Ascena Retail Group (formerly Dress Barn, Inc.) has left the farm for greener retail pastures. The apparel and accessories retailer operates about 5,000 specialty stores throughout the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Its 900-plus dressbarn stores court women ages 35 to 55. Maurices, with some 770 locations, targets 17-to-34-year-old females in towns with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. Its largest chain, Justice, courts "tweens" at about 1,000 stores and online. Its Charming Shoppes subsidiary operates the plus-size Lane Bryant and Catherines Plus Sizes apparel chains. Ascena Retail Group added Ann Taylor, Lou & Grey, and LOFT stores in 2015 with the $2 billion-plus purchase of upscale retailer ANN.
Prior to the purchase of ANN, the company reported five brand-oriented segments: Justice, Lane Bryant, maurices, dressbarn, and Catherines. Justice is the company's largest retail chain, accounting for more than a quarter of sales. Lane Bryant, dressbarn, and maurices each contribute around about 20% of sales, while Catherines rings up just more than 5%. Each of its retail banners has an online incarnation; e-commerce sales jumped 15% in fiscal 2015 (ended July).
New Jersey-based Ascena Retail Group's 5,000 specialty stores are located across the US states, as well as in Puerto Rico and Canada. The Justice and maurices chains operate 44 stores and 31 stores in Canada, respectively. While more are planned, they contribute an insignificant amount of sales at present.
Sales and Marketing
Ascena Retail employs a variety of advertising and marketing strategies across its five retail brands. The company engages in customer research, promotional events, window and in-store marketing materials, as well as direct mail, online, and magazine advertising. In fiscal 2015 (ended July), the company spent $177 million on advertising and marketing, compared with $160 million the previous year and $170 million in fiscal 2013.
Following a jump in sales after the acquisition of Charming Shoppes in 2012, revenue has been flat over the last three years. In fiscal 2015 (ended July), sales rose less than 1% to $4.8 billion. Same-store sales fell 3% year-over-year, which was offset by a 15% rise in e-commerce revenue and a 23% jump in non-same-store sales. The maurices brand showed the most growth in 205 with Justice the only brand that shrunk that year.
Net income, which had also been flat, plummeted 277% in fiscal 2015 to a loss of $237 million. The drop is primarily the result of an impairment of goodwill charge related to Lane Bryant. Cash flow from operations was not impacted by the drop in net income and rose 15% that year.
Ascena Retail Group mines different retail niches, including younger women (ages 17 to 34), tween (ages seven to 14) girls, plus-size women (sizes 12 to 32), and "mature" women through its various retail brands. Acquisitions are key to the holding company's successful growth strategy. Concurrently, the company is working to right-size its store network, closing underperforming Dress Barn locations, and adding Maurice's shops and Justice stores, including locations in Canada. While the company's international presence is relatively light, it's exploring other international opportunities for its brands. Licensing presents an opportunity for overseas growth.
Another focus for the company is its omnichannel strategy, which includes traditional stores, in-store ordering capabilities, and e-commerce operations. It made nearly $520 million from online sales in 2015, up 15%.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Acquisitive Ascena Retail purchased Charming Shoppes for about $900 million in June 2012. With more than 1,800 stores (and related e-commerce sites) under the Lane Bryant, Catherines Plus Sizes, and Fashion Bug banners, Charming Shoppes offered Ascena entry to the burgeoning plus-size market. It plans to focus on the Lane Bryant and Catherines brands, while shutting down Fashion Bug and divesting the Figi's gift business. In 2013 the group sold Figi's to Mason Companies and used the proceeds to reduce debt.
In 2015 the company doubled down on its plan to focus on older customers when it paid $2.2 billion for upscale retailer ANN, parent of career-wear maker Ann Taylor and its more casual LOFT banner.