Bob’s Bounces Back
With a new bank line and a little tweaking of its concept, Bob’s Stores is looking to regain momentum in 2000.
That’s saying something for the 34-unit Meriden, Conn.-based specialty chain following a year in which it lost its chief executive, fell out of compliance of its bank covenants and lost key factor support.
David Farrell, president and ceo, said Bob’s same-store sales declines over the last 18 months largely stemmed from industry-wide weakness in basic denim and athletic footwear. He said the store’s formula — branded basics at moderate prices — is still viable, and the firm plans to focus even more on its core customer.
“We always believed that the basic value proposition is strong and distinctive,” said Farrell.
Bob’s Stores average 44,000 square feet and carry over 100 national brands, including Adidas, Nike, Levi’s, Dockers, Unionbay, LEI, Mudd, JNCO, Woolrich, Russel, Quiksilver, Billabong, Columbia Sportswear, Vans and Sketchers. Footwear, denim, khaki and activewear represent two-thirds of sales, with the rest coming from casual sportswear, outerwear and accessories.
Farrell admits to some mistakes like introducing higher-end products such as sunglasses and sports watches and $125 sneakers. The store’s newspaper inserts became “too price intensive” and have been reworked to push a lifestyle focus.
“We don’t want to be Bob’s the Levi’s store, we want to be Bob’s the lifestyle store,” he said.
Plans call for an increased emphasis on teens, men and moms buying for the family.
“It’s not really a pioneering effort,” Farrell said. “It’s really a doubling of our efforts toward our areas of strength.”
Since taking over for Marc Balmuth in September, Farrell said Bob’s has been undergoing a “comprehensive renewal effort” to speed inventory flow, limit markdowns and cut costs. Farrell, formerly chief financial officer, said top management posts have been eliminated to speed decision making, while a new “Trend Pad” program allows hot trends to be shifted to the front of the stores, whereas before they would be hidden in fixed category departments.
“We’d like to think of the stores as flexible and not bound by walls,” Farrell said.
He emphasized that basic denim “is starting to strengthen and turn up,” and athletic footwear is rebounding, and Bob’s “is well positioned to benefit from that.”
A big boost for Bob’s was the new $65 million line inked last week with Fleet Bank, providing liquidity for huge inventory commitments for the back-to-school and Christmas seasons, he said. While an inventory markdown charge caused Bob’s to miss its fourth-quarter plan, targets have been met for the last four months, and factors and vendors have responded positively to the bank line, as well as the stabilizing of the business, he said.
Bob’s also has the “full support” of Citicorp Venture Capital, which, along with management, acquired control of Bob’s from CVS Corp. in 1997.
Farrell is not too worried about Old Navy expansion and Kohl’s arrival in the Northeast because the chain, which does about $400 million in annual sales, has consistently performed at “$300 plus” per square foot despite the arrival over the years of national department stores, off-pricers, discounters and athletic chains.
Old Navy is “very focused on the teenage population and does a super job with its brand, but we believe we satisfy that same customer with convenience and national brands and footwear,” Farrell said.
Bob’s stores are exceeding plan in areas where Kohl’s has opened this spring despite the latter’s massive advertising push, he noted.
“So, we’re very encouraged about the notion of coexisting with Kohl’s just as we have coexisted with every other big-box retailer in the Northeast since we were founded in 1954.”

The More the Merrier
Too bad he couldn’t get them to jam. Tommy Hilfiger’s fall advertising campaign is set to feature not only Mick Jagger’s daughter Elizabeth, as reported, but Kidada Jones, daughter of the composer and producer Quincy Jones.
While each are offspring of celebrity musicians, neither has yet revealed to the public any intention to follow in her parent’s footsteps.
According to a Tommy Jeans spokeswoman, both the young Jones — who’s appeared in a number of Tommy campaigns — and the young Jagger were photographed for the company’s ad shoot, which took place early this month at Amelia Earhardt Park in Miami.

Perry Ellis, Aris to Part Ways
Perry Ellis International Inc. and Aris Industries Inc. earlier this month said they have agreed that 2000 will be the final year of the Perry Ellis America Jeanswear license.
Perry Ellis next year will begin producing its own jeanswear. Aris produced men’s jeans under the license, but women’s jeans never got off the ground.
Perry Ellis, Aris and ECI Sportswear Inc. agreed to renew the Perry Ellis Portfolio Loungewear license through 2003. Currently women’s product — primarily coats — is estimated to represent only 5 to 10 percent of the Perry Ellis brand’s total $900 million in sales at retail.
However, the company last year reached a licensing agreement with Kellwood’s Goodman Group division to produce women’s sportswear for fall. At that time, company officials said the Perry Ellis women’s business could eventually reach $1.5 billion at retail.

The Spinnish Inquisition
Polo Jeans Co. will launch a contest and tribute to Spin magazine on its Web site on Monday.
Throughout the month of May, visitors to who correctly answer the “Spin Flashbacks” trivia questions about pop music over Spin’s 15-year history will be entered into a sweepstakes. In June, a random entrant will be awarded an all-expense-paid trip for two to a concert anywhere in the continental 48 states.
The contest will be promoted on both Polo Jeans’ and Spin’s Web sites, as well as in Spin’s May issue.