One retailer that seems to have not been paying attention to my “change while you are ahead” advice is Abercrombie and Fitch. If there was ever a better illustration of a brand as a community this was it. An exclusive club for the wealthy, popular and very young with an in-your-face attitude that typifies America the Abercrombie and Fitch brand was/is unashamedly exclusionist, but now it’s losing friends in both the form of customers and investors. It seems to have excluded everyone. 

I always wanted to like the stores, but felt almost compelled to slap the presumptuous door-greeter, had I been able to find him in the gloomy lighting that they seem to make their trademark. As I said though – I’m not the target and the brand is exclusionist, so I guess the more I hate them, the more they like it? I’m also actually intrigued that they managed to sell any shirts, as all the pictures I can recall in their publicity were of bare-chested jocks with six-packs, but maybe that’s just sour grapes on the part of one-pack me.

The thing with this story is that the business has been on the slide since 2007, so you’d expect the management to have had plenty of time to make the changes necessary to maintain its success. Maybe the management team believed their own publicity a little too much, but as their consumer segment moved on, gained a sense of decorum and social responsibility and the new generation of socially sensitive kids took their place in the malls, A&F ploughed on like the up-himself, cheer-leader-shagging quarterback that typifies the brand. All of a sudden the most popular boy in town has become Johnnie No Friends!

It seems that A&C have two choices – change their brand model to something more compatible with the new kids – probably too radical and unbelievable – or chase their old customers into thirty-somethingville. The rumour is that they are contemplating the latter. Time will tell if they can pull this off, but I suggest they start by turning up the dimmer switch. As you get older failing eyesight tends to make it difficult to do your shopping in the dark!

Phil Darby
March 14, 2014

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