Jean Machine's new owners pitch turnaround amid denim resurgence

Four months after acquiring Jean Machine, the new owner of the denim retailer says it plans on "cleaning up" the look of its stores as part of an effort to woo back customers.
Jean Machine's new owners are pitching a turnaround after buying the company out of insolvency. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Four months after acquiring Jean Machine, the new owner of the denim retailer says it plans on "cleaning up" the look of its stores as part of an effort to woo back customers.

Gerry Bachynski, president and CEO of Comark Services Inc., says renovations will begin this fall at some locations that will include new light fixtures and repainting, all in the hopes of reinvigorating a company that has been around for 41 years — a lifetime in Canadian retail.

"Customers are going to see something that is different," he said. "My personal affinity is let the merchandise do the talking, open up the storefront, light, bright."

Bachynski says over the past few years, customers have cast aside jeans in favour of more comfortable leggings and yoga pants. But he thinks denim is poised for a comeback.

"In the last year, year and a half, we've seen a resurgence in denim sales," Bachynski said, declining to provide specific sales figures for Jean Machine.

"Denim stands out because everybody relates to having jeans, wearing jeans and wanting to wear jeans."

Founded in 1976, Jean Machine has 30 stores in Ontario. Comark's parent company, Vancouver-based Stern Partners Inc., acquired Jean Machine in March for an undisclosed amount after it ended up in bankruptcy protection following years of dwindling sales.

Bachynski, whose firm also oversees a number of other companies including denim retailer Bootlegger, says shoppers gave up on jeans for casual athletic options popularized by brands like Lululemon and the Gap.

In response, jeans manufacturers have started producing more relaxed, comfortable, stretch-fit denim, he said.

It may be working.

Sales growth for premium brands

According to market research firm Euromonitor, Canadian shoppers returned to denim in 2016, as the trend towards yoga pants, leggings and track suits began to show signs of decline.

Last year, sales of super premium jeans for brands such as Rock & Republic and 7 for All Mankind increased by 4.3 per cent to $173.4 million after years of little or no growth, while in the U.S. they fell by eight per cent, Euromonitor said. The rise was attributed to an influx of retailers in Canada such as Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as a weak loonie.

Earlier this month, True Religion, cited by Euromonitor as another example of a super premium jean brand, filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and announced it was closing 27 stores following years of lagging sales. The brand sold jeans known for its trademark horseshoes emblazoned on the back pockets that could run upwards of $500 for a pair.

Retail expert Farla Efros says the main reason for the discrepancies in consumer appetite for denim in the two countries is that the U.S. market is oversaturated.

In the case of True Religion, the brand is not only sold in department stores like they are in Canada, but also in stand-alone locations under their own banner.

"They were cannibalizing their stores, and we just don't have that here in Canada," said Efros, president of HRC Retail Advisory.

She also noted that in terms of retail trends, Canada is often considered three years behind what happens in the U.S., meaning that such a downturn still has time to hit here.


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