Image credit: Express

Express: the ’90s Fashion Brand and Journey to Compete in a Fast-Fashion World

The 'retail apocalypse' is an apparel apocalypse, when a lot of big retailers closing store, filing for bankruptcy. Most retailers in bankruptcy or on the brink of it, sell clothes. Maybe that's their problem.
By Hazel Nguyen | 8 min read
on August 4, 2020
Image credit: Express

Express brand is a famous fashion brand established in 1980 in Chicago, USA. The company is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Since 1980, Express has provided the latest apparel and accessories to help customers build a wardrobe for every occasion, offering fashion and quality at an attractive value. A year later, Express expanded to eight stores when it joined the former CEO Michael Weiss - a veteran of the fashion industry. By 1986, Express had flourished into 250 stores and began testing the sale of men's products at 16 stores the following year. Subsequently, Express's male fashion line was separated into its own brand, called Structure, in 1989.

The company operates more than 600 retail and factory outlet stores in the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as an online destination. Express merchandise is also available at franchise locations and online in Latin America. The company has expanded to more than 600 retail stores around the globe and became one of the brands loved by many people. In the US, including the world's leading supermodels such as Karlie Kloss, Kate Upton, Emily Ratajkowski, etc. Express brand has resonated in many countries' markets by many quality and prestigious products.

In the late Eighties and through the Nineties, Express was the destination for sexy, fun, trendy styles, at good values. It was known for bestsellers, some of which continue to drive volume, including the Portofino top, the “Downtown” Cami, the Editor women’s pant, and the 1MX shirt for men. They will remain part of the assortment, though they will be updated. In some cases these key items are perceived now as commodities, not fashion, and will be presented in fewer styles or color choices, while newer fashion will represent a greater portion of the assortment, including current best-sellers such as feminine tops, refined blazers and denim with new leg shapes, and suits, denim and outerwear in men’s. Express denim tends to be cleaner in style and more tailored compared to other brands emphasizing torn, destructed and heavily embellished denim looks.

From 2001 to the present, Express continues to promote its style and stand firm in the fashion world of many countries. Convenience and simplicity are the motto of Express when producing men's and women's clothing, fashion accessories, suitable for all activities and regardless of weather but the price is still stable and stable. high dynamic range. From style to quality, can be combined in many different occasions, Express fashion always brings the modern breath of life but still uphold the personality and style of the wearer.

In 2007, Limited Brands sold a majority stake in Express to Golden Gate Capital Partners and in 2010, Express went public. But for too long Express stuck with items and categories “past their point of relevance,” said Baxter. “We also stuck with an archaic approach to product and merchandising.”

A too-rigid lifestyle approach passed its point of relevance in a way that wasn’t in touch with how the consumer expects to experience a brand or how they want to shop. “We really commoditized a lot of our assortment. Many retailers have commoditized their assortments. If customers want commoditized assortments, they have a whole lot of choices.” Express has never been a go-to store for ath-leisure, which continues as a strong category in the otherwise wilting women’s market.

Cost cuts. Store closings. Management changes. Process changes. Category additions. Stock keeping unit streamlining and remerchandising. It’s all been happening at Express as the once dominant fashion specialty chain strives to get customers re-engaged, improve conversion rates and achieve mid-single digit operating profit margins within three years.

All Efforts of Express to Enhance their Brand

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Courtesy: Express

What Express management is counting on here is that the next years of spend will enable them now to plan at a more granular level - by channel, by retail stores, by e-comp outlets. There have been some teething issues, but the priority now is on stabilization of the finished systems and a degree of internal process overhaul. But Kornberg believes the ‘heavy lifting’ is over:

Express Launches an Apparel Rental Subscription Service

In 2018, Express Inc. has launched a clothing rental subscription service called Express Style Trial. Shoppers can rent three items at a time for $69.95 per month with unlimited exchanges. Shoppers can keep the items as long as they want before shipping all three items back for free. When Express receives the three rented items, it sends three more garments. It requires the shopper to send all three items back before it sends the next shipment. Express Style Trial ships new items in about two to three days from the time it receives the returned items, the retailer says, declining to elaborate on delivery times.

Shoppers also can purchase items they find through the service at a discount. Shoppers can cancel their subscription at any time. Currently, the service does not rent shoes or accessories, and shoppers cannot return their items or rent items from Express stores. Express built its subscription rental service through technology and logistics platform company CaaStle, which also provides clothing rental services to Ann Taylor and New York & Co. Inc., two women’s apparel chains that launched rental services this year.

The retailer also has extended an agreement with the NBA to offer a collection of licensed NBA men’s graphic t-shirts and fleece apparel in stores and online this November. Next year the retailer will also offer NBA-themed men’s blazers, dress pants, dress shirts, ties and underwear. It also will offer a women’s NBA collection online and in stores in 2019.

Express Introduces New Direct-to-Consumer Lifestyle Brand UpWest

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Courtesy: Express

Picture Express, the 40-year-old mall brand that became famous for its trendy jeans and party clothes. Now imagine the exact opposite of that. Chances are you’ll land on something like UpWest, a newly-launched spin-off brand from Express. While Express makes clothes for being seen, the company’s new brand focuses on cozy products for lounging around. The UpWest brand will focus on loungewear, sleepwear and casual apparel.

Apparel retailer Express unveils comfort-focused brand UpWest, which will donate 1% of sales to charity. The new brand launch comes during a slowing sales period for Express. UpWest launches with a well-balanced curation of everyday casual apparel, loungewear, and sleepwear for men and women designed in-house, along with a selection of wellness products and home goods items from third-party vendors.

“UpWest is a brand targeting millennial consumers who are intentional about their journey to find a greater sense of peace and calm in a chaotic world,” said Jamie Schisler, Senior Vice President and Chief Comfort Officer of UpWest. “UpWest aims to provide comfort for the body, mind and spirit by creating a purposeful brand rooted in product solutions, helpful content and philanthropy.”

Alongside the launch, the company debuts its philanthropic commitment, The UpWest Foundation, which will donate annually 1% of sales up to $1 million to charitable organizations who share the UpWest brand purpose of providing comfort to the body, mind and spirit. For its inaugural year, UpWest will support Freedom Dogs of America, Mental Health America and Random Acts.

“While our primary focus remains on returning the Express business to long-term, profitable growth, UpWest brings something new and exciting to the market,” said Tim Baxter, Chief Executive Officer of Express. “Jamie and the UpWest team have created something unique within the rapidly expanding lifestyle segment and we believe this will be a compelling entry.”

To celebrate the official launch, UpWest is embarking on a U.S. regional tour to showcase The UpWest Cabin, a mobile pop-up concept and relaxation experience event. Trailing across major cities such as Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, Denver and Austin, the experiential tour will provide consumers with a first-hand look into the brand by providing various programming such as yoga, mindful meditation classes, and more. In addition, UpWest will partner with Random Acts to deploy their UpWest ‘Comfort Cases,’ which consist of products and goods that will be donated to local charities in each city.

Beyond the differences in design, UpWest also represents a business pivot for the mall brand. Express and UpWest will be completely separate, each with its own leadership team, designers, merchants, distribution strategies, customer profiles and brand propositions, Schisler says. Shoppers on UpWest.com do not see a mention of Express, and likewise on Express, there is no mention of a new brand.

UpWest also has its own marketing team to drive awareness for the brand, such as through influencers, Schisler says. During this initial launch period, UpWest is planning to host pop-up events for two days in Columbus, Ohio; Chicago; Nashville, Tennessee; Denver; and Austin, Texas. The pop-ups will showcase its products, as well as have events including yoga and meditation.

2020 - the Downfall of Express and Their Way to Reinventing

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Image credit: Express

Express is undergoing a whirlwind of change as the business strives to transcend the general malaise in apparel specialty retailing. On January 22, 2020, Express announced that it would close approximately 100 of its stores in the United States over the next two years as part of a restructuring plan to lower its costs by $80 million annually. At the same time, the retailer also announced layoffs at its headquarters in Columbus, Ohio and its design studio in New York City.

Express Inc.’s online sales have been a bright spot in declining store and total sales. In its most recent earnings report for its fiscal second quarter 2019 ended Aug. 3, comparable retail sales, which includes both Express stores and ecommerce, decreased 7% compared with the second quarter of 2018. It did not break out ecommerce sales in Quarter 2. In 2018, ecommerce sales increased 19.6% year over year and accounted for 28.7% of overall revenue, Express previously reported.

Express has a “robust strategy” to return the Express brand to growth, Baxter says. Express has previously reported that the strategy includes less discounting and more emphasis on omnichannel services, such as ship-from-store sales and ecommerce orders originating in stores. “With a healthy balance sheet and positive cash flow generation, Express Inc. is in a strong financial position to be able to also launch a completely new brand to the market,” Baxter says.

But in January 2020, Express became the latest national retailer to announce a swathe of store closures. The retailer will now close 100 of its 650 stores by the end of 2022, including 31 stores by the end of this month. The news follows layoffs at Express headquarters in Columbus, Ohio and its design studio in New York City earlier this week. It’s a piece of its wider strategy to bring Express back into profitability, a plan the retail is calling the “Expressway Forward” plan. It involves a shifted focus to more streamlined merchandise offerings and investing in online sales.

Tim Baxter, chief executive officer of Express said that “It’s a reinvention. It’s really about reinvigorating the brand, putting product first and about executing very different from how we have in the past. “It’s not a turnaround in the classic sense of a turnaround. The fact that we have no long-term debt is, in our industry, almost unheard of. It’s what’s killing so many companies. It’s trashing cash flow. “From a financial perspective we are very solid. So, there is no turnaround required from a financial perspective. We are going to lose some money this year, but we are still generating free cash flow. We have a couple of hundred-million dollars cash on hand. That gives us enormous flexibility.”

The $2 billion Express operates about 600 stores and will be closing 100 by 2022. Nine of them closed in 2019, 31 will close by the end of this month, and 35 will close by the end of January 2021. The closings will result in a reduction of $90 million in sales by 2022.

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Image credit: Express

Last week the company confirmed that 10 percent of the positions at the headquarters and at the design studio would be cut, amounting to about 100 slots. That cutback includes jobs currently filled and those that aren’t filled. The job losses were across the board in design, merchandising, marketing and production, and at various levels.

Express reported a $3.1 million loss for the third quarter ended Nov. 3, amid a 5 percent decline in comparable sales. For the fourth quarter, the retailer expects fourth-quarter earnings-per-share of $0.17 to $0.19 on an adjusted basis and comparable sales to be negative 3 percent. “New product for the fourth quarter sold very well. We just didn’t have enough of it,” Baxter told the investors and industry analysts at the meeting. However, Express expects to have about $200 million in cash by the end of fiscal 2019.

“The fact we are closing 100 stores does not mean we are not looking for opportunities to open new stores,” Baxter said. “I believe in brick-and-mortar retailing. I believe the customer is there and we need to make the experience better and that we can win with brick-and-mortar retailing. The customer is omnichannel. I know the headlines will be about fleet rationalization and the $80 million in cost reductions. I am proud we accomplished those things in a very short amount of time. It is a necessary reset. But they are part of a much more optimistic strategy going forward.”

The Bottom Line

Express is also the latest in a series of fashion retailers to close stores as malls struggle to compete. Forever 21 recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Charlotte Russe liquidated last year closed all of its American locations.

Overall, Express sales at stores open at least a year fell about 3% in its fiscal fourth quarter, the company estimated Wednesday. With a new CEO on board since May, Express said it has been devising a turnaround strategy. With their plan includes an overhaul for the company's loyalty program this fall, "inventory optimization," we can wait to see what happen with Express Brand in the near future!

This article is also credited to Judith Russell and David Moin

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