J.Crew is turning to the executive who played a crucial role in turning Starbucks (SBUX) into a retail tech leader to help lead its hoped-for turnaround.
The struggling clothing chain said on Thursday it had hired Adam Brotman, a nine-year Starbucks veteran who among other things led the coffee giant’s mobile ordering initiative, as its president and chief experience officer as of next month, taking on a newly created role. As second-in-command, he’ll report to CEO Jim Brett, the former Williams-Sonoma executive who last year replaced iconic leader Mickey Drexler in the top job at J.Crew.
The hiring is a coup for J.Crew and signals how important tech beyond e-commerce will be to the retailer’s turnaround and efforts to modernize how it serves customers. As a company that started out as a catalog business in the 1980’s, J.Crew already has a sizable “direct-to-consumer” online business that now generates about 37.7% of sales, according to eMarketer.
“Adam’s experience with global field operations and cutting-edge consumer-facing digital platforms makes him an invaluable partner in shaping and driving J.Crew Group’s strategic initiatives to the next level,” Brett said in a statement.
The changes in the company’s c-suite come as J.Crew looks to emerge from two years of deteriorating results. In the company’s third quarter, same-store sales plummeted 12% at J.Crew’s namesake brand, and in November it announced at the time it was speeding up a store closing program. Sister chain Madewell, has fared better, with comparable sales up 13% in that quarter, but the brand is much smaller than J.Crew.
At Starbucks, Brotman led its mobile ordering and payment service that now is behind 11% of total transactions at its coffee shops. He was also responsible for in-store digital experiences such as wi-fi and Starbucks Digital Network. In terms of fashion and clothing retail experience, he has served on the board of Neiman Marcus, another retailer grappling with a heavy debt load, for nearly four years and just stepped down from it. (And like J.Crew, Neiman is also a debt-laden, private-equity owned retailer.)
J.Crew has been trying to carve out a new space for itself in shoppers’ intentions after years of fashion misfires, uneven quality, and what many consumers perceived as overly high prices. It is facing continued pressure from rivals such fellow specialty clothing giants Gap Inc (GPS) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) as well as big pushes by the likes of Target (TGT) and Kohl’s (KSS) onto its territories by adding more fashion to their house brands.