Remember the shirtless guys standing outside of the store blasting NSYNC with the powerful scent of men’s cologne as you walked through the mall in the early 2000’s?
Ahhh the nostalgic sexualization of early 2000’s Abercrombie & Fitch is hitting me right now. You?
Abercrombie & Fitch, once one of the most iconic American brands in the world, has seen its stock value go from a high of around $80 per share in 2007, down to around $10 per share in 2017, back up to almost $40 a share in February 2022.
After a long history of ups and downs, it’s rewriting the book on brand turnarounds. And the changes they are making tell the story of a bright future for the legacy brand that we can all learn from.
Let’s get into it.
From Fishing to Fashion
The history of Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch is a retailer that has seen a resurgence in its brand value over the past few years.
Founded in 1892, it has seen many changes in its branding. It started as a fishing tackle shop that opened up in New York City-based on the East Coast. The founder had initially named his store “David Abercrombie & Co.” but after running into trouble with sharing the name of another company at the time he decided to change the company’s name to Abercrombie & Fitch in 1904.
Abercrombie & Fitch was at one time the largest sporting goods chain in the United States. It started by selling high-end fishing, hunting, and camping gear to an elite clientele.
By 1915, it had become so popular that it even had its professional football team. Abercrombie & Fitch was a trendsetter at the time thanks to its popularity. By 1920, it had opened 26 stores across the US and by 1923, over 100 locations were open in 48 states.
Abercrombie & Fitch’s decline
Unfortunately for Abercrombie & Fitch things started going downhill from there. The Great Depression led to a drop in sales and by the late 1930s, it had closed many of its stores across America.
It was then that Elmer and Lyman T. Ward stepped in and saved the company with what is now one of the most well-known moments in Abercrombie & Fitch history: they dressed their children in Abercrombie & Fitch clothes and sent them to New York City’s theatre district.
The Ward children were able to convince many of the then-popular Broadway actors to wear A&F clothing for their stage shows, bringing massive attention back to the brand.
Abercrombie & Fitch closed again during World War II and did not reopen until 1948. In the decades that followed, Abercrombie & Fitch began focusing on hunting and fishing again, but its popularity started to wane. It was then purchased from the First Bank of Chicago by Oshman’s Sporting Goods in 1977 for $1.5 million. In 1988, after a decade of mediocre growth, Oshman’s sold the brand to The Limited for $25 million.
The brand saw a resurgence in the mid-1990s. Between 1996 and 2000, Abercrombie & Fitch opened approximately 50 new stores every year. Many of these store locations were based on successful mall locations that it already had at the time.
By this point, A&F was run by CEO Mike Jeffries who is known for his controversial opinions on what customers should wear. He was even quoted as saying “We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.”
Jeffries stepped down from his role in December 2014, marking another low point in the brand’s existence. But former CEO Arthur Martinez, and current CEO Fran Horowitz, then turned it all around. Martinez convinced investors to buy into a new Abercrombie & Fitch, one that was focused on diversity and body inclusivity rather than appealing to a very limited part of the population.
And under Horowitz, the brand decided to remove its controversial “upscale sex appeal” motto and instead focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle that both men and women equally enjoyed.
Abercrombie & Fitch in its current state
Abercrombie & Fitch’s most recent move to strengthen its brand was by removing sexualized images in their ads. The company replaced these things with urban, hipster styles similar to what other popular brands such as Urban Outfitters have been doing.
In the past few years, Abercrombie & Fitch has been working on developing and promoting a new brand image. It has started to improve its clothing quality and style, while also removing sexualized images from its ad campaigns.
Do the right thing
How did Abercrombie & Fitch experience a comeback in the 2020’s?
Within the last several years, Abercrombie & Fitch has seen significant growth in its stock prices and sales. Many analysts believe that this is due to the company’s efforts to revamp its style and improve the quality of its products as opposed to focusing on sexualized images as it had done before.
The company was among the top 10 companies with the most growth, according to Forbes. What is behind this comeback?
Several factors have contributed to Abercrombie & Fitch’s resurgence.
Firstly, the company has made some strategic changes to appeal to a new generation of consumers. This includes changing its logo, updating its clothing line, and revamping its marketing strategy. The company has abandoned its “sexually provocative” marketing that featured scantily-clad models and focused on portraying Abercrombie & Fitch as a brand for everyone.
This new marketing strategy is quite different from previous ads where young white people were portrayed as the only ones who shopped at the store. The company’s new ads feature models of all races and genders to be more inclusive.
Abercrombie & Fitch stock prices grew around 231% since pre-pandemic levels, while its competitors, American Eagle Outfitters saw increases of only about half that, and GAP is actually down about 18% in their stock prices.
Secondly, Abercrombie & Fitch is making some changes to the quality of its products after being hit with lawsuits for selling poor-quality clothing that ripped easily. The company has had issues with its stitching, which first started when the brand was popular in the early 2000s.
Thirdly, Abercrombie & Fitch is expanding into new markets. The retailer has reported that it plans to increase its presence in Asia, specifically in Japan. The company stated that it planned to open 60 stores over the next five years in areas like China and South Korea, according to Bloomberg.
In addition, Abercrombie & Fitch has also been expanding its retail presence by opening new stores around the world, particularly Europe. It has opened three new flagship stores in London last year, including one near Piccadilly Circus.
This expansion can also be seen as a result of Abercrombie & Fitch’s efforts to revamp its image. As the company has put more of an emphasis on focusing on “trendy and well-designed clothes,” it has begun to appeal to a different customer base who were not interested in the brand before.
The Future of Growth
What are Abercrombie & Fitch’s plans for 2022 and the future?
Abercrombie & Fitch has big plans for the future, and they’re starting with that fresh new look. Abercrombie is hoping to recapture some of its lost market share by focusing on diversity and inclusivity. The brand is also planning to invest in e-commerce, and expand its reach into international markets in 2022.
With a plan to increase sales by more than 30% over the next couple of years, Abercrombie & Fitch is also planning to introduce new lines in 2022. The company’s largest shareholder wants Abercrombie & Fitch to expand its product line by adding sleepwear, athletic clothing and watches to increase diversity.
In 2022, the comeback brand is already seeing an increase of 13% in its YTD stock price. With their new plan to revamp the brand, analysts predict that Abercrombie & Fitch will be a top performer in 2022.
Follow the leader
What can other brands learn from Abercrombie & Fitch’s success?
Abercrombie & Fitch has seen a resurgence in its brand value in recent years. After hitting a low point in 2017, the company has bounced back and is now among the top 10 brands with the most growth this year.
Many other brands can learn from Abercrombie & Fitch’s comeback story.
One key lesson is that it’s important to stay relevant to consumers. This means continually innovating and updating your products and services to meet changing needs and tastes.
Another key lesson is the importance of digital marketing. To connect with today’s consumers, brands need to have a strong online presence. Fortunately, Abercrombie & Fitch has experienced significant growth in its digital engagement this year.
Engagement is key
Abercrombie & Fitch has seen the greatest increase in Instagram followers amongst its competitors right now. The brand’s social media value has grown by 13% this year to take it ahead of other clothing labels such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Levi’s.
As a result of their strong Instagram presence, Abercrombie & Fitch have been able to connect with younger consumers and engage in a two-way conversation with them online.
Abercrombie & Fitch has also targeted a more specific niche market by opening a new concept store this year. The ‘A&F; 21’ store caters to older consumers who were fans of the brand in the 1990s but dropped it after it began targeting younger teenagers.
The retailer has given its clothing range a more mature look and feel, with employees dressing more professionally. It has also placed less emphasis on loud branding in store to give the clothes more prominence.
These changes have helped re-engage older customers who had fallen out of love with the brand, while simultaneously giving Abercrombie & Fitch a modern look and feel that appeals to their core target market of teens.
Despite a massive downturn around 2017, Abercrombie & Fitch is one of the top 10 companies to have seen significant growth this past year. The brand’s success can be attributed to its efforts in redefining itself as more than just another mall retailer and providing shoppers with an experience they couldn’t find anywhere else.
In addition to updating its stores for the digital age by offering customers free WiFi, it also made some changes on social media which may have helped them reach new consumers who weren’t aware of its existence before; and win-back customers who lost trust in the brand.
One way it accomplished this was by focusing less on selling clothes and adding stories about diversity into messaging instead. It did so because that’s what its audience wants (needs) to hear, see and feel right now.
It might sound like common sense but people are often drawn to brands because they reflect something about themselves or connect with what’s important to them.
This is probably the biggest takeaway for most of you:
Speak to your customer like they are the most important person in your life. Do this through your marketing, customer service, company practices, and products.