New York (CNN Business) — It's no secret that fewer people are buying bras, panties and other intimate apparel at Victoria's Secret. The company's sales have been sliding for a while, and one Wall Street analyst thinks time may be running out for the retailer's parent company, L Brands, to fix it.
Citigroup analyst Paul Lejuez downgraded shares of L Brands (LB) Monday from a "buy" to a "neutral" rating and slashed his price target from $35 a share to $27, citing concerns that management is "slow to implement meaningful change" with "cultural norms shifting away" from the company.
Victoria's Secret has struggled to adapt as consumers in the #MeToo era have shunned the company's advertising including models posing in lingerie. Its reliance on push-up bras has also alienated customers that prefer rivals' custom-fitted bras.
Women are shopping more at rivals such as ThirdLove, Lively and American Eagle Outfitters(AEO)-owned Aerie instead of Victoria's Secret. Those companies are pitching inclusiveness and comfort over sex appeal.
With that in mind, Lejuez said it is time that Victoria's Secret "adopted a more inclusive approach."
But he's worried that anything L Brands does to turn around Victoria's Secret "may be too little too late." He added that the company could come off as inauthentic if it finally makes a meaningful change to its marketing strategy and products.
"It will be a tough balancing act to attract new customers without alienating its existing customer base. While we still think a change toward inclusivity is the right move, a move in that direction might be more difficult to pull off," Lejuez wrote.
Lejuez isn't the only one worried that L Brands has lost its way. James Mitarotonda, CEO of activist hedge fund and L Brands investor Barington Capital, urged the company earlier this year to make some big changes.
In a letter to L Brands founder and CEO Leslie Wexner, Mitarotonda said L Brands must "take swift action to improve the performance of Victoria's Secret, by, among other things, correcting past merchandising mistakes and ensuring that Victoria's Secret is communicating a compelling, up-to-date brand image that resonates with today's consumers."
Mitarotonda added that the company should consider spinning off Victoria's Secret and also launch an initial public offering for the far more successful Bath & Body Works chain that L Brands owns. Sales have continued to increase at that chain even as Victoria's Secret has struggled.
L Brands said in response to Mitarotonda that it has already taken some steps to improve its performance, including the closure of the Henri Bendel brand, sale of its La Senza business, new product launches at Victoria's Secret and PINK and the slashing of its dividend.
But L Brands has been one of the worst performers in retail and the S&P 500 as of late, losing more than half its value in the past five years.
There also have been concerns about Wexner's connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the money manager who has been charged with sex trafficking of minors. Epstein has pleaded not guilty. But Wexner was one of Epstein's clients.
In a letter to employees Monday, Wexner said he severed ties with Epstein 12 years ago.
Shares of L Brands did rise slightly Monday though. L Brands was not immediately available for comment but a spokesman for Wexner told CNN Business that he "completely severed ties with Mr. Epstein nearly 12 years ago."
Bed Bath & Beyond is 'running out of time'
New York (CNN Business)Bed Bath & Beyond, once a leader in kitchenware and bedding, is in free fall. It is racing to win back customers and salvage its brand before the pressures of modern retailing cave in.
"The company has not kept pace with how the customer has evolved and how consumers shop today," interim CEO Mary Winston told analysts on a conference call Wednesday.
Bed Bath & Beyond reported sales at stores open at least a year sank 6.6% during its most recent quarter. Bed Bath & Beyond lost money last quarter, too.
"There needs to be a fundamental change in our approach," she said. Bed Bath & Beyond's(BBBY) stock has lost around 90% of its value over the past five years and is on the verge of slipping below $10 a share. On Thursday, shares fell to a 20-year low.
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Winston, a former Family Dollar executive, is trying to stabilize Bed Bath & Beyond after years of struggling sales and a messy activist battle that led to the ouster of the retailer's veteran CEO in May. Bed Bath & Beyond has since settled with activist groups by overhauling its board of directors and agreeing to make changes to the company.
With the proxy fight behind it, Bed Bath & Beyond is focusing on finding a new CEO that can transform the retailer as competition grows.
The chain has fallen behind traditional retailers who have expanded their home goods presence and a new crop of direct-to-consumer online brands. Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT) and Amazon(AMZN) have launched cheaper private label home brands, while Wayfair (W) has invested heavily on advertisements to get customers familiar with its brand.
Despite efforts to lower prices, Bed Bath & Beyond is still around 10% more expensive than Amazon on similar items, according to a UBS pricing study this week of the two retailers.
Bed Bath & Beyond is also under pressure from discounters TJ Maxx (TJX) and its HomeGoods arm.
Retail analysts remain skeptical. Bed Bath & Beyond "might be running out of time, and the company will need to continue investing in order to survive," Oliver Wintermantel, analyst at Evercore ISI, said in a research note to clients Thursday. "It is difficult for us to get excited" about the company.
The first task for the company: Close underperforming Bed Bath & Beyond stores and the array of stores it has under different names. Bed Bath & Beyond has nearly 1,000 US stores, as well as hundreds of World Market, Cost Plus, Buy Buy Baby and Harmon locations.
Bed Bath & Beyond is shuttering at least 40 Bed Bath stores this year and said Wednesday that it will likely close more.
At stores it plans to keep open, it will attempt to reduce clutter. Critics have said Bed Bath & Beyond stores are too messy, with merchandise stacked high to the ceilings.
"We need to give our customers a reason to keep shopping in our brick-and-mortar stores," Winston said Wednesday. "In order to do that, we must update and enhance store experience."
Company leaders are also betting on its "next-generation lab stores" to draw customers back.
Bed Bath & Beyond has remodeled more than 30 stores with different layouts that aim to give shoppers better views of the merchandise. It is testing new ideas in these "lab" stores that sell more home decor, food, and heath and beauty care than traditional stores.
Bed Bath & Beyond hopes it can take what's working in the stores and roll it out store-wide, Winston said.