Known for its classic -- some would say staid -- styling, Brooks Brothers has been getting men dressed for nearly two centuries. Brooks Brothers is one of America's oldest retailers, specializing in men's suits and outerwear (Abe Lincoln was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and overcoat when he was assassinated); the company also sells women's and children's apparel. Brooks Brothers operates about 180 upscale retail stores and outlet locations in the US. Through partnerships, Brooks Brothers has 100-plus stores in about 15 countries including Chile, China, Italy, and Japan. Brooks Brothers is owned by Retail Brand Alliance (RBA) and led by its colorful CEO the Italian billionaire Claudio Del Vecchio.
RBA acquired Brooks Brothers from UK department stores operator Marks and Spencer for $225 million in 2001 and has since set about trying to return Brooks Brothers to its glory days. Under del Vecchio, the company had been meeting with some success in attracting younger customers and entering new markets when the crisis in the world financial markets -- and particularly on Wall Street -- began to take a toll on Brooks Brothers' affluent clientele.
In a bid to grow sales, the chain is experimenting with new store formats. In 2009 Brooks Brothers opened its first "boutique," a 4,000-sq.-ft. store in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. At half the size of a traditional Brooks Brothers shop, the boutique is a test format for what could become the template for small stores in urban areas throughout the US. The company is also using the boutique store as a laboratory to fine-tune its merchandise selection.
Several years ago the company enlisted the menswear designer Thom Browne to create an exclusive collection of men's and women's ready-to-wear apparel and accessories called Black Fleece. The classically inspired 50-piece collection debuted in some 30 Brooks Brothers stores in fall 2007. To support the new collection, aimed at a younger crowd of shoppers, Brooks Brothers waged the biggest print-ad campaign in its history, spending a reported $7 million. Brooks Brothers opened three freestanding Black Fleece stores in the US and Tokyo in 2009. More recently, Brooks Brothers teamed up with jeans icon Levi Strauss to launch a denim collection in its stores and online in mid-2010.
Other new formats include the debut of Brooks Brothers' first in-store shop in the women's department of London's famed Harrods department store in July 2009. (Women's apparel and accessories accounts for nearly a fifth of the retailer's sales.)
To extend its reach into other product categories, Brooks Brothers partnered with Inter Parfums to make personal care products for sale targeting men and women at Brooks Brothers. Inter Parfums has inked similar agreements with The Gap and New York & Company.
With Wall Street in the doldrums, Brooks Brothers is taking its American style on a world tour. In 2009 the iconic American retailer opened its first stores north of the US-Canada border with shops in Toronto and Vancouver. A third Canadian location opened in Calgary in August 2010. The chain is focusing on English-speaking Canada before moving on to Quebec. Farther afield, Asia is another important market for the company, which operates about 35 shops in China and Hong Kong. New markets include the United Arab Emirates and South Korea. In Europe, Brooks Brothers has stores in France, Greece, Italy, and the UK. To bolster its management team and international business, Brooks Brothers has recruited industry veteran Paulette Garafolo, formerly of Bally North America, to fill the newly-created position of president international, wholesale and manufacturing.
In fall 2008 the retailer acquired a 25% stake in Scotland's oldest cashmere mill, operated by knitwear manufacturer Ballantyne. Brooks Brothers will use it to source cashmere for its stores. – less