Spruc­ing up stores

Jean Ma­chine’s new own­ers look to ‘clean up’ in ef­fort to woo shop­pers

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY LINDA NGUYEN

Four months af­ter ac­quir­ing Jean Ma­chine, the new owner of the denim re­tailer says it plans on “clean­ing up” the look of its stores as part of an ef­fort to woo back cus­tomers.

Gerry Bachyn­ski, pres­i­dent and CEO of Co­mark Ser­vices Inc., says ren­o­va­tions will be­gin this fall at some lo­ca­tions that will in­clude new light fix­tures and re­paint­ing, all in the hopes of rein­vig­o­rat­ing a com­pany that has been around for 41 years - a life­time in Cana­dian re­tail.

“Cus­tomers are go­ing to see some­thing that is dif­fer­ent,” he said. “My per­sonal affin­ity is let the mer­chan­dise do the talk­ing, open up the store­front, light, bright.”

Bachyn­ski says over the past few years, cus­tomers have cast aside jeans in favour of more com­fort­able leg­gings and yoga pants. But he thinks denim is poised for a come­back.

“In the last year, year and a half, we’ve seen a resur­gence in denim sales,” Bachyn­ski said, de­clin­ing to pro­vide spe­cific sales fig­ures for Jean Ma­chine.

“Denim stands out be­cause every­body re­lates to hav­ing jeans, wear­ing jeans and want­ing to wear jeans.”

Founded in 1976, Jean Ma­chine has 30 stores in On­tario. Co­mark’s par­ent com­pany, Van­cou­ver-based Stern Part­ners Inc., ac­quired Jean Ma­chine in March for an undis­closed amount af­ter it ended up in bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion fol­low­ing years of dwin­dling sales.

Bachyn­ski, whose firm also over­sees a num­ber of other com­pa­nies in­clud­ing denim re­tailer Boot­leg­ger, says shop­pers gave up on jeans for ca­sual ath­letic op­tions pop­u­lar­ized by brands like Lu­l­ule­mon and the Gap.

In re­sponse, jeans man­u­fac­tur­ers have started pro­duc­ing more re­laxed, com­fort­able, stretch-fit denim, he said.

It may be work­ing. Ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search firm Euromon­i­tor, Cana­dian shop­pers re­turned to denim in 2016, as the trend to­wards yoga pants, leg­gings and track suits be­gan to show signs of de­cline.

Last year, sales of su­per pre­mium jeans for brands such as Rock & Repub­lic and 7 for All Mankind in­creased by 4.3 per cent to $173.4 mil­lion af­ter years of lit­tle or no growth, while in the U.S. they fell by eight per cent, Euromon­i­tor said. The rise was at­trib­uted to an in­flux of re­tail­ers in Canada such as Nord­strom and Saks Fifth Av­enue as well as a weak loonie.

Ear­lier this month, True Re­li­gion, cited by Euromon­i­tor as an­other ex­am­ple of a su­per pre­mium jean brand, filed for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion in the U.S. and an­nounced it was clos­ing 27 stores fol­low­ing years of lag­ging sales. The brand sold jeans known for its trade­mark horse­shoes em­bla­zoned on the back pock­ets that could run up­wards of $500 for a pair.

Re­tail ex­pert Farla Efros says the main rea­son for the dis­crep­an­cies in con­sumer ap­petite for denim in the two coun­tries is that the U.S. mar­ket is over­sat­u­rated.

In the case of True Re­li­gion, the brand is not only sold in depart­ment stores like they are in Canada, but also in stand-alone lo­ca­tions un­der their own ban­ner.

“They were can­ni­bal­iz­ing their stores, and we just don’t have that here in Canada,” said Efros, pres­i­dent of HRC Re­tail Ad­vi­sory.

She also noted that in terms of re­tail trends, Canada is of­ten con­sid­ered three years be­hind what hap­pens in the U.S., mean­ing that such a down­turn still has time to hit here.

CP PHOTO

A Jean Ma­chine store­front is shown in Toronto on Wed­nes­day. Four months af­ter ac­quir­ing Jean Ma­chine, the new owner of the denim re­tailer says it plans on “clean­ing up” the look of its stores as part of an ef­fort to woo back cus­tomers.

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