Dear Michael Jeffries,
I hope this finds you well, and that you're enjoying the $36.3 million "paycheck" you received in 2009! Yeah, yeah, I know your actual salary was only $1.5 million and that $33.3 million was in options awards. So that must mean you plan on sticking around for a while.
Abercrombie is, after all, your baby. After joining the company in 1992, you transformed a staid hunting gear outfit into the most popular teen label of the 1990s. In that logo-obsessed era, every kid wanted to buy into the A&F lifestyle. Girls tacked your Bruce Weber pinups onto their walls, while guys made Abercrombie vintage-inspired t-shirts and madras shorts their uniform.
And your magazine--A&F Quarterly--was beloved by both sexes. Sure, the raunchy photography was an attractor, but compelling topics were also plentiful. The quarterly--which is evidently still produced today, but only for the European market--was filled with articles and illustrations worthy of one of those expensive indie titles you find in the "culture" section of the magazine rack.
But beefcake chic didn't last forever, and now consumers want something a bit more authentic. Something closer to what Abercrombie was in the first place. Shoppers today are obsessed with value, heritage. If they're going to buy into a label, they want it to have integrity.
So despite your attempts to capitalize on the brand's continued popularity overseas, locations in the US have suffered. Last year, A&F saw sales decrease 16% to $2.9 billion. That's still a lot of money, but you run a public company, which means all those shares you were just rewarded are worth less and less as the company loses influence.
Here's the crazy part. I visited an Abercrombie & Fitch last year for the first time in a decade, and the clothes, I must admit, were actually pretty nice. Not only were they well-designed and on-trend, they were worthy of coveting. But there's a few reasons not that many people have realized this. Fortunately, I think I have some ideas on how you can lure your customer back:
1. Get rid of the cologne. Please, please, please stop drenching your bricks in fragrance. The scent emanates out the door, and it's not inviting. I'm sure that cologne and perfume are big sellers for you, but it's overwhelming, and a huge turn off. Keep the scents by the register where people will buy them on impulse. I swear I've never stepped foot in Hollister on Broadway in SoHo because the stench is insufferable.
2. Let people see inside the damn store! I know you think shaded windows and dim lights give off an air of exclusivity, but it just means no one really knows what you have to offer. (Except stinky cologne.) When I visited Abercrombie at a mall in Pittsburgh last year, I really liked the plaid shirts, the cut-offs, the collegiate rugby-inspired bags. Why are you letting Ralph take your share of the teen market when you were there first? Show off what you've got! 3. Lay off on the beefcake. Just for a minute. I know those muscle-men are good looking. And girls in bikinis can be sexy. But it's a little too stripper-like, you know? Right now, people appreciate subversive sexy. It's okay to push the envelope, but really, discriminating against potential hires for not looking white enough in Tokyo? That's a little absurd. I understand that you like to hire people with a certain fresh-faced style. But all this negative press--and the amount of money you've had to shell out to disgruntled employees--can't look good to the shareholders.
So that's my two cents. Can you save A&F? I think so. But you've got to remind people why the store exists. Because they've clearly forgotten.