Burlington Stores Inc., plans to offer more casual and activewear clothes instead of its legacy dresses and suits in order to keep up with changing customer preferences, the company’s chief executive officer and chairman, Thomas A. Kingsbury, said Thursday.
Though the New Jersey company’s total sales rose 7.3 percent to $1.6 billion in the first quarter, which ended May 4, women’s clothing category has not been performing as well. So the hope, Kingsbury said in the earnings call, is that focusing on the sportswear offering within women’s clothing will boost the category.
“We need to move on from dresses and suits,” Kingsbury told analysts Thursday. “We need to make sure that we’re presenting to the customer the product that they want.”
Casual and comfortable dressing has been edging out more formal work attire, as shown by the college students wearing sweatpants in the classroom and a workforce celebrating yoga pant or stretchy dress pant options for the office.
The U.S. women’s suit market dropped almost in half to $407.7 million since 2013, while men’s suits dropped by 12 percent to $1.98 billion, according to Euromonitor International, a market researcher.
At the same time, Euromonitor’s beauty and fashion consultant Ayako Homma said the so-called athleisure brands are offering such clothes as blouses and blazers that people can wear to work. Homma attributes this change to the millennial generation entering the workforce and preferring a more casual environment.
“As this generation now represents a sizable portion of the working population in the U.S., companies are re-evaluating their corporate cultures and policies to entice millennial recruits,” Homma wrote last week in a blog post. “Unlike older generations, millennials tend to value a company’s culture more so than its name or reputation.”
Although the casual workplace culture started in the early 1990s with “casual Fridays,” it expanded to more days of the week, said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
This trend has been growing, with half of organizations surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management, a global HR professional society, allowing employees to dress casually every day in 2018. That was up six percentage points from the year prior and 18 percentage points since 2014.
This relaxed dress code has been a staple of the Silicon Valley workers at such places as Google and Facebook, but it has also made its way to Wall Street companies, which long upheld the traditional corporate uniform of business professional suits and dresses.
Three years ago, J.P. Morgan Chase adopted a business casual dress code, and Goldman Sachs announced in March a “firmwide flexible dress code,” Bloomberg reported. Target announced in February that it will allow employees to wear denim as opposed to the traditional khaki pants to go along with the required red shirt uniform. And Virgin Atlantic now permits female flight attendants to wear pants and no makeup.
The shift in clothing strategy for Burlington will take multiple quarters before the company sees success, Burlington executives told analysts. Analysts from UBS, a global financial services firm, told investors they doubt the company can improve the women’s clothing category.
“We believe Ladies Apparel is not just a BURL issue, but an industry-wide problem and we doubt the category’s growth rate improves in 2H,” the note said, referring to sales in the second half of the year.
Burlington, based in Burlington, N.J., made its name as a coat-focused off-price store and transitioned in 2006 to a department store model. When that didn’t work, the company zeroed in on becoming a well-known off-price retailer, Wells Fargo Securities analysts wrote in a Thursday note to investors.
Burlington announced last month that longtime CEO Kingsbury would become the executive chairman of the company’s board and Michael O’Sullivan, most recently the president and chief operating officer at competitor Ross Stores, would be taking over.
“As BURL strives to close the gap between themselves and their larger peers, taking on best-in-class leadership is certainly a strong step along the right direction,” according to the Wells Fargo Securities note.
Burlington employs about 44,000 people, including part-time and seasonal employees, as of Feb. 2, according to the company’s annual report. It has 684 stores in 45 states and Puerto Rico.