Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries is stepping down from the teen retailer effective immediately.
Jeffries is retiring after more than two decades at the helm of the company. The company has not named a successor.
Abercrombie’s stock was up as much as 6% Tuesday morning.
“It has been an honour to lead this extraordinarily talented group of people,” Jeffries said in a statement. “I believe now is the right time for new leadership to take the company forward in the next phase of its development.”
Jeffries is stepping down following 11 straight quarters of same-store sales declines.
A year ago, Jeffries was stripped of his role as chairman of Abercrombie’s board of directors due to pressure from investors.
Jeffries became CEO in 1992, when Abercombie’s sales were languishing. He turned the brand into a retail powerhouse by plastering the Abercrombie logo all over its offerings, focusing on a more preppy, casual aesthetic, and then sexing it up with racy advertising and selling it at steep prices.
His strategy was aimed at the “cool kids… the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” Jeffries told Salon in a 2006 interview.
He made Abercrombie seem like an exclusive club that bestowed its logo on thin, tan, popular teens with lots of cash to spend. The advertising, which featured frolicking, half-naked co-eds, upset many parents — but that made the brand even more attractive to their kids.
“A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong,” Jeffries famously said in the Salon interview. “Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Jeffries’ strategy worked. It turned Abercrombie into a status symbol that nearly every teenager in America sought to attain, and sales nearly doubled within Jeffries’ first two years with the company to $US165 million. By 1999, sales topped $US1 billion.
“In schools across America, Abercrombie is shorthand for popular,”Time Magazinewrote in 2000. That year, it was the top-ranked clothing brand according to a national teen survey, and it was eulogized in the rap song “Summer Girls” by LFO with the lyrics, “When I met you I said my name was Rich/You look like a girl from Abercrombie Fitch.”
But over time, the brand has lost its luster.
“The logo is no longer cool, unless you are a middle schooler in a rural middle school,” Erik Gordon, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s business school told Business Insider.
Cash-strapped teens have grown tired of wearing logos and they are opting for cheaper brands such as Forever 21 and H&M.
“Half the time I don’t really buy any brands,” Olivia D’Amico, a 16-year-old from New York, told The New York Times in a recent interview. “I just bought a pair of fake Doc Martens because I don’t really care.”
Abercrombie has also been hit by a major shift in teen consumption.
Young people are now spending more on restaurants than clothes and they aren’t visiting the mall as much as previous generations did. Teen mall visits have dropped 30% in the last decade, according to Piper Jaffray’s semiannual survey of teens’ shopping habits.
And when teens do spend on clothes, they aren’t shopping at Abercrombie. The company ranks second on a list of brands that teens no longer wear, according to Piper Jaffray’s survey.
Abercrombie’s same-store sales fell 10% in fiscal 2013.
The company laid out a plan in August to lure back teen shoppers, which included getting rid of visible logos on its clothing in the North American region.
Abercrombie is also changing the nightclub aesthetic of its stores to make them more open, light and inviting. The company is removing the dark shutters (shown below) from its windows to let in more light, turning down the volume on its store music, and cutting back on regimented cologne spritzing inside its stores.
Here’s the release from the company on Jeffries’ retirement:
December 09, 2014-Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYSE: ANF) today announced that Michael Jeffries is retiring as Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Board of Directors, effective immediately.
Abercrombie & Fitch’s current Non-Executive Chairman of the Board, Arthur Martinez, will become Executive Chairman. The Board has established an Office of the Chairman, consisting of Mr. Martinez, as well as Jonathan Ramsden, Chief Operating Officer, Christos Angelides, Brand President of Abercrombie & Fitch and Fran Horowitz, Brand President of Hollister. The Office of the Chairman, led by Arthur Martinez, will oversee the Company’s strategic direction and be responsible for managing the Company’s day-to-day operations until a new CEO is appointed.
The Board has commenced a search for Michael Jeffries’s successor and has engaged a leading executive search firm to identify and evaluate both internal and external candidates.
Mr. Martinez has served as Non-Executive Chairman of Abercrombie & Fitch since January 2014. He has substantial public company board leadership and senior executive experience in the retail industry. Mr. Ramsden has been with the Company for 6 years, and has served as Chief Operating Officer since January 2014. Mr. Angelides and Ms. Horowitz, both experienced and respected industry executives, joined Abercrombie & Fitch in October 2014 to lead the Company’s Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister brands, respectively. These recent organizational enhancements, including the creation of the Chief Operating Officer and Brand President roles in 2014, significantly strengthened the Company’s senior leadership team.
“It is impossible to overstate Mike Jeffries’ extraordinary accomplishments in building Abercrombie & Fitch to the iconic status the brand now enjoys. From a standing start two decades ago, his creativity and imagination were the driving forces behind the company’s growth and success. Going forward, we are confident in our talented senior leadership team and the steps we are taking to revitalize our brands and business,” said Mr. Martinez. “We are also confident that our search will identify a new leader with the skills and expertise to enable Abercrombie & Fitch to capitalise fully on its growth opportunities and build shareholder value.”
Mr. Jeffries said, “It has been an honour to lead this extraordinarily talented group of people. I am extremely proud of your accomplishments. I believe now is the right time for new leadership to take the Company forward in the next phase of its development.”
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