Marquee Brands has breathed new life into Ben Sherman since acquiring the label two years ago. And on Sept. 1, the brand known for its bright British-inspired men’s wear will reenter the New York market with a store in SoHo.
The 2,000-square-foot store at 130 Greene Street will be open through the holidays and will offer monthly programming and activations ranging from a speaker series and influencer dinners to concerts. In terms of merchandise, it will carry the entire Ben Sherman collection, which ranges from ready-to-wear and bespoke suits to footwear and jewelry, as well as limited-edition pieces. There will also be a full-service shirt bar that harkens back to the history of the brand, which was founded in Brighton, England, in 1963 as a young men’s, “Mod”-inspired shirt line. It has since evolved into a lifestyle brand targeting men between 25 and 40 years old.
The store will be the only location in the U.S. to carry the entire Ben Sherman x House of Holland capsule collection. The company teamed with British fashion designer Henry Holland for a collection of unisex styles. The collection was shown on the runway at London Collections Men earlier this year and complements the main Ben Sherman collection designed by Mark Williams in London.
Michael DeVirgilio, president of Marquee Brands, said Ben Sherman has had a very strong performance over the past year on a number of different fronts. He revealed that in the past 12 months, comparable-store sales at the company’s 44 retail stores around the world have increased 29 percent, and in the first quarter of this year, sales have risen 20 percent. Ben Sherman operates stores in the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, Canada, U.K. and South Africa. There is also one store in California.
Social media followers have expanded by 26 percent, DeVirgilio said, and the business with all inherited licenses is up 18 percent. The brand is now in 34 countries, up from 25 at the time of the purchase.
Marquee, an acquisition, licensing and development company that was formed in 2014, purchased the British men’s wear brand from Oxford Industries in July 2016 for $63.7 million. According to Marquee, Oxford had focused its energies on its other labels, notably Tommy Bahama and Lilly Pulitzer, and had essentially ignored Ben Sherman.
Since acquiring the brand, Marquee transformed the label into a licensed model and projected that global sales would quadruple within five years.
DeVirgilio said the brand has its strongest performance in the U.K. and the plan is to open two additional stores there in 2019. That is followed by Australia, where Ben Sherman is the second largest international men’s wear brand in the country, as well as South Africa and Germany.
“We’re also making a big push into Latin America,” he said. The brand will open two stores in Mexico in 2019, one in Panama as well as 100 shop-in-shops.
“We have tremendous growth plans,” he said.
That’s also true of the U.S. market. When Marquee acquired the brand, there were three stores in America: one in Los Angeles, one in San Francisco and one in SoHo. “Of the three, Spring Street [in SoHo] was the winner,” he said. “But it was way too big, over 6,000 feet. We were lucky that the landlord bought back the lease.”
The new store that Ben Sherman will open in SoHo will be temporary, which is a calculated move that DeVirgilio said speaks to today’s changed retail environment.
“The days are gone of 10-year leases,” he said. He said that with the financial backing of global asset management firm Neuberger Berman, Marquee did a complete market analysis of the abundant retail store closures and found the issue was overpriced leases and too many stores. So he set out to find landlords willing to partner with the brand on a new style of lease.
“If we win, they win,” he said.
He said that in addition to Henry Holland, he is expecting to sign other collaborations both inside and outside of fashion for Ben Sherman. “It’s an important engagement point for customers,” he said. The original deal with Henry Holland was for two seasons and DeVirgilio said it may be extended.
In addition to Ben Sherman, Marquee owns Bruno Magli, BCBG Max Azria, BCBGeneration and Body Glove. And unlike Authentic Brands Group or Sequential Brands — which own trademarks and act as pure licensing companies — Marquee sees itself more of a brand steward.
DeVirgilio said the company will also open a Bruno Magli concept store in New York this fall. The 2,000-square-foot store on Wooster Street in SoHo will house men’s and women’s footwear and watches, women’s handbags and men’s small leather goods, tailoring and socks. It will be the first store for the Italian brand in the U.S.
Like the Ben Sherman store, this one will also host VIP dinners for influencers, create a video series and offer other cultural events.
Turning back to Ben Sherman, DeVirgilio believes there is room to grow the brand’s accessories offering and also expects to launch women’s wear in late 2019. Women’s was teased on the runway during the last show, he said, with a few looks. Historically, women’s had accounted for as much as 30 percent of the business internationally, the company has said.
“We are very pleased with Ben Sherman and our partners look at it as one of the best investments we’ve made,” he said.
He said the BCBG business, which has high engagement and recognition within the women’s market, has also been a “powerhouse” for the company. Body Glove is also doing well and presenting a new opportunity for Marquee since the majority of its sales are in product categories other than apparel.
The success is prompting Marquee to look into further additions to its stable and DeVirgilio said he expects the company to make one to two acquisitions this year. “We’re looking at diversifying outside the traditional fashion and retail space,” he said, pointing to the outdoor and sports and fitness categories as attractive options. “We’ve proven that we’re brand builders and it would be groundbreaking to have our model in those spaces,” he said.
Neuberger Berman manages $300 billion in assets and has $500 million of committed capital for Marquee Brands acquisitions.