Consumer Nation

J. Crew CEO: Retailers Have Come Back, Not Consumers


A record jump in monthly retail sales has some cheering the comeback of the consumer, but J. CrewCEO Millard "Mickey" Drexler isn't impressed.

A J. Crew logo is seen on a glass door of one of its retail clothing stores in Chicago, Illinois.
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"I don't talk about the comeback of the consumer," Drexler told CNBC in an interview. "...I talk about the comeback of great retailers, or of good retailers."

According to Thomson Reuters, retail same-store sales rose 9.1 percent in March, the biggest gain since the company began tracking those numbers in 2000.

Drexler said he doesn't think last month's sales are as good as they first appear. He explained that March 2009 was "the easiest month in the history of the retail world" to compete against, as sales were depressed last year by the "tsunami recession." The timing of Easter, which occurred a week earlier this year than last, also helped bolster results.

Fashion Icon: J. Crew CEO

"We look at 20 retail companies in our industry, and there is just a handful that are ahead on a two-year basis," Drexler said.

Like a growing number of retailers, Drexler's company doesn't report monthly same-store sales. However, under Drexler's leadership, J. Crew has improved its performance.  Last month, the retailer swung into the black in its fiscal fourth quarter and posted full-year earnings that surpassed pre-recession levels.

Drexler said the key to J. Crew's success has been to sell items that "cannot be sold anyplace else."

According to Drexler, retail sales are improving not because the consumer is coming back, but because those retailers are taking market share from others.

"The consumer either shops value, or they shop emotionally, or it's both," he said.

He also thinks the Internet has made competition more fierce because consumers research prices and know a product's true value.

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