Todd Vasos – Chief Merchandising Officer of Dollar General and Bobbie Brooks

Take a look at this fascinating interview conducted by the daily newspaper the Tennessean with Dollar General chief merchandising officer Todd Vasos. This is a intriguing peak into the evolving Private Brand strategy of America’s largest discount retailer.

Executive Q&A: Todd Vasos

Customers at Dollar General can now buy upscale fashion apparel such as dark-wash denim jeans, quilted vests and yoga pants under the iconic Bobbie Brooks brand name — a shift right in line with the Goodlettsville-based company’s strategy to reposition itself in a bid to appeal to a broader customer base. Dollar General acquired the Bobbie Brooks name six years ago, but it was never heavily promoted.

Now, with new colors, styles and fabric, Dollar General is making its biggest push ever in the apparel market.

Bobbie Brooks started out as a department store brand, and in its heyday was the Liz Claiborne of its time. John Mellencamp immortalized the brand when he crooned, “Dribble off those Bobbie Brooks,” in the hit song “Jack and Diane.”

Dollar General’s chief merchandising officer Todd Vasos spoke with Tennessean business reporter Bonna Johnson about how the cachet of the Bobbie Brooks name and his hope that it will help consumers rethink the national discount chain.

How does the Bobbie Brooks fashion line fit in with Dollar General’s strategy?
In the last 2½ years, we have spent a lot of time in remerchandising how the store looks. We concentrated a lot on consumables (food products, cleaning supplies, etc.) at first. In the last year or so, we have really turned our attention to the non-consumable business, which includes apparel.

The first thing we did was look at the quality, fit and feel of the product and upscale all those elements to make it look and feel like it’s real upscale without having to pay the price of upscale clothing.

When did Dollar General acquire the Bobbie Brooks brand? Why?
We acquired it in 2004. It had a good cachet in its day. People recognize the brand. They recognize it as a quality brand. It was a natural for Dollar General to grab a hold of it. We are paying a licensing agreement to use it. We have the right to purchase the brand outright within the next 18 months to two years. … Walmart did use the brand for a period of time. That’s not something we’re going to talk about. We’ve had it since 2004, and we’re happy with the results. It is exclusive to Dollar General.

How does this apparel line differ from the clothing you were already selling at Dollar General?
The repositioning of Bobbie Brooks — as well as Open Trails, which is our men’s line — it’s all about the brand promise. When the consumer comes into our store and is looking for everyday basics, she knows she can trust that Bobbie Brooks brand to be true fit and have the look and fashion of an item that might cost much, much more in a department store. That’s a departure from where we were before.

We were pretty much basic in our approach before. We didn’t worry too much about being fashion forward. We weren’t as concerned with how it performed against the consumers’ expectations.

Read the entire interview.

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.