Sunday Business Page: Rue21

KDKA's Jon Delano spoke with rue21 CEO Bill Brand about the retailer's path to success despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

- This is the Sunday Business Page with Jon Delano.

JON DELANO: Good morning, I'm John Delano. Welcome to another Home Edition of the Sunday Business Page, and our very special guest today is Bill Brand, who is the CEO of rue21. Bill, thank you so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

BILL BRAND: Thanks, John. Good morning. It's great to be with you today.

JON DELANO: So let me ask you, for those who may not know, what exactly is rue, r u e, 21?

BILL BRAND: Jon, rue21 is this great retailer, that maybe many of your audience members don't know, but we're based in Warrendale and we serve a unique audience, 15 to 25-year-old girls and guys. We have about 665 stores around the country, including three right there in the Pittsburgh market, Monroeville Robinson Township, and also Forbes, across from Pitt. And so we've been a part of the Pittsburgh community for decades. In fact, before it was called rue21, to give you a little bit of history, it used to be called Pennsylvania Fashions. And it became rue21, and it's had a number of iterations, and ups and downs, as most retailers have, but quite frankly, we are stronger now than we've ever been in our history. And we're really proud of what the team is working on.

JON DELANO: Well I want to ask you about that Bill. First off, we should note, congratulations. You're brand new to this job for the last, what, six months or so.

BILL BRAND: Six months, yep.

JON DELANO: And the company has had hard times, survived bankruptcy. You are now up and running and you survived the pandemic. What's the secret in a retail business to doing that?

BILL BRAND: You know, I think there's a number of secrets, but what I consider the fundamentals of our success is our strong team. There's a number of committed people around the country, and right there in Warrendale in Pittsburgh, that have worked tirelessly to help this company not only survive challenging times, but truly thrive. And we have over 300 people based in Warrendale. Our distribution center is down in Weirton, where we have over 100 people. I was there just a couple of weeks ago meeting them and thanking them, but our focus during this pandemic has been on making sure that we are doing what's right for our customers at all time. So what we did is we reduced our inventory, we've reduced our promos, and when the stores reopened, we were ready for these customers. And the momentum, Jon, that we've seen since June, to this day, has just continued to climb. And I feel to your point, so fortunate that I joined in November, and the momentum just keeps going on and on. So it's about being disciplined in our business, and it's about making sure we have the right team around us, and we'll be building a great brand going forward.

JON DELANO: One of the things that you've been doing is really focusing on Plus sizes. Which, you know, as we age, there's something about that waistline that just doesn't quite stay the way it used to be. And I was reading a very interesting statistic the other day that more than 70% of American women are size 14 and higher, and yet only 20% of the merchandise is targeted at these folks, who obviously want the best and the finest and the rest. But you have decided, as a company, to target plus size folks. Tell me about that.

BILL BRAND: You know, Plus is an important customer. First of all, it comes down to respect, Jon. And to your point in those statistics, our job is to respect each other. Our brand stands for style. It's about value, and it's about inclusivity. And that inclusivity is also about body positivity. And when we serve 15 to 25-year-olds, there's many different shapes and sizes. Our job isn't to judge. Our job is to support and respect and love, and that's really what we've done. We just recently expanded our plus department and we-- at a number of stores, including the Robinson Town Center, and that is doing amazingly well. I was just up there, I spent about an hour outside the store just talking to customers as they were coming and going. They didn't know that I worked for the company. I was curious and I'm just observing that that plus department up there has really, really driven a lot of traffic. But the other part, Jon, is that these young girls, 15 to 25, if they're out to the mall shopping with their girlfriends, they want to go to the same store together. And that's what we're able to provide, is provide them that one experience together. And I think that's a brand differentiator that we're really proud of.

JON DELANO: Well Bill Brand, CEO of rue21, thank you so much for spending time with us today. I really do appreciate it.

BILL BRAND: Thanks, John.

JON DELANO: And thank you for watching us on this edition of the Sunday business page. I hope you all have a great Sunday everybody.