The Dress Barn, Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on The Dress Barn, Inc.

30 Dunnigan Dr.
Suffern, New York 10901

History of The Dress Barn, Inc.

The Dress Barn, Inc. is the owner and operator of around 700 stores throughout the United States that offer specialty apparel for women at discounted prices. The chain caters to career-oriented women in the middle-range income bracket. Still operated by its original founders, The Dress Barn has store units positioned throughout 43 states under the names Dress Barn, Dress Barn Woman (specializing in women's plus-sized apparel), and Westport Woman.

The Early Years

The beginnings of The Dress Barn can be traced to 1962, when Elliot Jaffe was working as a merchandising manager for Macy's Department Store in Connecticut. He approached his wife, Roslyn, with an idea for a women's discounted apparel store, and the two decided to begin planning a test store. Knowing that they needed a reliable source of income to support their children, Jaffe retained his job at Macy's as he and Roslyn worked after-hours to open the first Dress Barn store later that year in Stamford, Connecticut.

According to Jaffe, the first store was marked by numerous retail errors, such as the lack of convenient parking nearby, the lack of dressing rooms for customers, and the existence of stairs that customers had to climb in order to access the store. Despite these shortfalls, however, the new store was an immediate success. In fact, it was so successful that less than a year after its grand opening, Jaffe was able to leave his job at Macy's to focus solely on the operations of their new enterprise. Meanwhile, Roslyn had begun planning the preparation and introduction of a second store nearby. In March 1963, the second store unit was opened, and The Dress Barn store chain was born.

Increased sales demands at the two Dress Barn stores soon prompted the Jaffes to begin searching for another store location and a new warehouse in the Stamford area. Previously, The Dress Barn's warehousing, receiving, and distribution operations had been done from the first store's basement, which could only be accessed using a narrow flight of stairs. After searching the area for a new location that would lend itself to more efficient operations, the Jaffes chose an old barn in Stamford, a choice well-suited to the company's name. This barn was renovated to become the company's third store as well as its distribution center.

In mid-1966, the company's holdings were incorporated as Dress Barn, Inc. Throughout the rest of the decade, the company experienced calculated and planned growth under the watchful eye of Jaffe and his expanding management team. They made sure that the business was not expanded too quickly, in order to maintain available capital and avoid sinking all resources into the company at once. Meanwhile, stores were added to the chain sporadically at a rate consistent with the company's increase in earnings.

Rapid Growth in the 1970s and 1980s

By the 1970s, after almost a decade of steady growth and expansion, The Dress Barn, Inc. was composed of almost 20 store units. The company was large enough to have gained the buying power to bring in products from big-name designers, such as Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein, and Jones New York. Dress Barn continued to focus on selling this apparel to career-oriented women at discounted prices--usually 20 to 50 percent lower than those of its department store competition. Meanwhile, the chain continued to expand through the opening of new stores and the acquisition of other chains, such as Pants Corral and Off the Rax.

On May 3, 1983, Dress Barn went public, offering its stock for $23 per share. Half of the shares were sold in the public

Dress Barn is America's leading discount retailer of women's business apparel and accessories. Founded in 1962, we now have over 700 locations nationwide. We offer our current, name brand apparel and 20-50% off department store prices. Most of our locations are located in or around major metro areas>

domain, while the other half were retained by management insiders. The money earned through the public offering gave Dress Barn added capital with which to expand and grow, and also provided added responsibility for the company to perform well for all of its new owners.

By July of the following year, Dress Barn owned and operated 100 stores throughout the United States, holdings which marked a 30 percent increase from the year before. By the end of 1984, the company possessed 157 stores, after the acquisition of 46 Off the Rax stores, eight stores from The Gap, and the addition of three new Dress Barn stores.

The year 1985 saw the company begin to earn national recognition, as Forbes magazine ranked Dress Barn number 42 out of the Top-200 Small Companies in the United States. The following year, Business Week listed Dress Barn as number 26 of the country's Top-200 Hot Growth Companies. By that point in time, the company was operating over 200 stores throughout the United States, with high concentrations in the Atlantic Northeast, the Midwest, and California.

Two years later, Dress Barn's store count had increased almost 50 percent to 307, spread throughout 26 states. The company was clearly achieving success in the discount women's apparel niche that it had created for itself, and decided to build on that by entering the market for plus-sized women's clothing. In 1989, Dress Barn Woman was introduced, targeting plus-sized women from the same basic demographic segment as the original Dress Barn stores. Most new Dress Barn Woman store units were placed in areas nearby existing Dress Barn stores, so as to capitalize on Dress Barn's name recognition factor.

The 1990s and Beyond

At the beginning of the decade, Dress Barn received further recognition of its achievements in the retail market when it was awarded the High-Performance Retailer Award from Management Horizons, a division of Price Waterhouse. The award was based on four consecutive years of performance highs for the company. Also in 1990, Dress Barn purchased JRL Consulting Corporation for $2.56 million.

The 1990s saw the company continue to enter new markets in the United States through the opening of new stores and the acquisition of existing chains. In 1993, Dress Barn added 21 new women's apparel stores when it purchased them from Country Miss. At that point in time, the company was operating hundreds of Dress Barn and Dress Barn Woman stores, as well as numerous combination units.

Dress Barn, which had traditionally marketed its women's apparel at discounted prices, suffered a hit to its earnings potential in the early 1990s when many department stores began to introduce their own moderately priced private-label clothing lines. Dress Barn's sales advantage was diminished by the move, which was reflected by the company's annual profit margins. Another detriment to Dress Barn's sales potential was the fact that a few of its own suppliers, such as Jones Apparel Group, also moved into the discounted apparel market through the introduction of their own factory outlet stores.

Despite its hardships, however, Dress Barn continued to achieve increased sales figures each year in the first half of the 1990s. Its continued growth prompted the company to begin searching for a larger and more advanced headquarters and distribution location. In 1994, the company moved into a new facility in Suffern, New York. The state-of-the-art facility handled all distribution and warehousing needs, while also housing the company's executive offices. Also in 1994, Dress Barn issued its own credit card to the public, and soon thereafter over half a million cards were in circulation.

From 1995 through 1996 the company opened an impressive number of new stores, 136 in all. The chain eventually peaked at some 775 stores, but this number dropped to near 700 by the end of 1997 due to closures of poorly performing stores. Approaching the end of the century, Dress Barn was exploring new expansion ideas with the introduction of shoe and petite departments at its existing stores across the United States. The company was continuing its efforts to enter new markets and capitalize on consumers' desire for reasonably priced and yet fashionable apparel. Most new stores being introduced were combination Dress Barn/Dress Barn Woman stores, a decision which allowed the company to reach both target groups while using less space and capital. If past success was any indication of future growth potential, then Dress Barn appeared to enter the end of the decade well-positioned for further retail success.

Additional Details

Further Reference

Brammer, Rhonda, "Recovery in Store: Sizing Up Small Caps," Barron's, August 1, 1994, p. 19.Coletti, Richard J., "Spaghetti Straps: How a Top Niche Player in the Rag Trade Is Coping with the Campeau Crunch," Financial World, March 20, 1990, p. 56.Dress Barn 35th Anniversary Video, Suffern, N.Y.: Dress Barn, Inc., 1997.Reda, Susan, "Dress Barn: Opens Doors in New Markets, New Formats," Stores, August 1992, p. 19.

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