Gap’s plan for a comeback is largely centered a simple premise: It needs to make more desirable, fashionable clothes.
In a presentation for investors Tuesday, the retailer’s top executives outlined their strategy for rescuing its struggling Gap and Banana Republic brands while continuing the strong momentum in its Old Navy chain. And while it’s clear they plan to continue to plow ahead with digital innovation and international expansion in order to grow their business, the heart of the turnaround plan is fixing the clothes, which lately haven’t proved especially enticing.
“Frankly, all the rest of it — global growth, digital, everything else that we’re doing — doesn’t matter if we aren’t better and more consistent at the product we put in our stores,” said Art Peck, the retailer’s chief executive.
Gap brand will be taking some motivation from the successful Old Navy playbook, including expanding its trend forecasting process and rethinking its clothing production process. The brand will more frequently use a strategy known in the industry as “fabric platforming,” in which retailers buy huge quantities of a particular fabric and then create designs for that fabric in response to of-the-moment trends. (In the past, that process would typically work in reverse, and it was slower.)
The company announced Monday that it will soon shutter 175 Gap stores in North America, or roughly 25 percent of that brand’s regular-price fleet. Executives said Tuesday that many of the stores that will close are the ones in outdated regional malls — in other words, ones that likely detract from the brand’s cachet and perhaps weren’t particularly profitable.
While Gap still aims to cater to a fairly wide audience, executives said its target demographic will be men and women between age 25 and 35 who are slightly above-average spenders. This is perhaps a tacit concession that it may be too hard for the brand to win over the fickle teen shoppers who frequent Forever 21 and H&M and don’t have fond memories of Gap’s 1990s heyday.
Meanwhile, Banana Republic brand president Andi Owen said that it had been giving its customers whiplash: After years of churning out reliable but perhaps boring office attire, it brought in a new designer, Marissa Webb, and started incorporating a more casual point of view.
While Owen still thinks it’s the right call for Banana to offer more versatile clothes, she says the brand has not executed it very well so far.
The customer is “having a really hard time outfitting,” Owen said, meaning shoppers haven’t found it easy to put together head-to-toe looks from Banana’s offerings.
But it’s not just the mish-mash of points of view that have created problems for the brand. The style and quality, Owen said, have continued to miss the mark.
“We lack color, we lack prints, we rely much too heavily on black and white. Our silhouettes…are oversized and boxy,” Owen said.
The brand’s mission this year will be to pull itself out of this style rut, with a particular focus on shining up their sweaters, pants, outerwear and suiting. They’ll be trying to improve quality standards, too, by evaluating the stretch of the fabric of their pants and whether a sweater pills after multiple wears.
Peck also indicated that we’ll likely see Gap brands pull back on the constant deluge of promotions that they’ve relied on in recent years to drum up sales.
“Value isn’t 40 [percent] off every day, and we have been way too 40 [percent] off every day in many places in this company,” Peck said.
Some other specialty apparel retailers, including Express and New York & Co., have also recently pulled back on these “30 percent off your purchase”-type offers in hope of retraining budget-conscious shoppers to buy things at full-price now that the recession is in the rearview mirror.
Peck said that it may take a while for the changes at Gap to be visible in the stores, since much of the merchandise hitting shelves this fall and holiday season were designed under a creative team that has since been replaced. Next spring will be the brand’s “no-excuses moment,” he said, when shoppers and investors should start clearly seeing improvement in the clothes.
Executives did not offer in-depth presentations on Gap’s other two brands, Athleta and Intermix, but expressed optimism about their future. Peck has said previously that he believes Athleta, the retailer’s play for the wildly popular “athleisure” trend, has shown strong growth and has potential to be a global brand.
Peck said Tuesday that he expects the upscale Intermix brand will continue to be smaller than the other chain’s in Gap’s fleet. But, he added that the high-end store, which sells designers such as Valentino and Helmut Lang, could be valuable because it “connects [Gap] to the heart of the design industry.”