Saturday, June 12, 2010

WSJ Declares Drexler as "The Retail Therapist"

As mentioned in Thursday's "J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler Is On Top" post, the Wall Street Journal has an in-depth article on J.Crew's Mickey Drexler.

A big "thanks!" again to Raina for letting us know about it on Thursday & for sharing the video below from Racked (click here). Another big "thanks!" to Suzy (in this post) who let us know that the article is available online today! :) The following is an excerpt of the article (click here to read it in its entirety).

Mickey Drexler: Retail Therapist
By Tina Gaudoin
June 10, 2010

It was Steve Jobs who informed Millard “Mickey” Drexler that he was about to be fired from Gap, a company he had taken from $400 million in annual revenues to $14 billion and from 450 stores to more than 2,000 in the span of 19 years. “Steve, who was on the board, called and told me the night before,” Drexler says, recalling their May 2002 conversation. He knew it was coming. Although he’d been celebrated in the media for years as the “merchant prince”—the man who had the answer to the curious riddle of retail (just how do you get a customer to buy more than one pair of jeans?)—Gap’s growth had stalled in the two and a half years leading up to his firing: Same-store sales had dropped by double digits every quarter between 2000 and 2002 and the stock had plummeted 75 percent.

...The Wasp privilege–meets-street-smart-kid vibe has become Drexler’s calling card. At Gap he turned the wearing of khakis into an art form (who can forget the Ernest Hemingway wears khakis campaign?), and now at J. Crew he is spinning sequins, combat pants and cashmere into a raging success story. In 2005, the company turned its first profit in five years, and between 2003 and 2008 revenues rose 107 percent. In 2006, Drexler presided over a very successful IPO. In 2009, revenues ($1.57 billion) exceeded pre-recession levels and same-store sales climbed 11 percent. Profits jumped 40 percent. When Drexler took up the reins in 2003, J. Crew had $609 million in debt and 196 stores. Today, it has 321 stores, less than $50 million in debt and $298 million cash on hand.

The first family are fans: All four wore the brand during last year’s inauguration festivities. Though he won’t discuss his most famous customers (“We respect their privacy”), he does admit to checking sales figures after Oprah wore, and waxed lyrical about, the company’s shoes this spring during a segment with executive creative director Jenna Lyons. He was also pretty happy when the Queen of Media admitted to her 5.6 million viewers: “When I saw the first lady, even before she became first lady, wearing J. Crew—full disclosure here—I bought some J. Crew stock. And that was a very good decision.” (The stock has risen 119 percent since Michelle Obama appeared on “The Tonight Show” in a yellow J. Crew ensemble in fall 2008 and 132 percent since Drexler took the company public.)

So what drives Mickey Drexler? A man so obsessed and passionate about his job, the customer and the product that he personally answers shoppers’ emails and telephone calls, makes split-second decisions about entire lines based on “a gut feel,” talks to his 695-strong team constantly via an elaborate intercom system and treats routine store visits (of which he makes at least five per week) as a holiday: “They don’t count as work.”

...“Whether you have wealth or not is irrelevant when it comes to appreciating quality—even if you can’t afford it, you can respect it,” Drexler says to an assembled team of designers, buyers and merchants before they begin their fall 2010 holiday presentation for “the boss,” who, coincidentally, is a disciple of The Boss and quotes from him often, telling everyone today, “We practice every day, as Bruce says.” The atmosphere at J. Crew’s headquarters in downtown New York is a heady mix of adrenaline and nervous anticipation. Fake snow flutters behind fake cabin windows and somewhere a vague cinnamon scent emanates, desperately evoking the spirit of December on this unseasonably warm spring day in April. ...

...“The customer can tell you a lot,” Drexler says. “They can give you feedback on fit and specs on operational issues even, but they can’t tell you what’s coming down the road. For that, you are always listening and learning, but when it comes to the fashion part, it’s having a certain creativity; it’s getting a sense of how the world changes.” It’s also having keen business acumen, something TPG Capital co-founder James Coulter, who joined J. Crew’s board at the time of his firm’s acquisition, sees as being overlooked in Drexler. “So much is written about him as a merchant. Rarely does anyone write about the power of him as a businessman. He has to lead all the way from the drawing of the piece of clothing to the checkout of it at the store.” ...
Love, love, love this article! It is super fascinating to read about Mickey Drexler's story with J.Crew and all the events leading up to their recent success. And the video is just as awesome!

What are your thoughts on the article & video? Do you like Mickey Drexler more or less after reading this article? Any points you found particularly interesting or note-worthy? If so, please share! :)


  1. All this love for J. Crew, Mickey, Jenna--well deserved, don't get me wrong--I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Don't you feel like NOW is the time they need to work extra hard, to maintain and excite customers? Everyone is copying J. Crew left and right and the Sp/Summer collections kinda bored me. I have high expectations for Fall and the brand. I hope they don't disappoint all of us JC aficionadas by getting caught up in great press, salary bonuses and embellished t-shirts. Show us why we love you!

  2. That was most in-depth and insightful article I've read about Drexler to date.

    As an interior designer, I'm dying of curiosity as to what his homes look like.

  3. Heidi: I was kind of thinking of the same thing. I am so thrilled for J.Crew's success and want to see them thrive for years to come. However, some issues like quality (e.g. their tissue tees that last one washing) & some fashion forward designs (remember that brown raincoat) is a major concern for me. I hope they too don't get caught up in the press and forget that great quality & classic with a modern take design is what got them there. :)

    Raina: I agree with you too- this is one of the best interviews I have seen about Mickey! :)

  4. I echo Heidi's comments. Once every kid on the block is emulating you, it gets tougher to stand out and to maintain the customers. My sincere hope is that they go back to making clothes like they did in 2007 and other past seasons, that are well made and a mix of classic and unique designs.

    I would also love to see or read something that indicates they're sharing the love of all this financial success with their employees who were forced to accept some cut backs when the picture didn't look as rosy.

  5. Desert Flower put it well: J. Crew needs to go back to making clothes that are well made and classic with a dash of trendy mixed in. Right now, the clothes are too trendy, too flimsy, and not made for many or most body types. As for the current jewelry selection, they look like fishing lures!

    For my summer clothes, I'm shopping at Talbots and Ann Taylor.

  6. Funny story Jenna told about her sequin dream. I wonder if she's had ruffle dreams, too. :)

  7. This was fun! I didn't read the article yet but did watch the video. It made me smile. Everyone is so happy and seems to be happy working for Mickey Drexler. I remember how great an experience it was to work for a boss you love and want to please; he's great for morale. Also loved the music. It really added to the feeling of Jenna's sequin dream.

  8. Hopefully J. Crew sales don't stall like those at the Gap. All the press is great (Even if it is focused too much on the designers and not the clothes.), but they seem to be alienating their hardcore, big spending buyers. I haven't bought anything in months because I haven't seen anything special. I'm willing to wait for Fall and all those lovely satin shoes.

  9. Definitely the most well-written piece I've seen on Drexler & J.Crew, but then it was written by a real journalist. Interesting to read about his past, and the state of Gap when he was fired. Also their visit to a store, where drexler was quoted saying he hates markdowns :-)

    Would have been interesting if they'd noted the sale section, in that case, and made mention of how j.crew's supposedly popular embellished tees languish there en masse.

    Here's hoping j.crew doesn't get too intoxicated on its own brew. Autumn is just around the corner, and dammit, I have an insatiable need for tweed :-)

  10. I enjoyed the article and the video. I'm not sure about Mickey's schtick, though (the bike riding, playing songs, etc)... it leaves me kind of cold. Of course it's nicer to have someone who's not a jerk all the time at the helm but it's also easy to be the guy doing this "fun" stuff when you're the one in charge! The comments on the article are interesting too - references to the not-so-nice side of Mickey, which reinforces my feeling that he's might not quite be the relaxed and fun boss he's made out to be in the article and tries to portray with the bike, etc.

    I agree with La Belle Helene...I also wonder how he feels about the racks and racks of rejected and sad-looking shredded T's in each store!! Especially if, as he says, he hates markdowns!! Those T's hanging there make J Crew look more and more like Gap...

  11. Has anyone looked at Talbots website? You can see a good preview of their Fall 2010 and it's AWESOME!! You can tell they've stolen some of JCrew's designers. It looks VERY promising.

  12. I went to target today. Their floral dresses look not much different from jcrew's. Those are only 19.99.

    I browsed ebay jcrew listings this afternoon. I found I still liked some 2006 2007 dresses. Jcrew dresses then were unique. I wouldn't find similar design at target or anthropologie.

  13. I totally agree with Heidi.

    To me, jcrew feels somewhat like they've lost direction. Like they let their stock price, stock options and dollar signs get them wide eyed, bushy tailed, and stuck on their high horses.

    There are a lot of copy cats, more so because jcrew went public a few years back. I guess after a while, no one is going to be able tell if jcrew copied target or vice versa.

    I can't get myself to buy into all the $450 tops or $800 dresses they've made 2 of. I must not be living the kind of lifestyle jcrew says I should.

    Most of us don't live in the Hamptons. We're hard working, moms, people with important jobs, military, teachers, students, who really just want to spend our weekends look decent...not like cracked out kids in your catalog who have no color because you refuse to let them outside to play.

  14. Lastly, Mickey got fired from Gap. Your company is only as good as your next season's sales...remember, Steve Jobs still has your number on speed dial, Mickey...

  15. First of all J Crew and everyone else copies the runway styles with the latest trends.

    J Crew needs to spend less on marketing and publicity relesaes such as this, and get back to produce quality clothing.

    My 3rd item fell apart in a month all washed in cold water with like colors, the dye ran in the Ulta Knit Cardigan, and a couple of holes in their garbage tees.

  16. Thank you for posting the video, Alexis, and the heads-up to the article the other day. Yesterday morning the first thing that I did (even before my coffee) was stealing the WJS supplement from my husband (he was surprised because I never read his WSJ).
    I really enjoyed both but also laughed out loud when I was in the store yesterday and saw all the markdowns on recently released merchandise: I would have paid to see Mickey reaction to the sale racks!

  17. No, jcrew was not this trendy a couple of years back.

  18. People on this blog used to talk about how much they loved the JCrew embellished tees and would buy them at full price when they first came out. Oh, how times have changed!

    I never jumped on the bandwagon for them. I own a few but preferred the graphic tees and quality I bought from them in 2005-2007.

  19. jcrew1985, I bought a ruffled cardi from Talbots a few days ago and I was surprised by the number of compliments I received. Everyone seems to love it. They have a lot of really cute clothes right now, and it looks like there are more coming for fall.

    Heidi, I feel the same way. I'm tempted to sell my JC stock before the inevitable drop.

  20. Agree with Christy : about us being hard working people in jobs, moms, teachers, students... and just to add to the list, intelligent people who they cannot 'train' to buy full price (or even sale price?) if the product is not good enough to sell itself.

  21. jcrew1985, I just looked at the Talbots fall lookbook, and it's beautiful. I hope they start offering things in smaller sizes (0-2) by fall.

  22. I know I'm veering off topic here, but I just looked at the Talbot's site for the first time. I never even go into the store at the mall because I'd written it off as an "older lady" store, but lots of the stuff on the website looks good so I'll have to give it a try. I'm impressed that so many of their skirts come in a variety of lengths!!

    Yesterday a sales associate at J Crew and I had a good moan about all the short skirts - and she was a tiny young thing who could get away with wearing them. So if they are too short for her, what are some of the rest of us supposed to do?

    I wish we had Ann Taylor in Canada, or at the least that they would ship here. It would be another option, at least.

  23. I loved the article and the video. Although, after I read it I still didn't get why Mickey is the amazing leader he is... besides riding a bike around the office and playing songs over the intercom. While the article helped us know him better - I felt the heart was missing - what makes him so successful yet different? I've worked for two large companies with famous charasmatic leaders/CEOs and I knew more or less what made them tick. I just can't put my finger on Mickey. JC is a huge target now, just made bigger - now everyone is gunning for J. Crew. Stay on your toes JC!!
    On a kind of side note - I think they are offering too many items - their site is jam packed with all types of clothes. How about making fewer, higher quality and unique items. That is what drives full price purchasing (IMO).

  24. I guess I drank some of that kool-ade! Even tho I would never wear a ruffle, embellished tee, costume jewels, mini or pencil skirt, I find JC fun, modern and fresh. Also find the quality in line with the prices. They weren't even on my radar until last fall so maybe I'm one of their new target consumers (albeit a quasi-senior-citizen one) so I find this thread puzzling. Hopefully they will continue to offer something for all of us.

  25. The more press I read about J Crew, Jenna, Mickey, etc, the more suspicious I get. If things are so great, why the media overkill? It makes me wonder if that's the way they think people decide how to buy their clothing, by watching Oprah and reading high profile articles in the WSJ,(by the way, did anyone enjoy the shorter article about MM's designer? I want her stuff!), rather than the clothes themselves: the quality of the fabric,the design,the appropriateness and the perceived value. Methinks because they are heavily promoting the idea that J Crew is so fashion forward these days, they have forgotten the things that have set them apart in the past,(that we all bemoan on a near daily basis), and seem to be suffering some arrogance towards the older school J Crew fanbase. Don't get me wrong, I still look forward to new arrivals as much as anyone, but the past few months we've seen very little (palatable) originality, and Jenna's picks usually make me shudder. If you don't like tissue thin(and I'm talking toilet paper density) tees ruffles,sequins,zippers and clunky, junky, hugely overpriced jewelry, then you're going to have to shop elsewhere. Now, as far as Talbots goes, I really adore(snicker) quite a lot of their clothes, but until their sizing gets redone, I can wear very little of what they have. Sorry about the length and disorganization of this rant, but all this outpouring of press Crewlade makes me think J Crew's well is about to blow its top.

  26. I enjoyed reading the article, but I still don't feel Mickey as a person *really* caring for its customers, but only wanting them to drink the crewlade and only buying things full price.

    My hope for the future of JC is to bring out more interesting pieces albeit only few and with great quality. All I see these days are a sleuth of falling apart tees and dress, skirt that are too short and for teens and girls in their early 20's.

    I was doing some closet cleaning and looked at my heels from 2005-07 and these were well made. The shoes I buy these days don't have the same workmanship or great material granted they are still made in Italy. Very sad considering how loyal I am to the JC brand.

    O/T: What I also don't get is why did Mickey come of with Madewell brand? I see it as a downfall to JC.


Dear J.Crew Aficionadas & Aficionados: Please feel free (and encouraged) to share your thoughts and opinions. :) However, please note that this is still a personal blog. So comments that are considered inappropriate (e.g. obscene, racist, homophobic, personal attacks, rude, and just plain mean) will be removed.

And now back to J.Crew! :)