Lands’ End Lays Off 60

Apparel merchant Lands’ End last week laid off 60 employees. Half of the workers were from its Dodgeville, WI-based U.S. operation, the rest were from its European divisions. The job cuts did not include seasonal workers.

Lands’ End says the layoffs were part of a realignment of its corporate structure to boost efficiency. The cataloger also says it remains committed to providing “exceptional customer service.”

“With our focus on global brand management, we are strategically repositioning our resources to continue our strong financial performance and invest in the future growth of the Lands’ End brand,” the company said in a statement.

Lands’ End has been a subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corp. since 2002. The merchant’s last layoffs occurred in 2005 when it cut about 200 full-time and 175 part-time workers, as well as cut a number of seasonal positions.

Lands’ End Expands Business Offering

Lands’ End Business Outfitters is going beyond branded apparel. The 16-year-old business-to-business unit of consumer apparel mailer Lands’ End last month launched an expanded collection of branded products.

The line includes drinkware, bags and totes, and writing/desktop instruments. Like Lands’ End’s embroidered apparel, the merchandise is designed for use as client gifts, employee rewards, and corporate branding initiatives

John Maher, vice president of Lands’ End Business Outfitters, says the company wants to offer customers the full spectrum of products to help represent their brands. “With the launch of the new collection, customers can also rely on Lands’ End Business Outfitters for tasteful and useful branded products such as drinkware, pens and travel accessories.”

The new product line also includes items such as screen-print T-shirts, flashlights, and golf equipment. Each category has an eco-friendly product option for customers, offering goods made from post-consumer, previously used and post-manufacturing materials along with sustainable resources such as cotton and bamboo.

Lands’ End Business Outfitters is also launching an online company store application, allowing customers to build a custom site for their business or organization that matches their branding. Employees can select specific products, style and color that meet the company’s branding needs.

Business customers also have the ability to upload the approved logos to the site to ensure that their company is properly represented on all branded items. “Customers appreciate that from consultation, to ordering and fulfillment and distribution, Lands’ End simplifies the process while still understanding clients’ needs and providing the highest customer service,” Maher says.

Lands’ End Sidesteps Winter Word Mess

By all standards, the fourth-quarter is the busiest season for most b-to-c merchants, and whether they are wishing customers Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or Seasons Greetings, the message is the same. “Lands’ End is all about customer service, and this time of year is all about serving our customers,” says Jackie Schutty, director of public relations for the Dodgeville, WI-based apparel and home goods merchant.

The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights apparently feels differently, however, and, after receiving a tip from one of its members about Lands’ End’s refusal to mention the word “Christmas” in its catalogs, issued a press release last week about the topic.

Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications for the Catholic League, says a member contacted her office after receiving an e-mail from the Lands’ End customer service department. “The response that she got back was so condescending and inane,” McCaffrey says. “The e-mail preached about how Christians need to show tolerance for others.”

In its Dec. 1 press release, “Lands’ End Neuters Christmas,” the Catholic Legue quoted the following response from the Lands’ End customer service department “to an inquiry we made regarding the refusal of Lands’ End to mention the word ‘Christmas’: ‘We find ourselves in a difficult position with this issue. As a result, we have adopted the “holiday” terminology as a way to comply with one of the basic freedoms granted to all Americans: freedom of religion. We recognize that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and one of the foremost teachings of the Christian faith is a love for one’s fellowman–no matter what his race, religion or creed.

‘If we knew which customers feel as you do, we would be delighted to send them catalogs with “Merry Christmas” splashed throughout the pages. However, we don’t.’”

Schutty says Lands’ End does indeed use the phrase “Merry Christmas” throughout its winter catalogs. “As in past seasons, we’re committed to making our catalogs festive, inclusive, and family oriented. But what’s also important is that our customers celebrate many different customs and traditions,” she says.

McCaffrey says that after the Catholic League talked with Lands’ End, the issue was cleared up. She considers the issue resolved and says that the Catholic League will release a new press release on Dec. 8.

Lands’ End Upgrades “Virtual Model”

Following a “soft launch” last month, Lands’ End formally rolled out an upgraded version of its My Virtual Model (MVM) technology on its Website. The feature, created by Montreal-based My Virtual Model Inc., enables customers to create an online model based on their measurements that can then “try on” sizes, colors, and looks of selected Lands’ End clothes.

Lands’ End currently makes MVM available for 500 of its best-selling products. Before the end of the year, though, it expects to offer the feature for 1,500 of its best-sellers. Lands’ End won’t reveal how much of an investment it has made in the upgraded technology. But it chose to make the investment because online customers who use MVM has a 34% higher conversion rate and an 8% higher average order value than those who don’t, says Sam Taylor, Lands’ End’s vice president of e-commerce.

In the past, customers had to fill out a four-page questionnaire before they could build the model, and they were given no guidance on how to take the necessary measurements. Now “we show customers where to take the measurements, which is a huge enhancement,” Taylor says. “It shows where they should put the measuring tape on themselves.” The improved version features also pull-down menus to assist customers. The questionnaire is now just one page.

Another significant enhancement is Lands’ End’s ability to coordinate items for customers—which should help further boost order sizes by creating add-on sales. Products chosen by the cataloger’s merchandising team, such as shoes with a sweater or jacket, are suggested once customers set up their virtual models.

MVM is the second most popular feature on the Lands’ End site, Taylor says, next to its product search engine. The cataloger introduced the feature in 1998.

Lands’ End to Bow Out of Manufacturing

Lands’ End

plans to close its only manufacturing plants, in Elkader and West Union, IA, effective April 1, CATALOG AGE has learned. The plants produce luggage, duffel bags, hats, scarves, and mittens. The Dodgeville, WI-based apparel and home goods cataloger manufactures only 1% of the products it sells in its catalogs, its outlet stores, and 877 Sears stores around the country.

“Lands’ End has become increasingly uncompetitive in manufacturing over the years,” says spokesperson Ann Woolman, “and we didn’t see that as improving. So we decided to focus on our strengths, such as design, and being direct merchants.” She adds, however, that the closings are no reflection on Lands’ End’s 2003 sales, which increased 22% over 2002’s, in part because of the rollout to all U.S. Sears stores. Sears purchased Lands’ End last year.

The company is eliminating 140 jobs in the two plants. Another 37 jobs in its Dodgeville headquarters who cut materials used in the plants will also be laid off. Although the fate of the West Union plant is undecided, Grinnell, IA-based manufacturer DeLong Sportswear will take over the Elkader plant and employ 45-50 Lands’ End employees from that facility, Woolman says. Lands’ End is trying to find positions for the other affected employees.

Woolman says that parent Sears had “absolutely nothing” to do with the closings. “We alerted Sears that we’d be closing these facilities,” she says. “We remain a wholly owned subsidiary, sharing best practices with Sears.”

Lands’ End President/CEO Dyer to Leave

A little more than a year after the company was sold to Sears, Lands’ End president/CEO David Dyer announced on July 30 that he would leave the Dodgeville, WI-based apparel cataloger effective Aug. 8. Dyer, 54, wouldn’t comment, but in a letter to the company he said that he’s leaving to take time off to spend with his family before pursuing a new career challenge.

Going forward, Lands’ End will be run by a committee consisting of three existing Lands’ End executives: executive vice president of merchandising and design Mindy Meads, executive vice president/chief creative and administrative officer Lee Eisenberg, and chief operating officer Dennis Honan.

“He was instrumental in developing the Lands’ End/Sears partnership that has benefited both companies,” says Sears spokesperson Chris Brathwaite about Dyer. “He instituted the corporate culture and Lands’ End that’s now becoming so much a part of Sears too.”

Part of that team-style culture was the leadership by committee structure that will succeed Dyer’s tenure. “Even before this, Lands’ End had been run by a team for the most part with Dave, Lee, and Mindy all involved to some extent,” Brathwaite says. “This is a continuation of that in a more formal structure.” The leadership team will jointly report to Sears president/CEO Alan Lacy.

Dyer rose to vice chairman, merchandising and sales in an earlier stint with at Lands’ End from 1989-94. He left the cataloger to become president/chief operating officer of Home Shopping Network and later a retail consultant to apparel cataloger J. Crew Group before he was brought back by founder Gary Comer in 1998 to bail the company out of a financial hole. He did just that, overseeing bottom line growth from net income of $31.2 million in fiscal year 1999 ended January ’99 to $66.9 million in fiscal year 2002 ended January ’02.

Lands’ End Launches Another Web Shopping Feature

Dodgeville, WI–Not one to be outdone in the area of cutting-edge e-commerce technology, Lands’ End has added yet another online shopping feature to its Website, which already offers such functions as virtual models and personal shopping assistants. The apparel cataloger has introduced a search function that allows customer to search for items using specific terms such as “brown sweater under $50.” The new feature, which is powered by Littleton, MA-based software company EasyAsk, will then show search results for only those items that fit that description.

Lands’ End on the Block?

Dodgeville, WI—Rumors are swirling that $1.51 billion apparel cataloger Lands’ End may be up for sale. A report in the May 28 issue of “BusinessWeek” magazine quotes an unnamed source as saying that founder/chairman Gary Comer, who controls 55% of the company, has placed Lands’ End on the block. The story also says that Sears, Wal-Mart, and May Department Stores all looked into buying Lands’ End last year. What’s unclear is whether Comer, who could not be reached for comment, has put his portion of the company up for sale or whether he’s acting in concert with the other board members to sell the entire company.

Lands’ End president/CEO David Dyer would only say of the report, “We don’t comment on our organizational structure or any rumors.” Others, however, believe the report could lead to a possible sale. “For the right price, anybody’s up for sale,” observes analyst Ellen Schlossberg, of Chicago-based investment firm William Blair & Co. “But for the past year and a half, Lands’ End has been putting a lot of work into fixing its business–improving merchandising and merchandise presentation, creating a more-efficient sourcing structure, and trying to figure out what circulation strategy works. That lends to perhaps why it would be put up for sale.”

Craig Battle, managing director of Princeton, NJ-based investment bank Tucker Alexander, says that if Comer, 72, is indeed looking to sell the company, “it may be for lifestyle reasons.”

On the other hand, Battle questions why Lands’ End would be sold “in a marketplace that hasn’t rewarded catalogers with any kind of reasonable multiples unless there are extraordinary circumstances.” Still, “there are not many companies out there who could buy a Lands’ End,” he says. “So if a Wal-Mart or a Sears says, ‘We’re interested,’ you have to listen.” The cataloger, which does not have a retail presence, “is a retail opportunity waiting to happen,” Battle adds.

Another possible reason for putting Lands’ End on the market, Schlossberg conjectures, is that the company may have plateaued in terms of revenue growth. “There’s only so much you can do with the same focus and same merchandise,” she notes.

In other Lands’ End news, the company announced during its analysts meeting in New York on May 17 that it plans to spin off a large-size women’s catalog this October, having successfully tested a large-size women’s clothing line over the past few months. In addition, it plans to expand its intimate apparel business within its core books. “Those are both good ideas that should bring incremental revenue,” Schlossberg observes, “but not necessarily huge opportunities to get the company to the next plateau.”