Vera Bradley adds some stores, but loses others

You now can buy Vera Bradley’s colorful paisley- and floral-print quilted cotton totes and accessori

You now can buy Vera Bradley’s colorful paisley- and floral-print quilted cotton totes and accessories at Macy’s at Colonie Center and at the company store in Crossgates Mall.

The display at Macy’s is part of a deal the retailer announced last month to test interest at 70 locations with an eye to adding new sales through the well-regarded department store chain. The Crossgates site opened last fall as Vera Bradley put upstate New York on its map of company-owned stores.

But you’ll no longer find Vera Bradley at Crabtree & Evelyn in Stuyvesant Plaza. The gift shop stopped carrying the line just after Christmas.

Owner Barry Richman, president of Pearl Grant Richmans, another upscale gift shop in the plaza, said Vera Bradley’s new direct-sales strategy was one of the reasons he dropped it. (A Schenectady County shop owner who closed out her line this spring said likewise. She declined to be quoted by name.) Vera Bradley Inc., based near Fort Wayne, Ind., had for years sold its products through independent retailers like Richman, who set up a store within their stores to capitalize on the brand’s loyal following.

But the company began plotting a new path in 2006, when it launched a website for online sales. The next year, the first company-owned store opened; in 2009, the first outlet store debuted.

As of early this year, Vera Bradley had 84 full-price company stores and 15 outlet locations. Combined with the website, this so-called direct-sales segment accounted for 61 percent of overall sales last year.

The indirect-sales segment — comprosed primarily of the independent retailers — brought in the remainder.

But the independents rang up fewer sales last year compared to the year before, and there were fewer of them selling: 3,100 independents vs. 3,400 a year earlier.

In an earnings call last month, CEO Rob Wallstrom said the number had dropped to 3,000 as of May. He talked about orders from the independents being down “significantly” in the first quarter compared to the year-ago period; so, too, were their sales.

Sales overall also slid — so much so that the company lowered its full-year forecast for revenue and earnings.

Wallstrom said plans this year for more solid colors and leather and faux-leather products should bring in new customers and stop the sales skid.

Barry Richman said dropping Vera Bradley — a line he carried for some 20 years — made him anxious at first. But he’s sure now it was the right decision to “hop off while you’re ahead.” He said customers had become so used to Vera Bradley sales that they weren’t interested in paying full price — and the independents felt beholden to match sale prices even though they received no discounts.

Richman said three new lines — Scout, Spartina and cinda b — more than made up for the lost Vera Bradley volume and revenue.

“Fashion is fickle,” he said. “We had a good run.”

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