My open letter to Talbots' CEO (and some more commentary)
What a surprise to see your email address inside the Talbots catalog?! I felt compelled to write.
I'm Lauren, 30 years old and living in Richmond where our Talbots stores were once some of your highest-grossing retail outlets in the entire nation. (more on Richmond later.)
First, I love your use of Julianne Moore for your campaign model. She is perhaps more accessible to the average Talbots customer than Linda Evangelista was a few seasons ago (though Linda remains my fave model of all time).
Julianne looks great in the clothes!
Second, my appreciation for your brand and what you're trying to do cannot be separated from my earliest Talbots memories.
When I was a girl, we (my mother and I) ruthlessly scoured consignment stores in Durham, NC for name brand apparel.
At the time Montaldo's still existed and Ivy's department store too, and we loved to happen upon their brands, as well as Talbots and L.L. Bean, for a fraction of retail prices on the sometimes musty racks of obscure stores in the RTP area.
As one of four children (I have three brothers), we didn't have the money for new clothes.
I even wore knock-off Keds!
Consignment stores, Goodwill, and the Talbots sale were where my mom found the clothing that helped her look professional, feel great, and clothe her family.
I remember one awful day- I was about 10 years old- when my mom discovered that an orange Crayola crayon had slipped into the wash. When she pulled her khaki twill button front skirt and rose/olive striped blouse (for once brand new and purchased at Talbots) from the dryer, orange wax had melted onto them both, not to mention the rest of the load.
She was livid!
And thought the offending crayon was mine. My little brother later confessed that it was indeed his crayon but by then all had been forgiven. My mom was able to use an iron and pressing cloth to remove the waxy color and she wore the blouse for the better part of a decade.
In the past few years, my wardrobe has gone from corporate suits to edgy bohemian and now veers back to a more polished but still whimsical assortment of garments. The odd Oscar or Dolce hangs alongside plenty of DVF, Trina Turk, Yigal, Narciso, and my mainstay: J Crew.
But the unexpected infiltrating label is Talbots. Over the past few months, I've picked up a piece here or there and find myself loving them.
While I must admit that your fall color palette is a miss for me, the outerwear selection and great leopard heels are fantastic!
Congratulations. I hope that continued rigor in your design process and the shuttering of stores helps the Talbots cause.
And if you want to know what's up in Richmond, well, we can have a tea and video chat.
Bottom line? Richmond women don't care about uber stylish clothes. They spend money on horses, diamonds, homes and private education for their children. Moreover, the Richmond Old Guard loathes change. And it appears that Talbots is trying to execute a very daring turn-around (read: big ass change).
As for the rest of the nation, I hope they respond to the Talbots shift, but it might take a few more seasons for it to catch on. None of my friends (who shop department stores and Marshalls and specialty stores around the country), even know that Talbots has cute items.
Wouldn't it be fun if several generations could shop Talbots a la J Crew and Giambattista Valli and DVF? I would love nothing more than hitting the next Talbots sale with my mom and helping her pick out some fabulous new outfit along with a little something for myself.
Thanks for letting me share my Talbots memory.
And now, here's my REAL take on the Talbots situation. And yes, I am sending this to Trudy as well. She's a CEO, she can take the unvarnished...
1. You have tons of real estate. time to shutter some more stores.
2. The radical re-designs were done without a. aggressive guerilla marketing aimed at those who might buy the new styles, e.g. young professional women with disposable income and b. warning your huge (and frumpy) loyal customers of the impending changes as well as reassuring them that many of their faves might still be there.
3. Please drop the weird Kate/Schmate/Kelly fit "guidelines" for jackets. If I find it confusing, you can sure as hell bet your 75 year old customers will.
4. Consider taking a pay cut. I had no idea, but Fool.com covered your rather outrageous compensation in an article just yesterday. Pretty ballsy given that Talbots hasn't increased profits since 2006 and is trading at...$2.87. Wow. How much of that comp is in stock options?
5. Price points are sometimes outrageous. $189 for a cotton sundress? No wonder massive amounts of markdowns have been happening...before you can start raising your prices (like J Crew has consistently done in recent years), you have to make something that people want. Lots of people.
6. Where is the interweb? your online sales dropped by 30%. Chico's increased by 30%. Lost opportunity.
7. Bring on the glitz (red snakeskin perches for tired shoppers? glossy black and pops of chrome?) and perhaps some more interesting visual merchandising. Talbots will never be an Anthro in terms of crafty/kitschy store displays, but it could rise out of the mire of gold and cream to do something more interesting and modern with store interiors.
Personally, I like the *idea* of what Talbots is trying to do, but the whole brand (supermodels and actresses notwithstanding) still reads as stuffy and old-lady. Even more interesting, stores like Ann Taylor are completely missing the mark season after season, so there's tons o room for a solid, stylish, professional retailer that holds cross-generational appeal.
that is all for now :)