Linda Heasley will join Lane Bryant on Monday as president and chief executive officer, leaving behind Limited Stores, where she held the same titles for the past six years.
Heasley’s challenge will be to further a strategy already set in motion by Lane Bryant’s new owner to modernize and turn around the performance of the $1 billion, 800-unit large-size specialty chain.
“Lane Bryant is a bit of a challenged business,” acknowledged David Jaffe, president and ceo of the Ascena Retail Group Inc., which last spring acquired the retailer through its $890 million deal for Charming Shoppes Inc. While Ascena’s total company sales, Internet included, were up 1 percent on a comparable basis in the last quarter, Lane Bryant was down 9 percent.
“We purchased Charming Shoppes to get to Lane Bryant. It’s where we see the potential. It’s an iconic, 100-year-old business,” said Jaffe. “There have been some changes of strategy over the last 10 years at Lane Bryant,” hurting the performance and perception of the business. “Now we are trying to build a consistent look and brand that customers will feel good about. We believe these customers should be afforded the same fashion choices and the same opportunities to feel good about the way she dresses,” Jaffe said.
Heasley’s appointment is expected to be revealed today. The president and ceo slot at Lane Bryant has been vacant since last fall when Brian Woolf retired.
Jaffe listed a host of accomplishment by Heasley at The Limited, among them revamping product lines and introducing new brand positioning and a new plus-size line, launching e-commerce and a new store design, and returning The Limited to sustained profitability for the first time in 17 years. Earlier in her career, she held senior-level roles at Timberland, Limited Brands and CVS.
Since the fall, Ascena’s strategy at Lane Bryant has been to update the merchandise, marketing and image. There’s a new logo and fresher colors seen in the advertising, direct mail and in-store visuals. “The whole idea is to bring Lane Bryant up to the current modern aesthetic of the customer,” Jaffe said.
The strategy also involves shifting much of the store base from malls to strip centers through store openings and relocations. Ascena, with its other divisions including Dress Barn and Maurices, is comfortable operating stores in strip centers and believes they provide the greatest convenience to customers. At least 50 new stores are seen opening in the next three years, and in two weeks, a 6,000-square-foot Lane Bryant will open on New York’s 34th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Jaffe said the site will be the Lane Bryant flagship and prototype for future stores.
Another opportunity is to grow the online business, where 15 percent of Lane Bryant’s sales are currently conducted. That’s a higher percentage than most retailers, which are generally around 10 percent or less.