A&F Takes On London
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network
If there’s one lesson companies aiming to operate multi-nationally claim they have learned, it is that they must understand the cultural differences between countries. Selling pork in Israel, for example, is never going to be a profitable option. But not everything is that simple and you have to wonder sometimes, ‘What are people thinking?’
Take the new London flagship Abercrombie & Fitch opened in March near the extremely elegant Savile Row – the chain’s first European store.
London Times columnist Sarah Vine reported that the opening was preceded by “a very visible billboard campaign, featuring a muscle-bound young fellow, photographed from behind showing his bottom cleavage.” At the grand opening, the models came to life, greeting customers in nothing but jeans, flip-flops and “welcoming smiles”.
Ms. Vine said, “There is no question that sex is at the core of this brand… There is loud music, low lighting, lots of pretty boys and girls looking wholesome and happy. This is the sales staff, recruited for their looks and enthusiasm. The boys wear jeans, flip-flops, soft casual shirts draped nonchalantly over well-honed muscles. The girls are in shorts, mini skirts, pretty camis and snug-fitting zip-up hoodies. The hair is tousled, the teeth white, the skin smooth and make-up free. It is sexy, sure – but it is not sleazy.”
The trouble is the people passing the store aren’t anything like their young and hip staff. They are either tourists (lots of them, from all over the world) or business people. As Paddy Byng, chief executive of Smythson and former global marketing director of Dunhill and Ralph Lauren, told The Times, “You have to admire them for being so focused on their brand. The question is: Is there a market for this stuff here? Is the U.K. customer going to buy into this lifestyle? Despite all his high-end labels, Ralph Lauren’s core business is still casual wear – that would suggest that this is going to appeal. But this location is a bit of a risk: it doesn’t have a high rate of traffic, so they will have to make it a Mecca, a destination shop that people will travel to.”
On top of that, some customers have already noticed that prices are high, especially those familiar with the much lower prices on Abecrombie’s website. One commenting on The Times article claimed, “Polo tops that retail for $49.99 in the States are being sold here for £60 (U.S. $118).” The Associated Press says that the company expects the London store to generate sales of as much as $2,500 per square foot, compared with $400 in U.S. stores. Are higher prices the way to do it?
Discussion Questions: Do you think Abercrombie & Fitch has already made a misstep in the U.K. market by opening a store on Savile Row? Has it become tougher for American retailers to succeed in a pricey market such as the U.K. with prices easily accessible on the internet? What will it take for Abercrombie to succeed in the U.K.?
- Pecs Appeal – The Times
- Abercrombie looks to succeed where other retailers have failed – International Herald Tribune
- ‘Sex and shock’ chain Abercrombie & Fitch coming to the U.K. – The Daily Mail