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Abercrombie & Fitch To Become
A Lot Less Like A Gay Bar

One of the reasons you are even reading this blog is because one of our early posts likened the Abercrombie & Fitch store on Fifth Avenue to a gay nightclcub. 
That one went viral and played for a while, and several years later, it still seems like an accurate assessment of the boilerplate Abercrombie aesthetic (if we do say so ourself). That's all going to change, finally. Bloomberg is reporting that since the chain's sales, and those of its sibling Hollister, have been dropping faster than American Idol's ratings, management has finally decided to turn down the blasting music, brighten the lights, open up the shutters on the windows and start experimenting with revolutionary ideas like window displays, larger size ranges and, for the first time since the chain was transformed in the 1990s, selling clothes in the color black. Even the noxious perfumes that are atomized throughout the stores are expected to be substantially reduced —though, sadly, not eliminated altogether.
Baby steps.

Why all the adjustment now? The chains' sales have dipped before, but there was no rush to respond to customer pressures in the past from Abercrombie. It turns out that the impending changes in the stores reflects a hard won victory in the boardroom for activist investors who were finally fed up with Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries' autocratic management style. Essentially, since he took control of the company, he has personally dictated nearly every detail of the stores' operations and merchandising. His likes captured the target market's attention at the beginning, but like any group of consumers, they eventually moved to other, newer, shinier things. Jeffries resisted any major changes in strategy, and shrugged off complaints that became high-profile public issues ranging from sizing to diversity in hiring, much to the concern of stockholders who saw their once unstoppable stock holdings decrease in value in the face of competition from the H&Ms and Forever 21s of the world. Finally, the board stripped Jeffries of his chairmanship and has forced him to name presidents for both chains as well as a new CEO for the company that is not himself. Jeffries was almost pushed out altogether until he negotiated a truce last month with the main activist investor, Engaged Capital LLC, resulting in his demotion and the naming of four independent members to the company's board.

What all of these boardroom battles have resulted in is what is expected to be a noticeably different atmosphere in Abercrombie and Hollister stores over the coming months. Do you like those beefcake pictures on the walls? Take a long look, because they are headed for the dumpster. Shoppers can expect to see smaller logos, a larger size range and generally freshened up product offerings in the coming seasons —and they will actually be able to see them since brighter lighting is a major part of the store makeover plan. All of these changes at Abercrombie and Hollister are long overdue, but we have to admit that we will miss the idea of having an analog of a gay discothèque in every mall in America. The question that remains is: Now that the stores' tired attributes are being jettisoned, will they be replaced with anything exciting enough that will bring those free-spending teens back through their doors?

Abercrombie Tones Down Nightclub Vibe to Win Back Teens By Lindsey Rupp (Bloomberg via The Cut)
What, No Drink Tickets?: Abercrombie & Fitch (5.12.2006)


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