CHARLOTTE – The department store chain Belk Inc. created a new women’s brand called Wonderly that will replace its discontinued house brand New Directions. The new brand joins a long tradition of private label product names used by the 130 year old department store company.
“Wonderly is an effortless style for the modern woman,” said Chris Kolbe, Chief Merchandising Officer at Belk, in a press release. “The brand is designed to be versatile, everyday wear with endless possibilities. Wonderly lets our customers create unique looks by pairing our flattering denim with beautiful breezy tops, dresses, and sweaters.”
In 2017, Belk added The Limited brand to its house offerings, joining its house brands Crown & Ivy, Kaari Blue and True Craft. In 2018, they tested Belk Beauty as a house brand.
The company had a rich history of house brands to draw on as resources, sold not only at the various Belk stores, but at its sister company Leggett. Even as late as the 1980s, they operated small downtown stores in rural towns like Orange, Va. The store brands gave these outposts unique merchandise that could not be duplicated by Main Street clothing retailers.
Early house brands were Archdale men’s shirts, Sweetbriar clothing for women, and Nursery Rhyme for children. Other registered brands owned or formerly used by Belk or Belk Buying Service include Ocean+Coast, Goodness & Grace, Merrywear, Belk & Co. Fine Jewelers, JKhaki, Players Club, Andhurst, Twister (boys dungarees) Heiress, Iron House (boys clothes), and Dixie Lad. One of the oldest (and most interesting) was Red Camel, a clothing line for young men and juniors, which dated to 1931, according to press reports.
The company is owned by Sycamore Partners, an investment company. In 2015, Sycamore bought Belk for $3 billion from the Belk family. At the time, it was the nation’s largest privately owned, family run department store chain. The private equity company itself owns a long list of retail and fashion names including Stuart Weitzman, Express, Talbots, Coldwater Creek and Jones New York.
They also own the former department store brand names Proffitts and Parisian, the latter particularly beloved in Alabama. Belk shuttered Parisian in 2007, after purchasing the chain from Saks.
Department stores historically have used house brands to differentiate their offerings from other retailers. These house brands perform a number of functions including adding to retail sales margins, helping to brand the unique identity of the department store, and offering unique goods not sold anywhere else. In the heyday of the department store, house brands were a key part of the sales of a store, especially at a time when each city had dozens of competing merchants.
In an era of Amazon, they also keep other online retailers from pillaging margins and customers. They require extra expertise and effort at the corporate level, however. This knowledge is easily lost as employees and company owners come and go.
Charlotte-based Belk Inc., a privately-owned department store, opened its first store in 1888. Today, they own 300 Belk stores in 16 Southeastern states.
Below, a look at some old Belk house brands: