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Men'sWeek issue 04/28/2011

With an assortment that runs the gamut from men’s sweaters to pet beds, The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. is planning a major push for the inaugural John Bartlett-designed Consensus and Statements men’s private labels.

This story first appeared in the April 28, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

As reported, the department-store chain last October inked a deal with Tharanco Lifestyles LLC for Bartlett to take over the design of its apparel and accessories collections starting this fall. The full collection, which offers preppie, military and outdoors-inspired styles, was unveiled at an event at the Ace Hotel in New York City Wednesday night.

“We’ve been working with John over the last six months to get ready,” said Steve Villa, senior vice president of private brands for Bon-Ton. “We’re really excited with the way it turned out and it’s been a great partnership. It’s really nice product and will help move us forward.”

Villa said the Consensus sportswear and the Statements men’s furnishings will anchor Bon-Ton’s updated area and will be showcased in a shop setting in all of the company’s 264 stores. The size of the shops will vary by store but the emphasis will make the brand among the company’s top three men’s businesses. It will begin flowing into stores in July with the full collection due in by Aug. 15.

Because of Bartlett’s ongoing support of animals, Bon-Ton also will offer John Bartlett Pet, a selection of beds, leashes, accessories and gifts, for fall. Other categories, such as boys’, is expected to be added in the future.

“This is our big push in men’s,” said Bud Bergren, Bon-Ton’s chief executive officer. Men’s wear accounted for 12 percent of Bon-Ton’s sales during 2010 year, or about $360 million of its $3 billion total.

The shops will feature the John Bartlett Consensus or John Bartlett Statements logo and will have distinct fixturing to set the merchandise off from the rest of the mix. “We’re focused on the product, him as a person and his viewpoint,” Villa said.

Villa said the company expects sweaters, woven shirts and outerwear to be among the most popular items with customers. “They’re really right on trend,” he said, noting there will be “less emphasis on bottoms and knits” at the outset.

Bartlett said he has worked to slim up the fit of the garments, which include everything from washed poplin shirts, which will retail for $45, flannels ($45), argyle sweaters ($65), chunky cardigans ($85), jersey knits ($30), Fair Isle sweaters ($85) and corduroy pants ($65) in Consensus. The Statements offerings include suit separates, which will sell for $175 for the jacket and $75 for the pants, as well as neckwear ($32.50), dress shirts ($34 or $52.50), loungewear ($26-$70) and outerwear ($125-$200).

“The fit is trim, yet relaxed, with engaging details that aren’t overdecorated,” Bartlett said. “I paid very close attention to the hand and feel of the fabrics, the washes, and the best in noble fibers to create the highest price to quality ratio possible.” He said he has created “a real lifestyle brand, which is where the business is going today.” Six to eight deliveries a year are planned.

The skinny dress shirts and ties are new for Bon-Ton, he said, and expected to appeal to a younger guy. Bartlett said he will introduce a slimmer suit silhouette for spring. “We’re really overhauling the whole tailored side,” he said.

Bergren said that the investment in revamping the private label offerings is part of the retailer’s efforts to set itself apart from its competitors. In addition to Consensus and Statements, Bon-Ton also offers Ruff Hewn for its outdoors-inspired offering, Kenneth Roberts for tailored looks, and in young men’s, juniors and children’s, the retailer just signed a licensing deal with Australian firm Mambo Graphics Pty Ltd. to bring the Mambo surf and street brand to the U.S. exclusively for fall. The company also has a deal with Casual Male Retail Group to provide Big & Tall men’s merchandise in select stores and online.

“This is what is going to differentiate us,” Bergren said, adding that while the company is “always looking for new lines,” no other deals are imminent.

Private brands are continuing to gain in importance in the men’s market. In addition to Macy’s and J.C. Penney, long the leaders in this category, other retailers have also had success with exclusive brands including Saks Fifth Avenue, whose men’s collection is now its number-one vendor and Lord & Taylor, which has had a strong response to its Black Brown 1826 men’s brand.

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