Repurposing effort positions Greencastle facility for future
Following the March celebration of a plan to add 135 jobs at FB Distro, the last few months have been a bit more stressful.
On June 13, Ascena Retail Group Inc. announced the acquisition of Charming Shoppes Inc. -- FB Distro's parent company.
As with any merger, the news came with some apprehension for employees of the company being acquired.
"We were in the past the acquirer," Charming Shoppes/Ascena Group Senior Vice President Tom Moran told the Greencastle City Council Tuesday night, "and this time we were the acquired.
"When we were purchased, a lot of people were holding their breath for a while."
Add to their apprehension Ascena's announcement that all Fashion Bug (the "FB" in FB Distro) stores will be closed by 2013, and things looked even worse for the Greencastle facility.
All this made Tuesday's approval of a tax abatement for FB Distro/Ascena Retail Group sweeter for the managers and workers of the facility at 1901 E. State Road 240.
"I'm happy tonight because I think we're in a good place," Moran said.
That good place springs from Ascena's plans to repurpose the Greencastle facility as a fulfillment center for its online orders.
The plan will come with an investment of up to $34 million in the 794,000-square foot facility and the addition of 242 jobs by decade's end -- 107 more jobs than promised with the March announcement.
"It actually will produce more jobs in the community and bring in more money than Charming Shoppes ever imagined," Moran said.
Besides the jobs and money, Moran emphasized what becoming an e-commerce site means in a marketplace increasingly driven by Internet sales.
While the site has previously been a hub servicing the stores of Charming Shoppes, it now has the opportunity to serve as the hub of the side of the business with more growth potential.
"Even more exciting for us is this can become the hub of e-commerce for Ascena," Moran said. "I think it positions this town and this facility in a very good place."
Through a multi-year phase-in process, the Greencastle site will begin to service the online business of Ascena's three pre-existing brands -- Dressbarn, Maurices and Justice -- along with two Charming Shoppes brands -- Lane Bryant and Catherine's.
While exact plans for the transition continue to develop, Moran did give the council an approximate timeline for the changeover.
Renovations will begin in early 2013 and will continue throughout the year.
"Our intentions are to make this a first-rate, very, very efficient fulfillment center for e-commerce," Moran said.
This means the facility's operations will transform almost completely.
"The innards will be completely changed," Moran said.
As currently configured, FB Distro has a large sorter purchased only five years ago. Moran said the sorter will stay and everything else will go.
"What will come in are modern, quiet, efficient conveyors," he said.
In approximately 2014, Ascena's various brands will begin to be phased in at the facility. Moran said everything will not start at once, so as to work the bugs out individually as they arise.
"It will take us probably a full year because we don't want to bring everyone in at once," Moran said.
Likely in 2015, the new hirings will begin. Staffing is likely to reach its capacity of approximately 420 people by 2018 or 2019.
Both Moran and Greencastle-Putnam County Economic Development Director Bill Dory praised multiple sources for making the deal happen, including the facility itself and the Greencastle community.
"One of the nice things about that building is it has lots of space," Moran said of the former home of Greencastle's IBM plant.
Of the possible $34 million investment, no more than $3 million will need to go into expanding the building itself.
At the top of everyone's list, though, was the people of the facility, from management on down.
"The credit goes to the team out there," Dory said. "They did yeoman's work providing the information to management.
"Yes, we as a community can help," he added, "but it is the employees, the management, the people who are operating the facility who make it happen."