brand from newborn to infant, to toddler, to boys/girls and finally, boys eight to 14 and girls seven to 16. Only a few of our partners carry the Hartstrings and k.c. Parker brands through all of these stages in a child's life. We see this as a significant organic growth opportunity."
Mahoney brings a great deal of experience to the Strafford, Pa.-based company. Most recently, he served as president of Chaps, a Ralph Lauren brand. Earlier, he spent 18 years with Arrow Shirts, where he rose through the ranks to become president from 1998 through 2001. He also was president of the men's and ladies' divisions of Amerex Group.
In May 2002, Hartstrings received a $31 million investment from the Bethesda, Md.-based investment firm American Capital Strategies Ltd. In December 2005, American Capital fully acquired Hartstrings LLC, which was a privately held company until the acquisition.
Founded by Peggy Hart Earle, Hartstring's foundation was built on creating classic, quality, parent-friendly children's apparel. To serve the more fashion conscious girl, the k.c. Parker brand was introduced in 1997.
Mahoney said this is still the vision the company follows, but with a slightly more modern touch. To accomplish this, the company has brought in a new vice president of design, Sandi Davidson, who will help relaunch the Hartstrings and k.c. Parker brands for back-to-school selling.
"The main things we did to revive the product was to update the looks to make them more relevant to today," Davidson explained. "I think that since the brand is based on classic looks, it became stuck and didn't change enough over time. What I've done is make the lines more trend right, but keeping consistent with the brand's DNA."Davidson joined Hartstrings from an eight-year stint at Lilly Pulitzer, where she was vice president of design. She said that at Hartstrings and k.c. Parker, she is introducing new colors into the palette, as well as upgrading some of the fabrics, such as angora sweaters and embroidered details on everything from woven tops to corduroy pants. Davidson said that overall, the price range of the product has not changed, with the exception of a few higher-end pieces. Wholesale prices range from $10 to $40. Both collections are sold in 1,100 better department and specialty stores. The brand also owns and operates 30 outlet stores nationwide, but Davidson said there are no plans to open more. Mahoney said he hopes growth will come from the company's retail partners.
"The k.c. Parker brand was initially launched to be a trendier brand, for a more fashion conscious girl," she said. "It takes its cues from the contemporary areas, where the Hartstrings line takes them from a true junior area. The great thing about both brands is that they really are kid-friendly, but they are also embraced by parents. In a time when children want to dress older than they are, it's been nice to work on a brand that is appropriate for children."
While the company declined to give volume expectations once its growth plan takes hold, Mahoney said, "The brand is poised for near-term and long-term growth, and we are very comfortable with the team that has been assembled."
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