Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. CEO William L. McComb on Juicy Couture

Juicy Couture logo

The High Low:  Bill, thanks for sitting down with us.

William L. McComb:  My pleasure.

THL:  Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Juicy Couture, from its future as a brand to its Fifth Avenue store.  Can you shed some light on where Juicy is and where it’s going?

WLM:  Of course. Anytime a major brand like Juicy is in transition, there’s always going to be chatter. And Juicy is still in transition.  That’s why we’re so pleased Paul Blum, a respected industry leader, has joined us as Juicy’s CEO.

THL:  What are Paul’s plans?

WLM:  As we’ve said, last year was a miss in North America for Juicy.  Paul is busy addressing the underlying issue. Today I described his five-point plan for growth and profitability.  The centerpiece of the plan is to roll out the merchandising strategies that we have talked about since last fall.  These strategies are focused on giving the customer more everyday items from Juicy and building on the success of the fashion selections.  We’re launching Juicy Sport next Spring and have announced a plan to launch a meaningful intimates and lounge business with a global partner.  We’re also strengthening the organization’s workflows to support the international business, and essentially relaunching our outlet effort — with exciting new store layouts and better fixtures, and an assortment that is new, more timely, fresher, and more on trend.  With all of these plans, we are optimistic meaningful progress is being made.

THL:  When do you think you will know if it’s working?

WLM:  We’ve said we expect to see progress every quarter. We certainly saw improved full price sell through trends in apparel in this quarter, and the business performed in line with expectations.

THL:  There’s been a lot of buzz about Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. putting Juicy up for sale. Is it true?

WLM:  We never comment on rumors.  Of course, as a business, we have a responsibility to our shareholders to look at all options, and we do so.  Those rumors stem from the opportunity our company has to focus even more on unleashing and ensuring the magnificent opportunity we have with kate spade new york.  But rumors or not, our main focus is getting Juicy back on track fast, and that’s why we are so pleased to have Paul on board. Juicy is a special brand — highly differentiated, extremely well known and liked, and far reaching around the globe.  The Juicy customer is truly global, unlike so many large and domestically-successful American-based brands.

THL:  Let’s switch gears. Recently, and the New York Post both published pieces about Juicy Couture’s Fifth Avenue store, criticizing how it treats its employees and the number of full-time vs. part-time employees.  Any comment?

WLM:  Absolutely.  Our critics got it completely wrong when it comes to jobs at Juicy Couture, and if they knew more about jobs and hours at Juicy Couture, they would invest their time and resources on a more worthy target.

THL:  Can you elaborate?

WLM:  Sure.  Today, we have more full-time and fewer part-time associates than we did in December 2012. In fact, with more than 35 full-timers at the Fifth Avenue store, we have nearly twice the number of full-time employees that our critics claim. At the same time, for part-time employees, we are paying higher average hourly pay rates.  Across the brand, total full-time and part-time employee numbers are about the same as in years past during the same time of year.  In other words, there’s no effort to change how many hours folks work.

THL:  There’s also been talk about Juicy cutting workers’ hours to avoid additional health insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act?  Anything to it?

WLM:  No, not all.  Anything that’s been said about our policies and the ACA is just a rumor and untrue.  I was and remain a supporter of the ACA.  The ACA is a very important and positive piece of legislation, even though it is dauntingly complex.  Like just about every other company in America, we are still figuring it out.  We’ve got to make sure we fully comply, of course, but we also want to make sure no one has to give anything up, if at all possible.  Today, we have different yet meaningful benefits options for full-time and part-time associates, and we intend to make sure these or comparable benefits remain available.  Once we know how we’re going to comply, we look forward to letting our teams know.

THL:  So what’s next for Juicy?

WLM:  Great fashion and styles for our fun-loving, fashion-obsessed and spirited consumer.  Big opportunities for the brand and our people.