Victoria’s Secret Sports Bras Sell Slower Than Expected

An effort by Victoria’s Secret to make the sports bra sexy is taking longer than management expected.

The lingerie chain, part of L Brands Inc., last year rolled out a new line of sports bras, including push-up varieties that let women show off their cleavage at the gym. The move was part of an increasing focus on activewear clothes, such as figure-enhancing workout pants and training shorts.

So far, though, sales haven’t met the company’s initial ambitions. Victoria’s Secret ordered too many sports bras in the summer and fall of 2013 than it could sell, leaving it with excess inventory, Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer said this week at an event in New York. Even so, the retailer expects to sell the bras without marking them down, he said.

“We bought enough to hit a home run, but we hit about a double or a triple,” Burgdoerfer said at the Barclays Retail and Consumer Discretionary Conference. “We have grown that business very nicely, but we bought a lot of sports bras.”

L Brands is seeking new sources of growth at Victoria’s Secret, its biggest division, by expanding beyond traditional lingerie and sleepwear. The results so far have been mixed. At this week’s conference, L Brands said Victoria’s Secret will stop offering items such as sweaters, jeans and dresses over the next year because they didn’t sell well enough. That clothing had been sold online and in catalogs, rather than at its Victoria’s Secret and Pink retail stores.

Drab Market

Unlike the sweaters and jeans, the sports bras are available both online and in stores, alongside Victoria’s Secret’s trademark lingerie. When the company was touting the new products last year, Victoria’s Secret Chief Executive Officer Sharen Jester Turney said she was trying to enliven the drab sports-bra market.

“We wanted to solve the uniboob problem, where your sports bra makes you look straight across -- no one likes that,” Turney said in November. “This bra is just as much about performance and function as the look.”

Gymgoers realize they’re on display when they work out, and they want to look good, she said at the time.

“It’s a fashion club now,” Turney said. “The days of wearing our old workout shorts and ratty T-shirts are over.”

In general, sportswear has been a successful extension for Victoria’s Secret. When reporting its latest quarterly results in February, Turney pointed to lingerie, sports and beauty as three strong performers.

‘Cohesive’ Experience

The effort to sell sweaters and jeans, meanwhile, faced sluggish demand and narrower margins than what Victoria’s Secret gets from its main products. Sales in the so-called direct channel, where the clothing was offered, fell 1 percent in the most recently reported period.

Women’s Wear Daily had reported in April that the company would be scaling back the clothing lines.

“We know we’re most successful when we remain focused on our core,” Turney said last month in a statement.

L Brands needs Victoria’s Secret to deliver after forecasting earnings in the current quarter that trailed analysts’ estimates. Its stock has fallen 12 percent this year. L Brands rose 0.7 percent to $54.60 at the close in New York.

Even as it discontinues some clothes, Victoria’s Secret will keep selling loungewear and beach apparel, the company said. The key is to offer products that fit with its brand, Turney said.

“This alignment of apparel categories with the core attributes of Victoria’s Secret and Pink will provide a cohesive brand experience for our customer,” she said.

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