Great ResignationInflationSupply ChainsLeadership

How Macy’s Store Closures Could Help Gap

September 7, 2016, 7:56 PM UTC
A worker arranges clothes at the GAP clothing retail store in Manhattan, New York
A worker arranges clothes at the GAP clothing retail store in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz - RTX2L3PS
Eduardo Munoz — Reuters

Macy’s (M) said last month it would close 100 of its 700 or so stores next year, raising the specter of more pain to come for the struggling mall sector.

But the department store’s downsizing offers some competitors a silver lining. Take Gap Inc (GPS), a clothing chain undergoing its own sales declines and fleet reduction.

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Global Retailing Conference on Wednesday, Gap Inc CEO Art Peck said the company, which operates the Old Navy and Banana Republic brands in addition to its namesake brand, hinted the co-tenancy clauses in its contracts with mall operators could allow it to make changes to the leases if an anchor tenant closes and traffic drops. The two largest U.S. mall operators are Simon Property Group (SPG) and General Growth Properties. (GGP)

“We’re watching that carefully to see if we have a co-tenancy clause issue which gives us a rent opportunity,” Peck told the Wall Street analysts. That suggests the Macy’s closings could allow the company to seek rent reductions. Though Peck didn’t discuss specific terms of Gap’s leases, many such contracts have provisions that allow a retailer to break a lease if traffic falls below a certain threshold. The Gap brand, which has closed hundreds of stores in recent years, operates some 862 locations in North America, primarily in malls.

What’s more, Macy’s woes could mean more business gets directed to Gap, Peck said. Gap Inc could use the boost: comparable sales across the company (which also owns Athleta and Intermix) fell 2% last quarter, with an uptick at Old Navy, its biggest brand, saving the day. Peck said that the fight was on for market share in the apparel market, and the Macy’s exits are an opportunity he said. At the same time, he blamed a fashion lull for the problems of Gap and many rivals.

“There are no compelling fashion trends driving the business,” said Peck. “There has been a change in consumers’ buying habits as there is a lacking need to replenish her closet. ” Never mind that the largest U.S. specialty apparel chain should be able to create a trend once in a while. Soon after he took the helm of Gap in early 2015, he promised a turnaround by spring of 2016, an improvement that has not materialized yet.

Gap Inc’s monthly comparable sales have only risen once in the last 17 months as the retailer has failed to keep up with more nimble rivals like H&M and Forever 21 and failed to capitalize on the problems of other mall-based clothing retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF).

But Peck is not alone in thinking Macy’s shrinkage is hardly a calamity for retail.

Last month, J.C. Penney (JCP) Marvin Ellison told investors the Macy’s closings are an opportunity to pick up market share and because they will be known in advance (Macy’s will disclose which stores specifically are closing after the holiday season), Penney can plan ahead. “In some of the most recent Macy’s closures in malls in which we occupy, it’s been a net positive for JCPenney,” Ellison said in August. Penney has been the rare department store to enjoy rising sales of late.

Meanwhile some brands like Coach (COH), Ralph Lauren (RL) and Michael Kors (KORS) are all mitigating their exposure to the department store woes.

PVH, (PVH) the company that owns the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands, and is heavily reliant on Macy’s, downplayed the impact Macy’s problems could have. PVH CEO Manny Chirico told the Goldman conference that the Macy’s stores closings were primarily at weak stores. Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands are only sold at Macy’s 500 top stores, Chirico said.