It’s pretty funny that Abercrombie & Fitch, home to giant logos and egos is now closing down stores left and right, getting rid of their logos, slashing prices and trying to appeal to the masses instead of just the “cool” people it has been vying for since 1992.
Their last few earnings reports have been as dark and gloomy as their once shuttered-windowed stores that reeked of cologne and uber’ preppy-ness (probably not a word but you get the picture). Their 70 year-old flip-flop wearing plastic-faced CEO Mike Jeffries, has evidently seen the light. The shutters have come off the windows, which were intended for a closed/club atmosphere, the cologne that was sprayed everywhere is supposedly gone and the logo clothing will be gone in U.S. stores sometime in 2014.
Abercrombie & Fitch was the “cool” brand a decade and a half ago. Sales of its preppy clothes was in the billions. Teens had ranked it as the sixth coolest brand, and its then newly launched surfer-lifestyle line, Hollister Co., was an instant hit when it opened. But now, with stores like H&M and Zara among many others offering trendy clothing at cheap prices, Abercrombie wants to win back its base, according to Jeffries. This could be hard because their base was the “cool” I love logos and overpriced clothing people. Shoppers today (even if they are using their parent’s money) aren’t going to pay $70 for a pair of Abercrombie jeans when they can get a pair they like for $10 elsewhere. They also have a decade of bad PR and exclusionary hiring practices to overcome. And parents have always hated their overtly sexual ad campaigns for teens, they have stopped such ads but the memory still lingers for many.
Abercrombie settled for $50 million in 2004 after being sued for discrimination against racial minorities. Last year, quotes made by Jeffries during a 2006 interview resurfaced; he had said the brand targeted “cool, good-looking people,” a statement that generated heavy, even viral backlash. (And earlier this year, researchers suggested that its crowded, cologne-filled stores may actually cause anxiety.) I don’t know if I’m actually buying-into the anxiety stuff but hearing issues about keeping what were deemed less attractive workers in the back storeroom stocking and actually asking customers who “looked the part” to apply for a job after they just told someone else they had no openings was certainly blatant discrimination and cause for anxiety for those who had to deal with it.
In usual CEO-speak fashion here is what Jeffries said a few days ago at the earnings disclosure meeting; “We are confident that the evolution of our assortment will drive further improvements going forward, we remain highly focused on returning to top-line growth and driving long-term value for our shareholders.”
My translation of this is simply; We took the stupid logos off so the overpriced made anywhere but in the U.S.A. clothes will at least look different. We want our sales in the billions like we used to have but we burned too many bridges and pissed off to many people because we weren’t playing fair or even legal let alone politically correct, ethically, or with an ounce of sensitivity. We really only care about our shareholders and the long-term value for them.
The customer? Jeffries never even mentions the word which is a very telling omission for a business. He and his company have become “uncool” and they probably don’t even know it. For Jeffries this has to be his worst nightmare. (the links in this article are just some of the other blogs I have written about Ambercrombie since 2009. Just click on them if you want more background on their “uncool” behavior over the years).