By Mylena Vazquez
When you’re the oldest continuously operating retailer in the United States and a purveyor of classic clothing, it’s not unreasonable to think that you’re going to experience some “growing pains” over the years as you adapt to the various inflection points in an ever-evolving market.
Brooks Brothers, the quintessential American clothier who has outfitted all but four presidents, certainly experienced these aches before filing for bankruptcy in 2020. Before being quickly bought by Simon Property Group and Authentic Brands Group, who together have been scooping up deathbed retailers, Brooks Brothers was trying to keep up with the supply chain issues that accompany new distribution demands.
Before September 2018, Brooks Brothers fulfilled its online orders through its two distribution centers, both on the east coast. With an increase in online orders, Brooks Brothers resorted to using its brick-and-mortar stores and employees to pick, pack, and ship—in addition to serving the customers in the physical storefront. Just one month later, the company announced it would be activating this strategy using Manhattan Active Omni, a cloud-based omnichannel shopping software that “marries order management and store fulfillment applications on a single platform.”
By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Brooks Brothers was already struggling. There was, of course, a radical change in the way we worked (virtually, casually), with the men’s formal clothing space taking a 74% hit in just one quarter. But the lockdowns just served as an accelerant on the fire. Then-owner Claudio Del Vecchio said that they were already “strategizing a turnaround” and even “exploring a sale.”
By the time Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy in late 2020, it had shut down its three factories in the United States and closed down dozens of its physical locations. They were renting a warehouse at a rate of $20,000 per month to store materials and props used in their brick-and-mortar stores (a lease agreement on which they were a quarter of a million dollars in default).
While some argued that Brooks Brothers’ styles needed to be reinvented to fit modern tastes and trends, I would argue that their downfall was not adjusting more rapidly to changing demands in distribution. Most recently, in 2022, Brooks Brothers brought a new creative director on board to refresh the brand. But even now, the company faced supply chain issues that prevented them from getting the collections in stores and in the hands of customers.
The landscape of retail has totally changed just in the last half-decade. If you can’t get your product to your customers when and how they need it, how can your company pretend to survive?
How has your company managed supply chain and distribution issues arising from evolving customer needs?