The 53-year-old The Limited on Friday said it has closed all 250 of its stores, an outcome far worse than it imagined when in the fall it hired Guggenheim Securities to explore a sale or restructuring. The possibility of the brand continuing as a digital-only enterprise was floated, however.
The chain becomes yet another victim of declining mall traffic as consumers increasingly choose to spend their money online. The recent holiday season was not kind to established mall retailers such as Macy’s Inc., which this week revealed it will lay off 10,000 employees and close 100 stores, and Sears Holdings Corp., which said it will shutter 109 Kmart locations and 41 Sears sites in a bid to keep the ailing chains afloat.
“We’re sad to say that all The Limited stores nationwide have officially closed their doors,” read a notice on the web site. “But this isn’t goodbye. The styles you love are still available online — we’re just a quick click away 24 hours a day.”
The Limited, which is owned by Sun Capital Partners, is laden with debt. The retailer seemed to be lurching toward a bankruptcy filing, then in late November there were rumors about a possible liquidation. Last month, in the face of sharply declining sales, the New Albany, Ohio-based brand warned of mass layoffs and made the requisite filing with Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services, alerting regulators that as many as 248 employees could be terminated, including the entire headquarters staff.
Officials at The Limited and Sun Capital could not be reached at press time.
Several key executives exited The Limited in recent months, including former chief executive officer Diane Ellis, who joined Chico’s as brand president, and interim ceo John Buell, further fueling speculation of the chain’s imminent demise.
Ellis last year split the portfolio into two groups: stores in AA-plus malls and those in B and C centers, each with their own retail concepts. A value-oriented nameplate, Backroom at The Limited, was rolled out to 86 units in the less desirable locations last summer, offering products designed specifically for the Backroom and outlet stores. Units in the AA-plus malls were to be adapted to a high-tech retail concept under The Limited nameplate. The inaugural high-tech store at Tysons Corner in McLean, Va., had an immersive experience designed by Fitch, which worked on Pirch in SoHo. But it wasn’t enough. There are too many struggling retailers vying for the same consumer, whose average age is 35.
Nor could a collection of separates and dresses by Eva Longoria, with prices now slashed by 50 percent.
Larry Fultz, executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Limited, said in a letter to employees that was attached to the state filing: “Product misses and massive shifts in retail shopping trends have been especially difficult for the company’s business, and the company is dealing with significant debt obligations.”
Founded in 1963, The Limited was once the marquis brand and namesake of Leslie H. Wexner’s retail empire, which has since been renamed L Brands. Forenza, a Limited label, launched in 1983. At its height in 1990, the chain boasted 772 units. Sun Capital in 2007 bought a majority stake in The Limited. By then, Wexner had decided to focus on brands with the potential to do $1 billion in annual sales, such as Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works and divested of all his apparel brands. In 2015, The Limited introduced the Luxe collection of premium jewelry and apparel and the Lounge collection of comfort wear.