At one time, there were 54 stores. The Carroll Reed Ski Shops Inc. was started, not by some matronly woman, but by Carroll Purinton Reed, a clever entrepreneur who not only built the company but promoted skiing in the Northeast. He was instrumental in developing Mt. Cranmore as a ski destination and had a key role in promoting skiing in New England. He became involved in retailing with the department store Saks Fifth Avenue, which had a ski store (way cool idea, by the way) in North Conway. When that store was shut down, Reed re-opened the shop under his own name.
It grew to over 50 stores. Reed sold the chain in 1969. By 1985, it was owned by Charles M. Leighton’s CML Group, which also owned prep icon Boston Whaler and The Nature Company. CML sold the company to Swire Pacific in 1990. It was mostly downhill after that. Reed died in 1995. Apparently, Carroll Reed and the separate company Carroll Reed Ski Shops were even in rent disputes in Maine in 1994. (We would love to see what Harvard Business School prof Howard Stevenson thought about the brand, as it is one of his case studies.) It was later purchased by D.M. Management, which later became J. Jill, for just over $6 million.
Carroll Reed had a sad ending, with the company shutting it down in 1996. Reading the Securities and Exchange filings on the brand are pitiful, though it seems that J. Jill Group Inc. did try to sell the customer list and trademark. What is pitiful is that when President and C.E.O. Gordon Cooke issued his statement on the closing, he said that Carroll Reed’s targeting the younger and more “price conscious” market has not meshed well with its other brands. We wonder whether the brand had completely lost its focus, which was monied and had a wide spectrum of consumers. Targeting a price conscious market is a sure recipe for failure for such a brand.
Today, some of this ski history relating to the brand is being preserved by Jeremy Davis’ group NELSAP, which stands for the New England Lost Ski Areas Project. And Stan and Dan Sports, run by Stan Millen and Dan Lewis, two guys who worked at Carroll Reed, are keeping the legacy alive in North Conway. And places like the non-profit Gibson Center, which offers services to seniors, have a room named after Carroll and Kay Reed.
We caught up with style maven Heather “Bunny” Tomerlin for a quick couple of questions by email. Bunny, who is a columnist for the online blog of Men’s Vogue, recently featured a Carroll Reed red jacket on her self-named personal style blog. The idea we posed to her? How to bring back Carroll Reed. BrandlandUSA’s thought? Perhaps it might be a good brand for The Talbot’s to revive, as its partial menswear and ski and sport focus would help balance out other Talbot’s brands, that include J. Jill.
BrandlandUSA: What was so great about the Carroll Reed?
Tomerlin: Carroll Reed was an outstanding chain for skiwear and outerwear. When I think of the Carroll Reed brand, I think of classic women’s clothing, even though their catalog was about 10 percent menswear.
BrandlandUSA: Was there an essence to the brand?
Tomerlin: Yes, I believe there was and the essence was women who preferred enduring styles and had an eye for the emblems of quality and distinction. Frankly, I would say the preppy women of the Eastern Seaboard were the brand essence. The clothes bordered between cute and matronly.
BrandlandUSA: Was there a person who wore the brand that made it seem worthwhile?
Tomerlin: Well, I can’t think of one person who made the brand appealing, but the women who influenced my style of dress wore Carroll Reed. My mother and grandmother both wore the wool ski jackets as I still do today.
BrandlandUSA: What was the brand like during its last days?
Tomerlin: It had become a mostly mail order enterprise.
BrandlandUSA: What are some of your memories of the brand in its heyday?
Tomerlin: Well, I remember when my mother bought me my first ski sweater. We were going to Brattleboro, Vermont for Thanksgiving and stopped off in Westport, Connecticut to do a little shopping and there was a Carroll Reed store in Westport. Actually, she bought me two, one navy and one in creme. Another fond memory would be receiving the catalogs; they always had a beautiful New Hampshire landscape on the cover.
BrandlandUSA: If you were relaunching the brand, what would you do?
Tomerlin: Well, I guess I would open a few high-end retail stores. I would open them to test the markets in Boston, Manhattan and Washington, D.C.
BrandlandUSA: Who is the target market today? Is the target market of the old Carroll Reed the same target market that the new should have?
Tomerlin: The target market would be women between the ages of 25 to 65 who dress conservatively and economically but have the means to buy. I think the target market should be somewhat younger than before. The old Carroll Reed targeted women 40-65. The people who find the Carroll Reed Ski Shop brand charming are ageless.