Should A&F Court Girls Its CEO Finds Unattractive?

Discussion
May 10, 2013

Abercrombie & Fitch has a business philosophy that refutes the notion that beauty is more than skin deep.

A new book, The New Rules of Retail, by Robin Lewis and Michael Dart has reminded people that A&F CEO Mike Jeffries is interested in clothing as many beautiful, thin, young people in the chain’s fashions as he can. While he has no problem with making XL and XXL sizes available to those of the male jock persuasion, he absolutely will not offer larger sizes for women.

"It’s almost everything," Mr. Jeffries told Salon in 2006, referring to physical attractiveness. "That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that."

As several articles pointed out, A&F’s refusal to sell women’s jeans above a size 10 (the national average is size 13) runs contrary to some of the chain’s competitors, including Aeropostale, American Eagle and H&M.

Ms. Lewis, called Mr. Jeffries "a brilliant visionary," but questioned whether his branding will serve A&F well in a changing consumer marketplace.

"I think the young people today want cool," Ms. Lewis told ABC News, "but as they define it themselves."

Does not selling products for larger women help or hurt Abercrombie & Fitch’s brand reputation and sales performance? Is there anything you would do differently than Mike Jeffries if you were running A&F?

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15 Comments on "Should A&F Court Girls Its CEO Finds Unattractive?"


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David Livingston
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

I think it certainly helps A&F’s reputation because it’s the reputation A&F wants to have. Much the same as those plus-size stores don’t cater to thinner and petite women. There are women’s clothing stores like Talbots that cater mostly to older, mature women, rather than younger women.

It’s niche marketing. A&F is simply going after a certain demographic. In fact, there really might not be much demand for A&F’s products by larger women, so Mr. Jeffries is probably making a prudent business decision. While A&F might say they don’t want the plus-size customer, the feeling is probably mutual.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

A&F does what it does, and very successfully. Mr. Jeffries probably shouldn’t have been so blunt in his observations, but he understands his brand, and it’s unlikely that he’ll want to appeal to a different audience.

Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

A&F has yet to recover from its pre-recession heights, and it’s notable that the quotation attibuted to Mr. Jeffries dates from Abercrombie’s glory days in 2006. The company made a series of missteps, from its poor value positioning during the recession, to more recent product development missteps.

Mr. Jeffries’s insistence that the larger teen customer is not for him may be consistent with A&F’s brand position, but it is not a good long-term business strategy. There are plenty of fast fashion retailers who have grown in the past five years (Forever 21, Zara, H&M to name a few) while Abercrombie’s cool image has been tarnished.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

Abercrombie & Fitch has every right to be arrogant, shallow, and politically incorrect. Not everyone’s business model is the same. Those of us who find them to be condescending and disgusting are not their target market. They are who they are and they do a good job being what they want to be. In the words of Paul McCartney, let it be.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

I just Googled ‘plus size stores’ and got 110 million hits. Tempest in a teapot. I am not thrilled by the lack of sensitivity in the CEO’s comments, but hey, it’s his store. On balance, I don’t think it helps or hurts his business.

Leah Kinthaert
Guest
Leah Kinthaert
9 years 7 days ago

People have been buzzing about this, but the reality is that many stores or clothing lines (especially high-end ones) don’t have larger than a women’s size 10, or even 8. Keeping a certain vibe (i.e. young, attractive and thin) in the stores will most likely help sales.

One blogger was particularly funny and mentioned that the CEO himself might not be cute enough (even when he was a youngster) to shop in his own store.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

This approach neither helps or hurts Abercrombie & Fitch’s brand reputation. The consumer knows when and if they are welcomed. And, if they are plus size women, they are not welcomed at A&F.

What this approach does guarantee is that Abercrombie & Fitch’s sales performance faces limitations, and it hurts them. That hurt comes in the short-term, as well as the long term. Individuals who are pushed away, seldom forget the slight. Recall Julia Roberts’ role in “Pretty Woman,” as she returns to a Rodeo Drive store with an arm load of clothes.

Mike Jeffries has defined what he thinks that A&F should be. Would I do it that way? Absolutely not.

However, Jeffries serves at the choice of the A&F Board of Directors. They are the ones that have to make that call.

Richard Layman
Guest
9 years 7 days ago
Probably Ron Johnson would have been a better fit at A&F than JCP. It happens I have been reading up on the marketing practices of the old Saturn Motors car company for a piece I am working on and I came across a piece by Al Trout that was critical of Saturn’s line expansion, saying that since only 16% of the market was buying small cars from Saturn, they should have focused more on capturing sales from the other 84%. I thought he was right and wrong, and this is relevant to the A&F case. 1. Saturn needed to do more to capture small market sales. 2. But at the same time, as household demographics changed for their current base of customers, it made sense for them to expand their line, so that they could retain this segment of their customer base. Similarly, we all don’t remain thin forever, whether or not we are “hot.” (A few years ago walking by/into an A&F on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, they were pumping out the music so… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

Just the fact that the RetailWire is discussing A&F based on his “shock value” comments is confirmation that Mr. Jeffries is “winning like Charlie Sheen.”

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
9 years 7 days ago

A&F can target who they want. I agree with Cathie that Jeffries comments were too blunt. Jeffries’ target audience are young, skinny, teens with money. But he seems to rely on their nagging to get mom to buy their clothes. What Jeffries must have forgotten is mom is seeing his comments and will boycott for a while.

Unfortunately for mom, her kids’ nagging will eventually have her caving in and buying their products again. I also agree with David that Jeffries’ plan is arrogant and shallow. But they can and will do what they want. I just hope mom is more successful at getting her kids to see the arrogance.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 7 days ago

Lane Bryant does not carry petite sizes. The National Black Caucus does not encourage white membership. Apple stores hire tech-savvy personnel.

What’s wrong with being exclusionary?

Karen S. Herman
Guest
9 years 7 days ago

Wondering how a book can be called “The New Rules of Retail” when it is hyping a comment that dates back to 2006. Beyond that, young, affluent consumers know and like the value proposition that A&F offers. It caters to this niche market and does it very well.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
9 years 7 days ago

Will thinking attractive people who wear A&F clothes now be painted with a skinny shallow broad brush of the brand, as if they agree with the thumbed nose toward larger people? Will the sensitive and less shallow among them abandon A&F because they fear that their beliefs will be hidden in the shadow of the brand of clothes that happen to fit them best?

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
9 years 3 days ago

I believe that the strategy may have helped Abercrombie, but the clear statement by the CEO that popularity is defined by a girl with size 10 and under clothing sizes is backfiring on him. Beware the power of social media.

As a father of a daughter who is NOT a size 10 and IS popular, I am strongly offended by the positioning and the clear statements of the CEO of Abercrombie. As many parents are doing, we have forbidden all shopping at the store and affiliates, and are bagging our clothing to send back to Mr. Jeffries.

We have enough problems with body image and eating disorders in this country and in my daughter’s school, without any support from a man with no daughters!

Kurt Seemar
Guest
Kurt Seemar
9 years 2 days ago

A&F understood its core customer pretty well and as a short-term strategy, got them to buy. As a long-term strategy, arrogance and discrimination (substitute large women with Hispanic, African American, etc. if you do not think it is discriminatory) is not good for growth. A&F made several miscalculations, among them is only selling to thin women because most are destined to outgrow the brand.

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