British retailer Marks & Spencer on Nov. 23 sold New York-based cataloger/retailer Brooks Brothers to Retail Brand Alliance. Enfield, CT-based Retail Brand Alliance, which owns the Casual Corner and Petite Sophisticate women’s apparel retail chains, jewelery manufacturer Carolee, and womenswear brand Adrienne Vittadini, paid $225 million for Brooks Brothers. When Marks & Spencer bought the upmarket men’s and women’s apparel marketer in 1987, it had paid $750 million.
Marks & Spencer put Brooks Brothers on the market this summer, in order to focus on its struggling core business. The list of bidders for Brooks Brothers included May Co., Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and Men’s Wearhouse.
According to reports, Retail Brand Alliance’s chief operating officer, Mark Shulman, is considering expanding Brooks Brothers’ product line of traditional business-wear to better target buyers in their 20s. Shulman also said he would consider adding a children’s apparel line. Retail Brand Alliance had not returned calls by press time.
Given Shulman’s reported plans, it’s interesting that some observers contend that the 175-year-old Brooks Brothers got into trouble by straying from its upscale “classic” merchandise. “The problem with Brooks Brothers under a mass merchandiser like Marks & Spencer was that [Marks & Spencer] was not schooled in marketing to a high-dollar customer,” says Manasquan, NJ-based catalog consultant Al Schmidt, and formerly vice president of marketing for Brooks Brothers. “It’s a much different proposition.”