While J.Crew's pull with shoppers remains weaker than it's been in the past, the continued success of Madewell and encouraging early results from the company's young off-price venture, J.Crew Mercantile, have helped clarify where J.Crew Group Inc. will be investing this year. Madewell, which already occupies 103 brick-and-mortar locations, will get another 10 storefronts in 2016. And following the release of J.Crew's 2015 financial results, company execs said on a webcast Thursday afternoon that there's plenty of room to grow beyond that number in the future. Meanwhile, Mercantile, now at 19 stores since opening its first shop in Dallas last July, will more than double its fleet to 40 locations.
It's been a tough year for J.Crew, with revenues consistently down compared to 2014's figures. Across all of its brands, J.Crew Group's sales were down 3 percent for fiscal 2015 to $2.5 billion, and J.Crew itself experienced a 7 percent decrease to $2.1 billion. Madewell, on the other hand, was up 23 percent to $301 million — an 8 percent sales increase when you take out the boost from newly opened stores.
Still, CEO Mickey Drexler called the fourth quarter a "positive ending to a difficult year." True enough: J.Crew brand's comparable sales were down just 5 percent, compared to the 12 percent, 13 percent and 10 percent drops it experienced in the preceding quarters. In recent months, the design and merchandising teams have been focused on showcasing J.Crew's "classic-with-a-twist" vibe, Drexler said. Colorful and metallic gingham, for instance, takes a prominent place in J.Crew's April catalogue, as do Lacoste for J.Crew polos. The photography and models' freshly undone hair is consistent with the J.Crew we got to know under Jenna Lyons' direction, but in the clothing you can clearly see the brand steering away from what it deemed an overly fashion-forward image.