Reader Reacts to Redcats Profile

After reading the cover story “Redcats’ new brand within” in the March issue of Multichannel Merchant, I wanted to clarify one thing regarding The Limited’s relationship with Lane Bryant. The Limited acquired Lane Bryant in 1982, when Lane Bryant was a publicly held corporation. The Limited acquired the entire company — both the stores and what was then called the Lane Bryant Mail Order Division. At that time, Lane Bryant was bigger than The Limited (if you can believe that now!), and the acquisition was considered to be a gutsy move. The Lane Bryant stores division was a sleepy operation that lost money, while the mail order division was quite forward-looking for its time and very profitable. The Limited reorganized the operations, changed the mail order division’s name to Brylane, and effectively separated the divisions into two companies, both reporting to Les Wexner in Columbus, OH.

The 1980s were the heyday for The Limited’s retail growth, which included the acquisition and development of Victoria’s Secret into what it is today and the acquisition, reshaping, and spin-off of Abercrombie & Fitch and Lerner (now New York & Co.) stores. The Brylane division was totally different from anything else in The Limited’s stable, since it was a group of low-end catalogs with no brand cachet and no retail presence; the Lane Bryant stores were merchandised entirely independently and had no connection with the catalog other than The Limited’s stewardship.

The Limited sold off a majority share of Brylane to Freeman Spogli in 1993. Brylane then had to license the rights to the Lane Bryant name to use on its catalogs, and that has remained the case through Brylane’s years as a publicly held company and its acquisition by Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, having now been renamed Redcats USA.

The Lane Bryant license situation always felt uncomfortable to me, especially as a past Lane Bryant/Brylane employee (1977-87) familiar with the complexities of marketing two different merchandise arrays under the same brand. I recall when Pete Canzone, long-time president of Brylane, was the speaker at the Catalog Council Networking Dinner in 1998; during the Q&A period afterward, I asked Pete about the license situation and if there were any brand-name transition plans. Pete expressed no concern: “We have a great relationship with The Limited, with no plan to replace the catalog brand as Newport News [formerly Avon Fashions] did.”

The Limited sold the Lane Bryant stores and the rights to the Lane Bryant name three years later to Charming Shoppes. It was apparent at that point that Charming Shoppes was making a strategic play for the women’s large-size business. There was no doubt Redcats would lose the license to the Lane Bryant name when it expired.

I agree with the article’s commentary about Redcats’ difficulty in making such a brand transition. The changeover will become even more complicated by the soon-to-exist Charming Shoppes Lane Bryant catalog, as well as the current common acceptance of the Lane Bryant-branded proprietary credit card issued by Alliance Data. (It’s a little-known fact that one of the corporate predecessors of Alliance Data was the wholly owned Lane Bryant credit system that The Limited attained when it acquired Lane Bryant in 1982.) The article does not speak to cross-acceptance of the Lane Bryant-branded card going forward, but I suspect that once the license expires, it will no longer be accepted by Redcats. This is a major complicating factor, since many Lane Bryant catalog customers do not qualify for bank cards. Looks like a rough road ahead for Redcats.
Jim Harkins
Principal, JJH Direct

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