9 retail brands trying to find their way

Retailers trying to reverse the trend

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Remember Juicy Couture's heyday?

Ten years ago it was practically impossible to set foot on a college campus without seeing the brand's name emblazoned across at least one woman's backside.

Then came the retail riddle many brands have grappled with: No matter how established or popular they become, consumers grow tired of them and move onto the next great thing.

For some companies, it's the result of having too much product in the market; for others, it's a failure to push forward their designs and keep customers interested. Whatever the cause, the challenge is the same: Once they lose shoppers' interest, it can be extremely hard to get it back.

"It really comes back to, what is your reason for being?" said Farla Efros, president of HRC Advisory. "Yes, you can turn it around, but ... it's really about defining a clear set of initiatives."

There are plenty of retailers who have recovered from their missteps. Most recently, Lululemon's infusion of more fashionable product and an emphasis on quality have brought shoppers back. And at American Eagle, merchandise that more closely aligns with the tastes of today's teens have made it a bright spot in the struggling space.

To see a list of nine brands that are trying to find their way, click ahead.

By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson
Posted 15 June 2015

J. Crew

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Weakness in the company's sweaters and knit products dented the preppy retailer's sales in the most recent quarter. But J. Crew, where dresses typically cost $100 or more, is also facing stiff competition from fast-fashion retailers, whose products sell at a fraction of the price as well as other specialty stores, which have been aggressively pushing discounts.

The brand on Wednesday took steps to turn things around at its flagship label. In addition to laying off 175 corporate jobs, J. Crew poached the head designer at its popular Madewell label.

"We are making meaningful and strategic changes across our organization to better position us for future growth," CEO Mickey Drexler said.


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As competition intensified between Nike and Under Armour, Adidas lost its stride in the U.S. market. Last year, North America was the only region under the athletic wear firm's umbrella to see its sales drop—an issue that was a big focal point at its March investor day.

There, Adidas pledged to make its largest investment to date in America and exit its role as the exclusive uniform provider for the NBA. The basketball deal helped Adidas "to sell licensed shirts, but it hasn't helped us to sell any footwear," CEO Herbert Hainer said.

Pressure has eased on the sales front as the North American region posted a 7 percent sales gain in the first quarter.

(CORRECTION: Adidas owns TaylorMade, but the company's North American region no longer includes the results of the golf business.)


A Gap store in New York.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Shoppers hoping for better product at Gap will likely have to wait until next year. After more than a year of monthly same-store sales declines, CEO Art Peck told investors last month that he's placing his big bet on more compelling merchandise hitting stores this spring.

That's when he expects to see the influence of new design chief Wendi Goldman, whose résumé includes stints at Saks Fifth Avenue, Banana Republic and C. Wonder.

The brand has been criticized for not including enough color, or having the right fit, in its assortment.

"We have had a women's business challenge now for several seasons running," Peck said. "I believe we have diagnosed it correctly ... and I can promise you that the team is all over it."

American Apparel

People walk past an American Apparel store in New York City.
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American Apparel CEO Paula Schneider, who took over the company's helm in January, has a lot of work ahead of her.

Following in the wake of controversial founder Dov Charney, Schneider is attempting to turn the company into a $1 billion brand by getting rid of its slow-moving merchandise, introducing new styles and—perhaps most importantly—distancing itself from its reputation for raunchy ads.

This includes eliminating "nudity and blatant sexual innuendo" and "inappropriate sexual pose[s]."

Last year the company's sales were $609 million, down from $634 million in 2013.


Source: WestportWiki

Coach is overhauling everything from its stores' appearance to its merchandise in attempt to restore the "cool" factor to its ubiquitous brand. So far, it's been a tough transition.

Though several of its initiatives should help boost the accessories label's brand equity—including more luxurious shops and fewer promotions—its North American sales fell 24 percent in the most recent quarter.

"We continue to see steady progress in our results with sequential improvement in our bricks-and-mortar stores in North America as we continue to make strides against our brand transformation agenda," CEO Victor Luis said on the company's earnings call.

Abercrombie & Fitch

Pedestrians are reflected in the window of an Abercrombie & Fitch store in San Francisco.
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As it steps away from logo product and aims to be more fashionable, analysts have warned that Abercrombie runs the risk of alienating its former shoppers, while failing to attract a new customer. In addition to revamping its merchandise, the retailer is stepping away from its "sexualized" images.

Despite these initiatives, sales at the company's flagship label continued to struggle in the first quarter, posting a 9 percent same-store sales decline.

"I'm well aware of the challenges we face, but we really do believe that we're focused on the right things as part of our efforts to improve the trend of the Abercrombie business," said Christos Angelides, president of the Abercrombie brand.


Roberto Machado Noa | LightRocket | Getty Images

Fellow teen retailer Aéropostale is likewise trying to boost its cachet by shifting away from logo T-shirts and hoodies. One way it's doing so is by expanding its emerging brands, which include an exclusive line from YouTube star Bethany Mota.

Though these brands have been a bright spot in the company's portfolio, its overall revenue continued to fall in the first quarter, with same-store sales dropping 11 percent. That was on top of a 13 percent decline in the same quarter of the prior year.

"As I have said previously, we expect that the back-to-school period will represent a time when all of our efforts over the last nine months to change the trajectory of our business should come to fruition," CEO Julian Geiger said after the retailer's results.

Vera Bradley

Hand bags at a Vera Bradley Leather And Faux Leather Launch Event
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Vera Bradley wants to be known for more than its quilted bags. So in an attempt to refresh the brand, it's expanding its product into different fabrics and materials, including leather.

CEO Robert Wallstrom told investors last week that although it's made strides with its new products, shoppers have been slow to recognize and respond to the changes. As a result, the company's comparable sales fell 17 percent in the most recent quarter.

"It is frustrating to us, and I'm sure you, that the progress we have made is not reflected in our current financial results," Wallstrom told investors.

"It is evident that our overall business trends remain difficult. We are not attracting enough new customers to the brand and traffic and sales are still very challenging."


Denim on display during the GUESS and Peace Over Violence press conference for the 16th annual Denim Day at GUESS? Inc. Headquarters on April 29, 2015 in Los Angeles.
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Comparable sales in the specialty retailer's North America unit have been negative the past 18 quarters. But analysts said trends are starting to stabilize at Guess, which will close 60 of its underperforming locations this year.

In the most recent quarter, the company said trends in its women's business have started to improve, particularly in dresses, denim and woven tops, though its men's sales were softer.

"We believe that the design changes we have made are really starting to [show] results," CEO Paul Marciano said.