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Wall Street Journal / Biz - Money

Clothier J. Press Looks to Spur U.S. Sales with New Midtown N.Y. Store

Preppy clothing retailer J. Press is trying to ignite U.S. sales by opening a store in the Midtown Manhattan building that houses the Yale Club this October.


Michael Rovner

Preppy clothing retailer J. Press said it is trying to ignite U.S. sales by opening a store in the Midtown Manhattan building that houses the Yale Club this October.

The 115-year-old haberdashery said it closed its 4,100-square-foot flagship store on Madison Avenue in 2014 after it couldn’t renew its lease because of a building renovation. J. Press now will be opening a new 2,800-square-foot store on Vanderbilt Avenue, near Grand Central Terminal.

The move near the Yale Club is one of the biggest investments for the brand in a long time, according to Jun Murakami, chief executive officer of Japanese company Onward USA, whose parent owns J. Press. He added the Midtown space is expected to generate 25% of total U.S. sales.

Mr. Murakami also said he forecasts 30% of J. Press’s sales will be generated online in the near future, and the company hopes to increase that number to 50% by relaunching its website and boosting its presence on social media.

The proximity to the Yale Club represents a homecoming of sorts for J. Press, which began by selling ties, belts and odd trousers near the school’s New Haven, Conn., campus in 1902. The brand is known in preppy circles for its embroidered collegiate logos and cocktail-themed accessories such as needlepoint martini-themed cuff links.

The retailer is betting that these clothes will still resonate with today’s buyers. Richard Press, former CEO of J. Press and grandson of its founder, said: “Finding the appropriate audience became a challenge starting in the ’70s because 70% of the sales at J. Press were dress clothing, sport jackets and ties. If this is gone with the wind, the key is identifying the replacements that don’t denote slobdom.”

Some point to challenges for the brand in today’s tough retail environment, which has many companies cutting back their brick-and-mortar presence.

Paulette Garafalo, CEO of Paul Stuart, a 79-year-old upscale men’s retailer, also with a Japanese parent company, said: “Nothing’s ever a slam dunk. When you’re a small company, your e-commerce is expensive, advertising is expensive, and operations for e-commerce is expensive, too. They also need to keep their eye on clienteling, which may be different here” than in Japan.

In 1986, the brand was acquired by Onward Holdings Co., which operates a portfolio of fashion and hospitality companies in Japan. Onward now runs 131 J. Press shops inside department stores across Japan. It also has small stores in New Haven, near the Yale campus; Cambridge, Mass; Washington; and downtown New York City. The latter will close when the Midtown store opens in the fall. The brand has 35 employees in the U.S., compared with 365 in Japan.

A window of the to-be-opened clothing store on Aug. 31.Photo: Alexander Cohn/The Wall Street Journal

“J. Press has more consumer recognition in Japan than in the United States, so it is about reintroducing the brand back into the mainstream and making sure that we are setup to succeed in the world of modern retail,” said Mr. Murakami.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, believes J. Press has a “tremendous opportunity” because the brand is still strong with U.S. consumers.

“The challenge is that they’re climbing up a hill selling tailored clothing in a casual environment,” he said. “But there are times when the younger generation needs to get that job or go to a wedding, even in a less dressy world.”

Corrections & Amplifications
J. Press was founded in 1902 and is 115 years old. An earlier version incorrectly stated the year it was founded and its age. (Sept. 12)