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  • Nick Monjo

Intimacy, Now Rigby & Peller, Shrinks To 14

Intimacy stores have been “re-branded as Rigby & Peller as from 15 September,” according to the U.S. retail chain’s parent Van de Velde. In addition, one of the former Intimacy locations in Scottsdale has recently been closed, reducing the chain to 14 (from 15 in early July).

Van de Velde, which owns both lingerie stores and major brands, also promised, in an investor release, that “a new leader will be appointed for the USA” and “an “extreme customer centricity” programme will be implemented to improve service to consumers.”

Sales had been declining for years at Intimacy and finally reached a point at the end of 2014 where the division was actually losing money at the otherwise successful Van de Velde. “At Intimacy we cannot allow the cash drain experienced in 2014 to continue,” said Lucas Laureys, chairman of the board, in a statement that opened the latest annual report.

Elsewhere in that report the company admitted, “In the United States we have been unable to get Intimacy’s engine running. This is despite the same principles being applied as in other countries.”

After instituting various strategies, the company is hoping England-born Rigby & Peller is the answer. That retailer was launched in London in 1939 and had seven stores in the UK when Van de Velde acquired an 87% stake in 2011. The Belgian company quickly and profitably expanded the chain. On its website the company states there are 41 boutiques including nine in London as well as locations in Germany, Spain, Denmark, Hong Kong and China. Now add at least 13 more in the U.S.

Of the 14 lingerie stores in the U.S., 13 are being or have been converted to Rigby & Peller, while one in Paramus is expected, at least according to a person at that store, to keep the Intimacy name for a period of time. Questions directed at the company by phone and email, about the status of the Paramus store, as well as other matters, had not been answered as we went to press).

In a financial release about the first half of 2015, Van de Velde reported a “fall in retail turnover at Intimacy by 4.7% (10.3% on a like-for-like basis) in local currency. Due to the strengthening of the American dollar against the euro, retail turnover in euro was up 17.1%.”

Meanwhile, sales were up for Van de Velde as a whole. The company owns the brands PrimaDonna, Marie Jo and Andres Sarda as well as other lingerie chains.

“Consolidated turnover at Van de Velde in the first half of 2015 rose by 6.0% (from €107.0m to €113.4m) [or about $118 million to $125.1 million based on today’s conversion rates]. On a like-for-like basis (including comparable deliveries) consolidated turnover is up 8.2%. This turnover growth consists of the following components: 8.2% growth in wholesale turnover. The growth continues on all dimensions: lingerie, beachwear and stayers. Also pre-orders for the second half of the year are higher than the same period in the previous year.”

The Belgian-based public company stated in its annual report for 2014, “Intimacy is a big, unexpected disappointment, which keeps both our feet on the ground.” Van de Velde has been frustrated with performance at the U.S. retailer almost since in began its acquisition, in stages, in 2007. In the 2014 annual report it stated, “The turning point in like-for-like growth came in 2008 (which was a tough year in the United States), but Intimacy’s decline has gone on too long.”

Over the eight years that Van de Velde was expanding its ownership stake at Intimacy (which finally reached 100% in early 2015) it repeatedly predicted it would be able to turn things around at the retailer, only to admit at the end of each reporting period that it had not been able to do so. The new owner had hoped that as it dramatically increased the proportion of its own brands in the stores and was able to exert greater management control (as it increased its ownership share) things would get better. But that did not happen.

On the re-branded U.S. Rigby & Peller website the company hinted there might be some changes in the product mix. “We still have the same great brands and collections like PrimaDonna, Marie Jo, and Empreinte, but now with even more product choices and even more styling expertise,” it currently states.

In response to questions emailed and phoned to different executives at Van de Velde, including the current Rigby & Peller U.S. CEO, Lode Van Laere, a spokesperson, Eleni Morris responded that the chain “is a multi-brand retailer and that will not change. Because we focus on Lingerie Styling we believe it is essential to carry a variety of brands, styles, and price points to suit the needs of all the women that shop in our stores. We will continue to carry the same beloved brands that we had at Intimacy plus we have added a few exciting new names to our mix: Barbara, Stella McCartney, and On Gossamer to name a few. We have also added the French nightwear brand Le Chat, which is exclusive to Rigby and Peller in the US.”

In its 2013 annual report, released at a time when the company was operating 15 Intimacy stores in the U.S., Van de Velde had said it was planning to open one new Intimacy store each year through 2017. That statement was not repeated in this year’s report, and the chain is now down to 14.

At one point the number of Intimacy stores in the U.S. approached 20. In recent years the company has closed stores in Dallas, Troy, Michigan, Los Angeles and Garden City, Long Island. Last fall Van de Velde opened a branch on Fifth Avenue in New York City, where it currently operates three stores. (Today, two stores are open in Chicago, as well as two in California, in San Diego and Costa Mesa. There are also one each in Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Miami, Paramus, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

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