By Alicia Petska
In the space of a year, J. Crew’s international operations went from virtually nonexistent to a whopping 107 countries.
“We started out in Canada and Japan; then added literally the rest of the world last March,” said Matthew Martin, director of operations at J. Crew’s
Lynchburg-based distribution center.
The clothing retailer’s international growth helped fuel a major expansion completed last year at J. Crew complex’s off Dillard Drive.
The company invested $20 million and added 155,000 square feet to its distribution center.
The center — which employs anywhere from 600 to 1,200 people, depending on the season — handles all of J. Crew’s direct-to-customer shipping, fulfilling orders placed through its website and catalog.
When a customer anywhere in the world orders a dress or polo shirt online, someone in Lynchburg can pull it off the shelves just 20 minutes later, officials said.
On Cyber Monday, its best day, the site shipped out about 81,000 packages.
Last year’s expansion bumped the distribution center up to nearly 400,000 square feet.
On Wednesday, members of City Council and the Lynchburg Economic Development Authority got a tour of the new digs.
The city contributed $350,000 to the project through a one-time economic development grant awarded under its capital investment incentive program.
It’s helping J. Crew apply for a state incentive grant through the Enterprise Zone program.
“This is humongous,” Councilman H. Cary said as he walked through the cavernous warehouse with merchandise stacked nearly to the top of the 35-foot ceilings.
“This is truly an international company,” Cary said. “Since they came to Lynchburg, they’ve been wonderful for our economy. I’m all about jobs, and they certainly create them.”
J. Crew intends to keep increasing the business done by its distribution center and plans to add at least 170 year-round jobs over the next three years, senior director Pat Worrell said.
During the holidays and other peak periods, J. Crew hires hundreds of seasonal employees.
Filling those jobs is a challenge, Worrell said.
“It’s tough. I’m just going to be honest with you,” she said when the question was raised by the city contingent. “It was tough last year, and it will be tough this year.”
Councilman Turner Perrow asked what the city could do to help. Economic Development Director Marjette Upshur said her office is working with J. Crew to increase recruitment among college students.
Upshur suggested the company be invited to a Town & Gown meeting, a quarterly gathering of city and college leaders.
Worrell said they appreciated the relationship they have built with the city. At the end of the tour, each official was presented with a gift bag that included a cashmere scarf and J. Crew discount card.
“The expansion was definitely a partnership, and we appreciate that. We appreciate being in Lynchburg,” Worrell said. “J. Crew and Lynchburg go hand-in-hand.”