Eddie Bauer is back in New York City.
The Seattle-based retailer, which closed its last store in Manhattan seven years ago, will unveil today a 1,500-square-foot unit in the Flatiron District at 100 Fifth Avenue at 15th Street. The store is being referred to as a pop-up, although the location will be home to a larger store next year.
“This is our permanent space,” explained Kristen Elliott, director of brand marketing. “But this is a one-of-a-kind design. It will stay open until Valentine’s Day, and then we’ll shut it down for a complete overhaul.” A newly designed store of 4,000 square feet will reopen in May.
The store’s design and merchandise mix are centered around the company’s outdoor heritage and includes graphics that detail its history, including its founding by adventurer Eddie Bauer in 1920 and his creation of the first down jacket in 1936. In fact, that jacket, the Skyliner, is showcased in a glass case at the rear of the store, next to the climbing outfit worn by Jim Whittaker in 1963, when he became the first American to ascend Mount Everest.
Elliott said the store’s mix has been curated to outfit New York shoppers for their “adventures,” whether that’s walking in Central Park or hiking a snowy mountaintop. The mix includes pieces from the First Ascent collection, which is endorsed by the group of 34 mountain guides who worked with the design team to make sure the merchandise is outdoors-worthy. “Nothing goes to market without their consent,” Elliott said. In addition, it carries the Sport Shop collection, which is targeted to fishermen and hunters, and Travex, the travel-themed offering; there’s also a smattering of sportswear, such as Fair Isle sweaters and plaid shirts. The retailer’s new branded footwear collection, introduced in August, is also highlighted; in January, the Motion collection of activewear will be added.
Although this is Bauer’s only New York City store, there are eight units within a 50-mile radius, Elliott said. In total, the retailer operates nearly 400 stores in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Japan. The company is looking at Southeast Asia and South America as future expansion areas, Elliott said.
The Eddie Bauer corporation has had its struggles over the past decade as it lost sight of its core customer, a misstep that threw it into bankruptcy in 2003 and 2009 under its former owner Spiegel Inc. The San Francisco-based private equity firm Golden Gate Capital won a bankruptcy-court auction for Bauer with a $286 million cash bid in 2009.
Two years ago, the company installed Mike Egeck as chief executive officer. Egeck has a strong reputation in the active outdoor space, having done stints at VF Corp.’s North American outdoor business and The North Face, and has worked to return the company to its roots as an authentic American outdoor brand. “The brand got in trouble when it became something consumers didn’t want,” Egeck said. “It had swung hard toward chasing Chico’s, Ann Taylor and Talbots and became a missy sportswear brand.”
But with its rich heritage, Bauer had an opportunity, he believed. “I grew up in Seattle with the brand,” he said. “And I was ticked off that it had gotten so off-mark. So, we doubled down as an authentic outdoors brand.”
Without disclosing numbers, Egeck said the brand had a “nice year in 2013. We tripled our EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization]. This year, we comped positive in October, and [we’re] keeping our fingers crossed for November. If you look at our catalogue, our Web site and our storefronts in the past two years, we’re now competitive with The North Face, Columbia and REI. That’s the competitive set we’re focused on.”
Egeck said that despite the fact Golden Gate nearly completed a deal to sell the company to Jos. A. Bank earlier this year, he and his team are keeping their eye on the ball. “When you’re owned by private equity, you’re always for sale. We’re not focused on that,” he said. “We’re focused on maximizing the brand potential and incrementally increasing our profitability.”
That plan includes adding stores in more high-traffic locations.
In addition to New York City, Bauer will open a unit on Post Street in San Francisco sometime around Thanksgiving. Egeck said, “Even with 300 stores in North America, we’re very underrepresented in major metropolitan markets. We have no stores in L.A., we had none in Manhattan, and we have a limited number in San Francisco. That’s a great advantage for us. Most retailers with 300 to 500 stores are looking at B- and C-level malls and markets. But as a product of our reorganization, we have A+, A, B+ and B markets that weren’t filled in. We have a target list that is very healthy.”