Britches plans to sell 83 stores Apparel firm signs letter of intent with Calif. chain Wet Seal

Retail

June 11, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Britches of Georgetowne Inc., the specialty men's retailer that grew from a single Washington store in the late '60s to a presence in regional malls around the nation, will sell most of its locations to a California retailer, the company said yesterday.

Herndon, Va.-based Britches, known for its casual and tailored men's clothing, signed a letter of intent to sell 83 Britches Great Outdoor Stores to the Wet Seal Inc., a national chain focusing on moderately priced women's casual apparel and accessories.

The Wet Seal, which operates Wet Seal and Contempo Casual stores, plans to convert most of the Great Outdoor stores into Arden B., a new, small-store concept designed to appeal to fashion-conscious women in their 20s.

Other locations will become Limbo Lounge, a brand aimed at the contemporary teen-age market that Wet Seal is testing in its stores.

Neither company released terms of the proposed deal, which would drastically cut the regionally based men's chain.

Britches, now privately owned by Paul Davril Inc. in Los Angeles, operates 116 stores in 26 states and Washington.

Besides the Great Outdoor casual division, the chain runs two smaller divisions: Britches Great Outdoor Factory Stores, with 19 locations selling discounted merchandise, and Britches of Georgetown, with 12 stores carrying professional, tailored clothing.

"At this time, there is no definitive agreement," a Britches spokesman said yesterday. "Britches of Georgetown Inc. will retain its profitable Britches of Georgetowne and Britches Great Outdoors Factory Stores divisions, even if the transaction is consummated."

For Britches, it started with a single store on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown in 1967.

"In the menswear end of the business, that's not bad, having a 30-year-run, from one store to 100," said Mark A. Millman, president of Millman Search Group Inc., a Lutherville retail consultant. "Nothing lasts forever, particularly in the fashion industry."

The number of men's retailers has dwindled over the years as the industry has consolidated and as intense competition -- including from the newer "category killers" -- has forced some chains out of business. The Baltimore-Washington area has lost a number of regional chains, among them G.Briggs, Hamburgers, Bernard Hill and Kuppenheimer Men's Clothier.

But recently men's apparel has been on an upswing, with chains such as locally based Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., posting increased sales and earnings, and others such as Abercrombie & Fitch finding a niche in serving young consumers.

At Britches, the decision to shed most of its stores may have stemmed from the retailer's inability to find a niche, said Joseph Teklits, an equity analyst with Ferris Baker Watts in Baltimore.

"They've been behind the eight ball in having some kind of identity," Teklits said. "They're not really young, hip, casual tailored."

The transaction, in which Wet Seal would purchase only the leases, would give Britches a way to get out of leases quickly, while allowing Wet Seal to expand quickly into prime locations in regional malls, analysts said.

Wet Seal, which operates 400 stores, is in the midst of an expansion. "The company has been looking for an acquisition to support its footage growth," said Thomas Tashjian, senior managing director for NationsBanc Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. "They are adding 75 new stores this year and 75 the next year, and this acquisition will probably be part of that."

He projects company sales will reach $485 million this year, which would make it one of the country's largest teen-age specialty retailers. He said he was unsure how the planned acquisition would affect earnings.

Locally, Britches has its Great Outdoor stores in Owings Mills Mall, The Mall at Columbia and Marley Station.

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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