As it looks to retool some of the strategies implemented by its last chief executive officer, J. Crew Group showed signs of improvement. The group narrowed its loss for the third quarter to $5.7 million from a loss of $18.4 million in the year-ago period.
This year’s third quarter reflects the impact of the benefit related to a lease termination payment. Last year’s third quarter reflected the impact of transformation costs and transaction costs.
Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was $53.6 million compared to $68.4 million in the third quarter last year. The company considers adjusted earnings the best barometer of its performance.
Total revenues increased 10 percent to $622.2 million. Comparable company sales increased 8 percent.
By division, J. Crew sales increased 1 percent to $430.9 million. Comparable sales increased 4 percent. Madewell sales increased 26 percent to $133.7 million. Comparable sales increased 22 percent.
Gross margin decreased to 38.3 percent from 40.4 percent in the third quarter last year.
Earlier this month, the company dismissed ceo Jim Brett, due to disagreements with the board and shareholders over how he was redirecting the company. Some of the programs he initiated are being discontinued.
“Jim and the board did not share the same vision on how best to take J. Crew forward,” said Michael J. Nicholson, president and chief operating officer, during a conference call on Thursday afternoon.
The board decided to shut down some of the subbrands including the lower-priced Mercantile. Also, there was disagreement over selling J. Crew on Amazon which could be discontinued as well.
On the other hand, wholesaling J. Crew and Madewell to Nordstrom and others, started by Brett’s predecessor and current chairman Millard “Mickey” Drexler, will be advanced.
The changes were reflected in Nicholson’s commentary during the call. “Our principal focus is capitalizing on the recent momentum and returning J. Crew to profitable growth, continuing to fuel Madewell’s success to become $1 billion brand, and driving gross margin improvement and aggressively managing expenses,” Nicholson said.
He said he was “encouraged by our third-quarter topline performance, sequential improvement at the J. Crew brand, growth of Madewell and growth in wholesaling. Madewell delivered another quarter of impressive growth, continued strength in stores and out-sized growth in digital.”
He attributed the margin decline to higher shipping and handling costs compounded by growth in online transactions, and higher promotional activity, primarily at J. Crew Factory.
He said the September relaunch of the J. Crew brand was characterized by new aesthetics and fits, a wider range of color, extended sizing and wider range of price points. Sweaters, cashmere, pants, dresses and outerwear were the best-selling categories.
“Elevated focus on customer experience remains critical to the evolution of our business,” Nicholson said.
On Madewell, Nicholson said “Impressive growth continues to be led by denim.” Last quarter, Madewell added men’s denim to the assortment. “It has had an encouraging response,” Nicholson said.
With the sudden departure of Jim Brett last month — he had only been on the job for 16 months — an office of the ceo was created. It includes Nicholson; Adam Brotman, president and chief experience officer; Lynda Markoe, chief administration officer, and Libby Wadle, president of Madewell.
“We are a committed and cohesive group and very aligned on our mission to drive sustainable growth along with disciplined expense management,” Nicholson said.
J. Crew has long been struggling to regain its panache and popularity. Forty-eight J. Crew stores closed over the last 12 months.
In a statement Nicholson commented, “The third quarter was highlighted by double-digit revenue growth and a solid early response to our relaunch of the J. Crew brand. We enter the fourth quarter with a renewed focus on growing profitability at J. Crew and fueling continued strong performance at Madewell. Overall, we believe we have a meaningful opportunity to drive EBITDA growth in 2019 through continued topline momentum, gross margin expansion and a prioritization of expense management. Finally, I want to thank all of our associates for their contributions to the important work being done this year and for getting our brands ready for the holiday season.”