Nordstrom likes Madewell and is ready to give J. Crew a chance.
“We have had a really very positive experience with Madewell, both from a business and relationship point of view,” Pete Nordstrom, copresident of Nordstrom Inc., told WWD.
So it’s a natural progression, Nordstrom added, to start selling the J. Crew brand, which, like Madewell, is a division of the J. Crew Group.
Yet unlike Madewell, it’s not selling as well. “That’s true,” agreed Nordstrom. “But I will say our customers have an awareness and affinity for the J. Crew brand. If you were to survey our customers about what brands they like, J. Crew would be right up on top. We probably share more customers with J. Crew than any other department store.”
The J. Crew and Madewell deals recall Topshop’s agreement with the Seattle-based Nordstrom department store chain. Bringing Madewell, J. Crew and Topshop to its doors and web site reflects Nordstrom’s efforts to broaden its base of customers and its image through new and sometimes exclusive arrangements with brands. It’s also a sign of the times underscoring the industry imperative to be multichannel and global; the blurring lines between retail and wholesale, and the challenging, often treacherous specialty retail sector.
Another possibility for Nordstrom is with Uniqlo, the Japanese vertical retailer, which about 11 years ago, starting opening stores in the U.S. and has had uneven success with the expansion. “Of course, we would be open to having a conversation with them,” Nordstrom said. “But it’s a pretty different thing. It would be an unusual fit in our full-line stores.” Hiroshi Taki, group senior vice president and chief executive officer of Uniqlo USA, concurred he is also open to discussions with Nordstrom.
Already, Nordstrom has begun selling some J. Crew Ludlow men’s suits at four of its stores. The real launch of the partnership happens Sept. 12 when J. Crew starts selling inside 16 Nordstrom locations, in 500-square-foot settings in the Point of View section. Nordstrom.com will also sell J. Crew.
“I wouldn’t say this is a test. It’s more of a pilot,” Nordstrom noted. “We need to start somewhere so we understand the business. We’ll spread it around to different-size stores and regional locations. Madewell has kind of worked everywhere.”
“This was an easy decision,” said Millard “Mickey” Drexler, chairman and ceo of the J. Crew Group. “Nordstrom is the perfect partner because we both share the same high standards of customer service and store experience. We’re doing this exclusively with Nordstrom. This is excellent exposure for us.”
Drexler said Nordstrom will sell an edited assortment of the J. Crew collection, including classics such as the Regent and Rhodes blazers, Italian cashmere, outerwear and the Martie pants, to name a few. The pieces will be merchandised and presented in the “signature” J. Crew way — pattern mixing, quirky styling, bright colors, mixing prints and stripes along with accessories.
Nordstrom will also sell J. Crew petites online only, and on the men’s side of J. Crew, Nordstrom has focused on J. Crew’s Ludlow suits in Italian worsted wool and Loro Piana fabrics in black, charcoal and navy. In addition to the four Nordstrom stores selling the men’s wear, another seven will be added in October.
Aside from their own stores, J. Crew and Madewell are sold on Net-a-porter, and J. Crew is sold at Bon Marché in Europe. Crewcuts, the J. Crew children’s division, is sold at Harrods in London. At one time, J. Crew was sold at Lane Crawford in Asia, though it’s no longer there.
Asked if the arrangement with Nordstrom suggests that the J. Crew Group is moving into a wholesale business model, Drexler replied, “This is an exception for us. It doesn’t at all suggest wholesaling.”
The idea of collaborating with the J. Crew Group occurred to Nordstrom while he was traveling. “I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in the last couple of years,” he said. “We did see J. Crew in select stores in Europe and Asia. This whole thing started with J. Crew in mind,” though the initial conversations revolved around Madewell.
With J. Crew, Nordstrom said his buyers focused on iconic styles, newness and what’s selling. “J. Crew gave us a lot of latitude to do this. We are going to learn about what type of things do best in our environment. We’ve done that with Madewell….We try to establish relationships with great brands that allow us to focus on regular-priced selling, newness and fashion. It’s not exclusivity for exclusivity sake.”
J. Crew Group’s success with Madewell was underscored recently when Nordstrom disclosed that its distribution of Madewell would increase with an additional 20 stores this fall. It was the third distribution expansion since the initial launch of the partnership in March 2015 and will result in Nordstrom carrying Madewell in 76 locations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as on nordstrom.com.
Nordstrom said there has been no discussion regarding his company investing in the J. Crew Group, which is owned by the TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners private equity firms.
Outside of Madewell stores, Nordstrom is the only brick-and-mortar retailer to sell Madewell merchandise. Madewell is also sold on madewell.com, Net-a-porter and Shopbop.com. In 2015, when the deal to sell Madewell merchandise to Nordstrom was disclosed, Drexler told WWD, “This, for us, is really a new beginning. I wouldn’t call it necessarily a wholesale distribution. I would just call it distribution that makes sense from a customer point of view, from a brand point of view, from a Nordstrom and Net-a-porter point of view.”
The 16 Nordstrom stores set to carry J. Crew are in downtown Seattle; Bellevue Square, Wash.; Washington Square in Tigard, Ore.; Michigan Avenue in Chicago; Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook, Ill.; Somerset Collection in Troy, Mich.; Scottsdale Fashion Square in Scottsdale, Ariz.; NorthPark Center in Dallas; Houston Galleria in Houston; Barton Creek Square and Domain Northside, both in Austin, Tex.; King of Prussia Mall, Pa.; Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va.; South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.; The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, and The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville.