It’s been 14 years since The Limited operated a store in the Boulevard Mall.
During that time, the company went from being a leading retailer of women’s specialty apparel in malls across the country to a chain struggling to find its place in a hyper-competitive marketplace. Its sales declined, and it went from 750 stores to about 220 nationwide.
It also changed ownership, going from a publicly traded company to a private one.
Today it is working to rebuild the brand and reclaim a piece of the marketplace that it created decades ago.
As it marks its 50th anniversary, The Limited is enjoying its fourth year of profitability after decades of losses and it is opening 12 new stores this year. The first of those stores was at the Boulevard Mall, which held a grand opening last month.
“We’re thrilled to have them back,” said Betsey Bonvissuto, marketing director at the mall. “The Limited is a great addition to our contemporary women’s apparel selection at the mall.”
With the Walden Galleria location, the area now has two Limited stores, the same number of stores the company had here at it’s peak.
“It’s not only exciting for us to return to Buffalo, but it’s with our first new store of the year,” said William Acevedo, the Limited’s senior vice president of stores. “Our Galleria store performs very well. And it gave us the confidence we needed to grow in the market. We have a healthy store growth plan for the next several years.”
The Limited was started in 1963 by Les Wexner, a trailblazing retailer who made it one of the country’s first speciality stores, with limited items for younger women. He later added other brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, Lane Bryant and Lerner New York, creating a retail empire called The Limited Brands. It controlled a significant share of the mall-based retail market.
The Limited stores peaked in the mid- to late-1990s with about 750 locations, and by the mid-2000s the company had significantly reduced its store network. The Boulevard Mall store closed in 1999.
Acevedo said The Limited thrived with its focus on customers, but that focus slipped as The Limited Brands’ portfolio of stores thickened.
“Rapid growth sometimes steers you away from your original mission,” he said, “which is now fueling our growth and success today.”
The Limited Brands sold The Limited to Sun Capital Partners, a private equity firm, in 2007. Linda Heasley was brought in as CEO, and by 2009, the chain was profitable for the first time in 20 years. Since 2008, it’s opened 68 new stores around the country.
Acevedo said the change in ownership allowed the chain to reassess its target client and its service to her.
“We left no stone unturned in that process,” he said. “After we were sold and became independent, we just returned back to that formula; we could return back to our roots.”
In February, Heasley, who spearheaded the rebirth of the chain, left the company to become the CEO of Lane Bryant. Acevedo, who along with three other executives is serving in an interim role until a new CEO is found, said Heasley’s departure won’t thwart the company’s progress.
“We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary; the brand is bigger than any one person,” he said. “We’ll continue the work, quite frankly, we’ve been doing together. We are confident we’ll have a very healthy sort of continuity.”
At the Boulevard Mall, The Limited’s return has been well-received. And it’s the first of several new clothing retailers going in this year.
“The Limited’s not only embraced by local shoppers and the community, but certainly the Canadian shoppers as well,” Bonvissuto said.
“It’s a well-respected national brand and a definite benefit to the mall.”