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Abercrombie & Fitch Company

Abercrombie & Fitch Company

6301 Fitch Path
New Albany, Ohio 43054
U.S.A.
Telephone: (614) 283-6500
Fax: (614) 577-6980
Web site: http://www.abercrombie.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1904
Employees: 62,150
Sales: $2.02 billion (2005)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: ANF
NAIC: 448110 Men's Clothing Stores; 448120 Women's Clothing Stores; 448130 Children's and Infants' Clothing Stores

Abercrombie & Fitch Company is a clothing retailer marketed toward young people, from children to young adults. While Abercrombie considers its clothing a "lifestyle brand," others have railed against its often sexually explicit tees and over-the-top marketing campaigns. The company oversees more than 800 stores nationwide, of which about 175 are its children's brand, abercrombie, and 260 are Hollister Company stores. Its latest concept, Ruehl, debuted in Ohio in 2004, appealing to more mature buyers, those in their late 20s and early 30s. Once owned by fashion firm The Limited, Abercrombie gained its independence in 1999 and went public on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol ANF. Its sales soared to more than $2 billion in 2005.

The Early Years: 1890s to 1910s

Abercrombie & Fitch Company (A&F) was founded in 1892 in New York City by David T. Abercrombie and Ezra H. Fitch. Abercrombie, a former prospector, miner, trapper, and railroad surveyor, originally produced camping equipment in lower Manhattan; Fitch, one of his customers, was a successful lawyer in Kingston, New York, who loved the outdoors. The two men pooled their interests and opened a sporting goods store.

Fitch was the visionary of the two, anticipating a clientele far broader than merely those who camped out in the course of earning a living. The partners proved ill-matched, and both men were hot-tempered. Following the latest of many long and violent arguments, Abercrombie resigned in 1907 to return to manufacturing camping equipment. Retaining the company name, Fitch continued with other partners. In 1909 he mailed out 50,000 copies of a 456-page catalogue. Since they cost a dollar each to produce, the catalogues almost bankrupted the company, but the subsequent flood of orders justified the expense. In 1917 A&F moved into a 12-story building on Madison Avenue at East 45th Street, a location the advertising department described as "Where the Blazed Trail Crosses the Boulevard." It included a luxuriously furnished log cabin that Fitch made his townhouse, with an adjoining casting pool.

By this time A&F's reputation as purveyor to the sporting elite was well established. It had equipped Theodore Roosevelt for an African safari, outfitted polar expeditions led by Roald Amundsen and Admiral Richard Byrd, and provided goods to aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Ernest Hemingway was a customer; and every president from Roosevelt to Gerald Ford would buy something from the store.

Growth and Change: 1920s30s

Fitch retired in 1928, selling his interest in the company to his brother-in-law, James S. Cobb, who became president, and an employee, Otis L. Guernsey, who became vice-president. In his first year at the helm, Cobb acquired a similar New York business, Von Lengerke & Detmold, respected for its European-made sporting guns and fishing tackle, and Von Lengerke & Antoine, the Chicago branch, which became a subsidiary of A&F but continued until 1959 under its own name. In 1930 Cobb bought Griffin & Howe, a gunsmith shop. The merchandise of Von Lengerke & Detmold and Griffin & Howe was added to the Madison Avenue store.

Abercrombie & Fitch was selling outdoor and sporting equipment not only for hunting, fishing, camping, and exploration, but also for skating, polo, golf, and tennis. The store also carried a variety of outdoor clothing, boots, and shoes for men and women, as well as cameras, pocket cutlery, and indoor games. In the 1920s A&F became the epicenter of the burgeoning mah-jongg craze and the place in New York to thumb one's nose at Prohibition by purchasing a hip flask. A&F also opened a summer-only store in Hyannis, Massachusetts, for the yachting set. Net sales and income, rising steadily during the decade, reached a record $6.3 million and $548,000, respectively, in 1929. These figures would not be topped in the next decade. Sales in the grip of the Great Depression fell to under $2.6 million in fiscal 1933, when a loss of $521,118 was recorded, on top of a loss of $241,211 the previous year. During this period, Guernsey's negotiations with the firm's creditors probably saved it from collapse. Subsequent years were profitable, and in 1938 A&F resumed paying dividends. It also established golf and shooting schools in the store.

By 1939 A&F was calling itself the "Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World." It boasted the world's largest and most valuable collection of firearms and the widest assortment of fishing flies obtainable anywhere (15,000 in all) to accompany its array of rods, reels, and other fishing tackle. Riders, dog fanciers, skiers, and archers all found every conceivable type of gear. Guns and camping and fishing equipment accounted for 30 percent of the New York store's sales volume in 1938. Sales of clothing, shoes, and furnishings accounted for 45 percent. Inventory on hand was valued at about 40 percent of annual sales, an extremely high ratio that reflected A&F's readiness to meet its customers' demands. Catalogue mail orders accounted for about 10 percent of business.

Abercrombie & Fitch at Mid-Century

Net profit during the 1940s was highest in fiscal 1947, when it reached $682,894, which turned out to be an all-time record. In 1958 A&F opened a store in San Francisco. Soon thereafter, it added small winter-only stores in Palm Beach and Sarasota, Florida, and summer stores in Bayhead, New Jersey, and Southampton, New York. Guernsey, who had succeeded Cobb as president, explained his firm's mission at this time in frankly elitist terms: "The Abercrombie & Fitch type does not care about the cost; he wants the finest quality."

The New York store remained the company's flagship. At the close of the 1950s the main floor sported heads of buffalo, caribou, moose, elk, and other big game, stuffed fish of spectacular size, and wastebaskets made from elephants' feet. The store sold an unmatched variety of contraptions for indoor and outdoor pursuits: one corner held dog and cat items; the basement was a shooting range; and the mezzanine contained paraphernalia for skindiving, archery, skiing, and lawn games. Floors two through five were reserved for clothing suitable for any terrain or climate. Floor six had a picture gallery and bookstore concentrating on sporting themes, and there was a watch repair facility and the golf school, complete with a resident pro. On the seventh floor was the gun room with about 700 shotguns and rifles, constituting the most lavish assemblage of sporting firearms on earth. The eighth floor was devoted to fishing, camping, and boating, and housed a fishing instructor who gave lessons at the pool on the roof. He also handled mail and telephone inquiries on fishing, hunting, and skiing. The fishing section alone stocked about 48,000 flies and 18,000 lures.

In 1960 Abercrombie's net sales rose to a record $16.5 million, but net profits fell for the fourth straight year to $185,649. The next year net sales fell below $15.5 million and net profit dropped again to $124,097. Guernsey's successor as president, John H. Ewing, saw no cause for alarm, and rejected the idea of a budget shop or to "splash ads for storewide sales." He told a Business Week interviewer in 1961 that A&F enjoyed a special niche "by sticking to our knitting; by not trying to be all things to all people."

Fall from Grace: Mid-1960s to Late 1970s

During the 1960s A&F opened new stores in Colorado, New Jersey, Florida, and Michigan. It also opened small shops in other stores. In 1968, a year in which city riots, protests against the war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy seemed to be tearing the country apart, A&F was finally ready to shake up its way of doing business by holding a warehouse sale. More than 90,000 bemused customers sifted through the Manhattan store one summer day for bargains that included pop-up tents bought so far in the past that no one remembered how to pop them up, boots made of long-haired goatskin hide, miniature antique cannons, leather baby elephants, and Yukon dog sleds.

In early 1970 the company initiated another gigantic sale. A horde of hopefuls turned up to seize such bargains as a 15-foot inoperative hovercraft for $3 and eight $100 surfboards for $17 each. An offbeat newspaper advertising campaign followed, featuring a single item, such as hunting shoes, accompanied by diagrams and copy that overwhelmed the reader with product information. If these antics indicated a measure of desperation, it was because A&F had recorded a loss of more than $500,000 in the latest fiscal year. In October 1970 William Humphreys, the new company president, said the ads would be changed and sales would cease because the people who showed up were not A&F's kind of customer.

Company Perspectives:

Abercrombie & Fitch Company is a leading specialty retailer encompassing four concepts: A&F, abercrombie, Hollister Company, and Ruehl. The merchandise is sold in retail stores throughout the United States and through catalogs. The company also operates several e-commerce websites for A&F, Abercrombie, and Hollister.

In the ensuing years, Humphreys, a former Lord & Taylor executive, concentrated on cutting the company budget, improving inventory control and credit practices, and expanding into the suburbs. A new A&F store opened in Oak Brook, Illinois, west of Chicago. To win a broader range of clientele, the New York store moved its expensive sailboats upstairs from the main floor, expanded its gift and sportswear lines, added a discount clothing shop on the tenth floor, and hired new buyers for women's wear. Nevertheless, the company continued to lose money under Humphreys and his successor, Hal Haskell, its chief stockholder.

In August 1976, after a year in which the company had lost $1 million, Abercrombie filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When it closed its doors for good in November 1977, postmortems pointed out the obvious: the company had failed to make the transition from supplying fat-cat sportsmen of the old school to the skiers, bikers, and backpackers of the 1970s. One advertising man described management as "ossified," and another said company officers had no faith in television's ability to draw in customers even after its first TV commercials, in 1969, filled the store.

The Oshman Decade: 197880s

Oshman's Sporting Goods, a Houston-based chain, bought the Abercrombie & Fitch name, trademark, and mailing list in 1978 and opened a store in 1979 under the A&F name in Beverly Hills, California. With a 52-page catalogue and eclectic merchandise, including exercise machines, Harris-tweed jackets, and $70 pith helmets, the company gained attention by outfitting actor Jack Lemmon for an Alaskan fishing trip and Dodger baseball star Steve Garvey for grouse hunting in Minnesota. A bigger Dallas store opened in 1980, complete with $40,000 elephant guns and an Abercrombie Runabout sports convertible for $20,775.

Abercrombie returned to New York City in 1984, opening in the renovated South Street Seaport area of lower Manhattan. By the end of 1986 the chain had grown to 26 stores, including a second Manhattan outlet in midtown's glitzy Trump Tower. Net sales reached an estimated $40 million in 1985. The Oshman-owned A&F chain stocked relatively few hunting and fishing supplies or exotic items, concentrating on exercise machines, tennis rackets, golf clubs, and other paraphernalia of more contemporary interest, much of it designed exclusively for the chain. Men's and women's clothing departments featured business and casual dress as well as sportswear, and the gift departments offered an array of goods, including gourmet edibles.

An upbeat assessment of the new A&F by Chain Store Age Executive in September 1986 was followed by a more skeptical appraisal by Forbes six months later, which described the chain's merchandise as a hodgepodge of unrelated items and concluded, "Sometimes it is better to bury the dead than to try reviving them." Forbes estimated sales for 1986 at $48 million and profits at "a so-so $1.5 million."

In January 1988 The Limited, Inc. acquired 25 of the existing 27 A&F stores from Oshman's for about $45 million in cash. The organization was moved to corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and the inventory was cleared out. A stronger emphasis was placed on apparel, with 60 to 65 percent of the merchandise men's sportswear and furnishings, 20 to 25 percent women's wear, and the remaining 15 to 20 percent gifts, including grooming products and nature books. "We can't get caught up in guns and fishing rods," the chain's president, Sally Frame-Kasaks, told a Daily News Record reporter. Nearly all the goods were mid-priced and bore an A&F label.

Expansion and Independence: 1990s

When Frame-Kasaks left to head Ann Taylor in February 1992, she was succeeded as president of A&F by Michael Jeffries, an executive at Paul Harris Stores. At this time the chain had 36 stores credited with annual sales of about $50 million. From the outset, Jeffries focused on transforming A&F into the retailer of choice for American youth, a demographic said to be growing the fastest during that time. He replaced conservative clothing lines, primarily for men, with high-priced casualwear for both young men and women à la Ralph Lauren.

Soon A&F had a corporate and retail culture all its own, one dedicated to youth, good looks, and fun. Jeffries ensured that the company kept in touch with the demands of young Americans by hiring executives and designers in tune with their preferences in clothing, music, and entertainment. The company also began publishing its own catalogue/magazine, A&F Quarterly, featuring its clothing lines as well as articles on pop culture, sex, music, and other teen topics. Photographer Bruce Weber imbued the catalogue and A&F's advertising with an open sexuality, which appealed to target customers but concerned some parents and their legislators. The changes initiated by Jeffries began paying off; sales increased to $85 million in 1992, $111 million in 1993, and $165 million in 1994. There were 67 A&F stores at the end of January 1995, compared to 49 a year earlier. Moreover, the A&F division established new records for merchandise margin rates and profitability for its parent, The Limited, in 1994.

Key Dates:

1892:
Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) is founded in New York City.
1917:
A&F relocates to flagship store on Madison Avenue.
1969:
The company runs its first television ad.
1976:
A&F files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
1978:
The chain is bought by Oshman's Sporting Goods.
1984:
A&F returns to New York City, opening a store at South Street Seaport.
1988:
The Limited takes over A&F.
1992:
A&F is repositioned toward casual apparel.
1999:
A&F becomes an independent company again and launches abercrombie for kids.
2000:
The first Hollister Company store opens in Columbus, Ohio.
2002:
A&F moves to its new headquarters in New Albany, Ohio.
2004:
A&F hires a new president from Gucci and moves into the casual-luxury clothing segment.
2005:
The first Ruehl store opens in Columbus, Ohio.

When The Limited spun off Abercrombie in February 1999, headquarters moved from Columbus to nearby Reynoldsburg, Ohio, and Jeffries continued to helm the operation. By this time competition had heated up, particularly from American Eagle Outfitters, which began offering similar merchandise, marketed in a similar manner, and for lower prices. A&F sued American Eagle for violating its trademarks, but the lawsuit was dismissed when a judge determined that clothing style and image were not copyrightable. Amid reports that the company's growth might be slowing, its stock dropped but rebounded again after the 1999 holiday selling-season produced satisfactory results: net sales had reached $1.03 billion for the fiscal year with net income topping $149 million.

Continuing its provocative advertising methods, A&F had issued a Christmas catalogue featuring nude models and overt sexual content in 1999; a predictable outrage ensued and proof of age was required to purchase it thereafter. While A&F continued to have record sales and a loyal following, the company decided to broaden the scope of its clientele by opening a children's and preteen store, abercrombie, in 1999 and planned to launch another chain geared toward West Coast surfer types the following year.

Wider Horizons: 2000s

True to its word, Abercrombie launched its latest "lifestyle brand," Hollister Company, in Columbus, Ohio, in 2000. While the store's theme was surfing and fun in the sun, Hollister carried the same cheeky t-shirts and sexy clothing that had made its sibling famous. Ironically, few realized the new company was a part of the A&F empire and many considered Hollister a rival to A&F. As more stores opened in California, Georgia, Kansas, and New Jersey, buyers bought into Hollister's surf chic, with some believing they were snubbing A&F, and the company's executives laughed all the way to the bank. By the end of the new millennium's first year, Abercrombie had 275 A&F stores, 44 abercrombie stores, five Hollister Company stores, and net sales of over $1.23 billion with net income of over $158 million.

For 2001 A&F continued to roll out its Hollister stores, opening shops across the country for a total of 32 by the end of the year. Both its original A&F stores and the abercrombie kids' stores also grew, with the former occupying 485 mall stores and the latter climbing to 144 shops nationwide. Despite more venues, however, sales began falling mid-year and the company's stock tumbled to under $10 per share, when it had traded as high as $50 two years before.

While the A&F legend for sexually charged advertising and daring or barely there clothes drew in young buyers, the pricing often sent them to buy imitation tees from rivals American Eagle and Aéropostale. Despite some lackluster same-store sales during the year, A&F finished 2001 with net sales of just under $1.4 billion and net income up slightly to $168 million. In the following year as A&F moved to its new headquarters "campus" on 300 wooded acres in New Albany, Ohio, the company was once again courting controversy. This time A&F drew the ire of Asian Americans with a perceived racial slur ("Wong Brothers Laundry Service, two wongs make it white"), parent and advocacy groups for the latest edition of the A&F Quarterly, and practically everyone with the introduction of thongs for young girls. Though the company quietly withdrew the suggestive thongs from its abercrombie kids' stores, they remained a staple in its A&F and Hollister locations.

In 2003 A&F managed to anger folks again: this time it was residents of West Virginia, with a t-shirt that read "It's All Relative in West Virginia." The stink went as far as the state's governor, who demanded A&F pull the shirt from store shelves; Jeffries refused. His next battle was a proposed boycott of all A&F labels over the increasingly racy A&F Quarterly. This time Jeffries capitulated, shelving the periodical in late 2003. Despite or perhaps because of the continued controversy, sales reached $1.7 billion for fiscal 2003, with net income rising to over $205 million.

By early the next year, Hollister had become the company's fastest growing segment, expanding to 177 shops nationwide and overtaking its younger sibling abercrombie's 170 stores. A&F still operated the lion's share of stores, however, with over 700 shops featuring a seasonal range of clothing from bathing suits and flip flops to its trademark hoodies and racy tees. While retail pundits had considered A&F in a slump for several years due to its same-store sales, Jeffries decided to make over the company's image by channeling one of its founders, Ezra Fitch. The new A&F was a casual luxury clothier, a step up from its previous incarnation, with the launch of the Ezra Fitch line and the arrival of Bob Singer as A&F's new president and chief operating officer. Formerly of the Gucci Group, Singer understood luxury brands and brought considerable panache to A&F's transformation.

Jeffries' gambit worked as A&F sales began climbing across the board in 2004, topping $2 billion with net income reaching more than $216 million. Jeffries also announced the company would introduce another lifestyle brand, one directed to an older clientele. To A&F, "older" was a relative term, meaning post-college buyers in their mid- to late 20s and early 30s. The new concept, called Ruehl, opened its first prototype in Columbus, Ohio, resembling a Greenwich Village brownstone more than a store. A&F planned to build several hundred Ruehl stores over the next few years, while continuing to expand its core brands as well.

By 2005 A&F's image took a few serious hits. The first was the settlement of a lawsuit the previous year amidst complaints of racial discrimination. Though the company admitted no wrongdoing, it did alter its hiring and promotion policies. Next came questions about Jeffries and his compensation packages, including an investigation into A&F's corporate governance in 2005. Jeffries gave up a number of perks and slashed his compensation to appease shareholders, though many believed his rapid concession had more to do with preventing further investigation than anything else. Then came the resignation of President and COO Singer, who left due to disagreements with Jeffries over A&F's international expansion. Singer walked away with a compensation package rumored to be worth more than $13 million, Jeffries offered little comment and concentrated on the company's expansion into Canada and the United Kingdom.

Entering 2006 A&F continued to provoke mainstream America, selling the company's oversexed ideal of casual and luxury clothes to kids, teens, and young adults through its four "life-style" brands, A&F, Hollister Company, abercrombie, and Ruehl.

Principal Operating Units

A&F; Abercrombie; Hollister Company; Ruehl.

Principal Competitors

Aéropostale, Inc.; American Eagle Outfitters, Inc.; Gap, Inc.; The Limited, Inc.; The Buckle, Inc.; Urban Outfitters Inc.

Further Reading

"A&F," Fortune, July 1939, pp. 124+.

"Abercrombie's Misfire," Time, August 23, 1976, p. 55.

Bailey, Lee, "The Abercrombie Effect," Daily News Record, September 26, 2005, p. 20.

Berner, Robert, "Flip Flops, Torn JeansAnd Control," Business Week, May 30, 2005, p. 68.

, "No Longer Big Brand on Campus," Business Week, September 29, 2003, p. 90.

"Caterer to the Outdoor Man," Business Week, December 16, 1961, pp. 84-86, 89.

Derby, Meredith, "Abercrombie's Singer Exiting," WWD, August 30, 2005, p. 3.

Frazier, Mya, "Hot Retail Concept: Ruehl," Advertising Age, July 11, 2001, p. 12.

Goldstein, Lauren, "The Alpha Teenager," Fortune, December 20, 1999, pp. 201+.

Kestout, Brian P., "Fashion Pizazz," Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, January 2001, p. 68.

Lockwood, Lisa, "Edgy Ads," WWD, January 14, 2000, p. 16.

Marcial, Gene G., "Shoppers Bonanza at the Limited," Business Week, September 23, 1996, p. 142.

"Minorities Win Bias Lawsuit," Jet, December 6, 2004, p. 36.

Palmieri, Jean E., "A&F Aim: 100 Units; $300M Sales," Daily News Record, June 14, 1991, p. 7.

Paris, Ellen, "Endangered Species?," Forbes, March 9, 1987, pp. 136-37.

Perman, Stacy, "Fashion Forward: Abercrombie's Beefcake Brigade," Time, February 14, 2000.

"Robert Singer," Chain Store Age, October 2005, p. 22.

Sayre, Joel, "The Twelve-Story Game Room," Holiday, December 1959.

Stringer, Kortney, "A&F Best of Best," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 22, 1999, p. 1C.

Wells, Melanie, "Anticlimax," Forbes, March 20, 2000.

Zimbalist, Kristina, "Mike Jeffries: 61, CEO, A&F," Time, September 13, 2005, p. 76.

                                           Robert Halasz

                   updates: Mark Swartz; Nelson Rhodes

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Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

4 Limited Parkway East
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068
U.S.A.
Telephone: (614) 577-6500
Fax: (614) 577-6980
Web site: http://www.abercrombie.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1904
Employees: 9,500
Sales: $1.04 billion (2000)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: ANF
NAIC: 44811 Mens Clothing Stores; 44812 Womens Clothing Stores; 44813 Childrens and Infants Clothing Stores

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is a retailer of casual clothing marketed toward young people, predominantly college students. The company oversees about 250 stores nationwide, mostly in shopping malls, and also markets its clothing on the Web and in catalogues. The companys style has become identified with the more risque aspects of upper-middle-class youth culture, lifestyle, attitudes, and music. In the year since gaining independence from its erstwhile parent, The Limited, Abercrombie has continued its gently provocative ways. This brand image represents a drastic change from the companys origins. During the first half of the 20th century Abercrombie & Fitch Co. was the definitive store for Americas sporting elite, outfitting big-game hunters, fishermen, and other adventurers ala Ernest Hemingway. After the chain went bankrupt in 1977, Oshmans Sporting Goods revived the Abercrombie & Fitch name but shifted its focus to more contemporary sporting goods and a wider array of apparel for men and women. The Limited, Inc., after acquiring the company in 1988, eliminated sporting goods entirely.

The Early Years

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. was founded in 1892 in New York City by David T. Abercrombie and Ezra H. Fitch. Abercrombie, a former prospector, miner, trapper, and railroad surveyor or engineer, owned a small shop and factory producing camping equipment in lower Manhattan. Fitch, one of his customers, was a successful lawyer in Kingston, New York, but the outdoors was his chief interest.

The men opened a sporting goods store. Fitch was the visionary of the two, anticipating a clientele far broader than merely those who camped out in the course of earning a living. The partners proved ill-matched, and both men were hot-tempered. Following the latest of many long and violent arguments, Abercrombie resigned in 1907 to return to manufacturing camping equipment. Retaining the company name, Fitch continued with other partners. In 1909 he mailed out 50,000 copies of a 456-page catalogue. Since they cost a dollar each to produce, the catalogues almost bankrupted the company, but the subsequent flood of orders justified the expense. In 1917 Abercrombie & Fitch moved into a 12-story building on Madison Avenue at East 45th Street, a location the advertising department described as Where the Blazed Trail Crosses the Boulevard. It included a luxuriously furnished log cabin that Fitch made his town house, with an adjoining casting pool.

By this time Abercrombie & Fitchs reputation as purveyor to the sporting elite already was well established. It had equipped Theodore Roosevelt for an African safari and also outfitted, or was soon going to outfit, polar expeditions led by Roald Amundsen and Admiral Richard Byrd and flights made by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Ernest Hemingway was a customer. Every president from Roosevelt to Gerald Ford eventually would buy something from the store.

Roaring 1920s and Depression 1930s

Fitch retired in 1928, selling his interest in the company to his brother-in-law, James S. Cobb, who became president, and an employee, Otis L. Guernsey, who became vice-president. In his first year at the helm, Cobb acquired a similar New York business, Von Lengerke & Detmold, respected for its European-made sporting guns and fishing tackle, and Von Lengerke & Antoine, the Chicago branch, which became a subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch but continued until 1959 under its own name. In 1930 Cobb bought Griffin & Howe, a gunsmith shop. The merchandise that Von Lengerke & Detmold and Griffin & Howe had in stock was added to the Madison Avenue store.

By this time Abercrombie & Fitch was selling outdoor and sporting equipment not only for hunting, fishing, camping, and exploration, but also for skating, polo, golf, and tennis. The store also carried a variety of outdoor clothing, boots, and shoes for both men and women, as well as cameras, pocket cutlery, and indoor games. In the 1920s Abercrombie & Fitch became the epicenter of the burgeoning mah-jongg craze and the place in New York to thumb ones nose at Prohibition by purchasing a hip flask. Also during the 1920s, Abercrombie & Fitch opened a summer-only store in Hyannis, Massachusetts, for the yachting set. Net sales and income, rising steadily in this decade, reached a record $6.3 million and $548,000, respectively, in 1929.

These figures would not be topped in the next decade. Sales in the grip of the Great Depression fell to $2,598,925 in fiscal year 1933, when a loss of $521,118 was recorded, on top of a loss of $241,211 the previous year. During this period, Guernseys negotiations with the firms creditors probably saved it from collapse. Subsequent years were profitable, and in 1938 Abercrombie & Fitch resumed paying dividends. It also established golf and shooting schools in the store.

By 1939 Abercrombie & Fitch was calling itself The Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World. It boasted the worlds largest and most valuable collection of firearms and the widest assortment of fishing flies obtainable anywhere (15,000 in all) to accompany its array of rods, reels, and other fishing tackle. Riders, dog fanciers, skiers, and archers all found every conceivable type of gear. Guns and camping and fishing equipment accounted for 30 percent of the New York stores sales volume in 1938. Sales of clothing, shoes, and furnishings accounted for 45 percent. Inventory on hand was valued at about 40 percent of annual sales, an extremely high ratio that reflected Abercrombie & Fitchs readiness to meet its customers demands. Catalogue mail orders accounted for about ten percent of business.

Abercrombie & Fitch at Mid-Century

Net profit during the 1940s was highest in fiscal year 1947, when it reached $682,894, which turned out to be an all-time record. In 1958 Abercrombie & Fitch opened a store in San Francisco. Soon thereafter, it added small winter-only stores in Palm Beach and Sarasota, Florida, and summer stores in Bayhead, New Jersey, and Southampton, New York. Guernsey, who had succeeded Cobb as president, explained his firms mission at this time in frankly elitist terms: The Abercrombie & Fitch type does not care about the cost; he wants the finest quality.

The New York store remained, of course, the companys flagship. At the close of the 1950s the main floor sported heads of buffalo, caribou, moose, elk, and other big game, stuffed fish of spectacular size, and elephants-foot wastebaskets. Here were sold a variety of contraptions for indoor and outdoor pursuits. One corner held dog and cat items. The basement was given over to the shooting range, while the mezzanine contained paraphernalia for skindiving, archery, skiing, and lawn games. Floors two through five were reserved for clothing suitable for any terrain or climate. On floor six was a picture gallery and bookstore concentrating on sporting themes, a watch repair facility, and the golf school, complete with a resident pro. On the seventh floor, the gun room, besides more stuffed game heads, held about 700 shotguns and rifles, constituting the most lavish assemblage of sporting firearms on earth. The eighth floor was devoted to fishing, camping, and boating, and reserved a desk for the companys fly- and bait-casting instructor, who gave lessons at the pool on the roof. He also handled mail and telephone inquiries on fishing, hunting, and skiing. The fishing section alone stocked about 48,000 flies and 18,000 lures.

In fiscal 1960, net sales rose to a record $16.5 million, but net profits fell for the fourth straight year, to $185,649. The next year net sales fell below $15.5 million, and net profit dropped again, to $124,097. Nevertheless, Guernseys successor as president, John H. Ewing, saw no cause for alarm, rejecting the idea of a budget shop or splash ads for storewide sales. He told a Business Week interviewer in 1961 that Abercrombie & Fitch enjoyed a special niche by sticking to our knitting; by not trying to be all things to all people.

A Disastrous Decade: 1968-77

During the 1960s Abercrombie & Fitch opened new stores in Colorado Springs; Short Hills, New Jersey; Bal Harbour, Florida; and Troy, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. It also opened small shops in other stores. In 1968, a year in which city riots, protests against the war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy seemed to be tearing the country apart, Abercrombie & Fitch was finally ready to shake up its way of doing business by holding a warehouse sale. More than 90,000 bemused customers sifted through the Manhattan store one summer day for bargains that included pop-up tents bought so far in the past that no one remembered how to pop them up, boots made of long-haired goatskin hide, miniature antique cannons, leather baby elephants, and Yukon dog sleds.

Key Dates:

1892:
Company is founded in New York City.
1917:
Abercrombie & Fitch relocates to flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York.
1977:
Chain is bought by Oshmans Sporting Goods.
1988:
The Limited takes over Abercrombie & Fitch.
1992:
Brand is repositioned towards casual apparel.
1999:
Abercrombie & Fitch becomes an independent company once again.

In early 1970 the store held another sale. A horde of hopefuls turned up to seize such bargains as a 15-foot inoperative hover-craft for $3 and eight $100 surfboards for $17 each. An offbeat newspaper advertising campaign followed, featuring a single item, such as hunting shoes, accompanied by diagrams and copy that overwhelmed the reader with product information. If these antics indicated a measure of desperation, it was because Abercrombie & Fitch had recorded a loss of more than $500,000 in the latest fiscal year. In October 1970 William Humphreys, the new company president, said the ads would be changed and sales would cease because the people who showed up were not Abercrombie & Fitchs kind of customer.

In the ensuing years, Humphreys, a former Lord & Taylor executive, concentrated on cutting the company budget, improving inventory control and credit practices, and expanding into the suburbs. A new Abercrombie & Fitch store opened in Oak Brook, Illinois, north of Chicago. To win a broader range of clientele, the New York store moved its expensive sailboats upstairs from the main floor, expanded its gift and sportswear lines, added a discount clothing shop on the tenth floor, and hired new buyers for womens wear. Nevertheless, the company continued to lose money under Humphreys and his successor, Hal Haskell, its chief stockholder.

In August 1976, after a year in which the company had lost $1 million, Abercrombie & Fitch filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When it closed its doors for good in November 1977, post-mortems pointed out the obvious: the company had failed to make the transition from supplying fat-cat sportsmen of the old school to the skiers, bikers, and backpackers of the 1970s. One advertising man described management as ossified, and another said company officers had no faith in televisions ability to draw in customers even after its first TV commercials, in 1969, filled the store.

The Oshman Decade: 1978-87

Oshmans Sporting Goods, a Houston-based chain, bought the Abercrombie & Fitch name, trademark, and mailing list in 1978 and opened a store in 1979 under the Abercrombie & Fitch name in Beverly Hills, California. With a 52-page catalogue and eclectic merchandise, including exercise machines, Harristweed jackets, and $70 pith helmets, the company also outfitted actor Jack Lemmon for an Alaskan fishing trip and Dodger baseball star Steve Garvey for grouse hunting in Minnesota. A bigger Dallas store opened in 1980, complete with $40,000 elephant guns and an Abercrombie Runabout sports convertible for $20,775.

Abercrombie & Fitch returned to New York City in 1984, opening in the renovated South Street Seaport area of lower Manhattan. By the end of 1986 the chain had grown to 26 stores, including a second Manhattan outlet in midtowns glitzy Trump Tower. Net sales reached an estimated $40 million to $45 million in 1985. The Oshman-owned Abercrombie & Fitch chain stocked relatively few hunting and fishing supplies or exotic items, concentrating on exercise machines, tennis rackets, golf clubs, and other paraphernalia of more contemporary interest, much of it designed exclusively for the chain. Mens and womens clothing departments featured business and casual dress as well as sportswear, and the gift departments offered an array of goods, including gourmet edibles.

An upbeat assessment of the new Abercrombie & Fitch by Chain Store Age Executive in September 1986 was followed by a more skeptical appraisal by Forbes six months later, which described the chains merchandise as a hodgepodge of unrelated items and concluded, Sometimes it is better to bury the dead than to try reviving them. Forbes estimated sales for fiscal 1986 at $48 million and profits at a so-so $1.5 million.

Expansion and Independence in the 1990s

In January 1988 The Limited, Inc. acquired 25 of the existing 27 Abercrombie & Fitch stores from Oshmans for about $45 million in cash. The organization was moved to corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and the inventory was cleared out. A stronger emphasis was placed on apparel, with 60 to 65 percent of the merchandise mens sportswear and furnishings, 20 to 25 percent womens wear, and the remaining 15 to 20 percent gifts, including grooming products and nature books. We cant get caught up in guns and fishing rods, the chains president, Sally Frame-Kasaks, a former womens-wear executive, told a Daily News Record reporter. Nearly all the goods were mid-priced and bore an Abercrombie & Fitch label.

When Frame-Kasaks left to head Ann Taylor in February 1992, she was succeeded as president of Abercrombie & Fitch by Michael Jeffries, an executive at Paul Harris Stores. At this time the chain had 36 stores credited with annual sales of about $50 million. Jeffries oversaw spectacular growth, with sales increasing to $85 million in 1992, $111 million in 1993, and $165 million in 1994. There were 67 Abercrombie & Fitch stores at the end of January 1995, compared to 49 a year earlier. Moreover, the Abercrombie & Fitch division established new records for merchandise margin rate and profitability for its parent, The Limited, in 1994.

From the outset, Jeffries focused on transforming Abercrombie & Fitch into the retailer of choice for American youth, a demographic said to be growing the fastest during that time. He replaced conservative clothing lines, primarily for men, with casualwear, of a fairly high price point, for both young men and women. Soon, Abercrombie & Fitch had a corporate and retail culture all its own, one dedicated to youth, good looks, and fun. Jeffries ensured that the company kept in touch with the demands of young America by hiring executives and designers in tune with their preferences in clothing, music, and entertainment. Abercrombie & Fitch began publishing its own catalog/magazine, A&F Quarterly, which featured the companys clothing lines as well as articles on pop culture, sex, music, and other teen favorites. The companys ad agency, and photographer Bruce Weber, typically imbued Abercrombie & Fitch ads with a sexiness that appealed to target customers and concerned some parents and their legislators.

When The Limited spun off Abercrombie & Fitch in February 1999, headquarters moved from Columbus to nearby Reynoldsburg, and Jeffries continued to helm the operation. Hereto-fore a huge success, Abercrombie & Fitch began to draw comments from industry analysts on the likelihood of its staying-power; they suggested that, like all clothing retailers, Abercrombie & Fitch was bound to fall from favor someday, and they watched for the signs. Competition for the market had heated up, particularly from American Eagle Outfitters, which began offering similar merchandise, marketed in a similar manner, and for lower prices. The summer of 1999 saw Abercrombie & Fitch bring a lawsuit against American Eagle, claiming the latter had violated its trademarks. The suit was eventually thrown out, however, as a judge determined that clothing style and image were not copyrightable. Amid reports that the companys growth might be slowing, its stock dropped but rebounded again after the 1999 holiday selling-season produced satisfactory results.

Continuing its provocative advertising methods, Abercrombie & Fitch issued a Christmas catalogue that year that featured nude models and overt sexual content; a predictable outrage ensued, and proof of age was required to purchase it thereafter. This approach may have impressed more male than female customers, who, some suggested, were shopping more often at competitors Urban Outfitters and The Gap. Still, as it headed into a new millennium Abercrombie & Fitch was reporting record sales and a loyal following of young customers. According to one survey by Teenage Research Unlimited, reported on in Time, American kids ranked the company sixth on a list of cool brands, ahead of Nintendo and Levis. Broadening the scope of its clientele somewhat, Abercrombie & Fitch opened a childrens store, abercrombies, in 1999 and planned to introduce a store geared toward West Cost surfer types in 2000.

Principal Competitors

The Gap, Inc.; The Limited, Inc.; American Eagle Outfitters, Inc.; The Buckle, Inc.; Urban Outfitters Inc.

Further Reading

Abercrombie & Fitch, Fortune, July 1939, pp. 124+.

Abercrombies Misfire, Time, August 23, 1976, p. 55.

Caterer to the Outdoor Man, Business Week, December 16, 1961, pp. 8486, 89.

Goldstein, Lauren, The Alpha Teenager, Fortune, December 20, 1999, pp. 201+.

Lockwood, Lisa, Edgy Ads: Reaching the Limit?, WWD, January 14, 2000, p. 16.

Marcial, Gene G., Shoppers Bonanza at the Limited, Business Week, September 23, 1996, p. 142.

Palmieri, Jean E., Abercrombie & Fitch Aim: 100 Units; $300M Sales, Daily News Record, June 14, 1991, p. 7.

Paris, Ellen, Endangered Species?, Forbes, March 9, 1987, pp. 13637.

Perman, Stacy, Fashion Forward: Abercrombies Beefcake Brigade, Time, February 14, 2000.

Sayre, Joel, The Twelve-Story Game Room, Holiday, December 1959.

Stringer, Kortney, Abercrombie & Fitch Best of Best in Plain Dealer 100, Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 22, 1999, p. 1C.

Wells, Melanie, Anticlimax, Forbes, March 20, 2000.

Robert Halasz

updated by Mark Swartz

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Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

Four Limited Parkway East
P.O. Box 182168
Columbus, Ohio 43218-2168
U.S.A.
(614) 577-6500
Fax: (614) 577-6565

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of The Limited, Inc.
Incorporated:
1904
Sales: $165 million (1994)
Employees: 1,000
SICs: 5611 Men and Boys Clothing & Accessory Stores; 5621 Womens Clothing Stores; 5632 Womens Accessory & Specialty Stores; 5947 Gift, Novelty & Souvenir Shops

During the first half of the 20th century Abercrombie & Fitch Co. was the definitive store for Americas sporting elite, outfitting big-game hunters, fishermen, and other adventurers. After the chain went bankrupt in 1977, Oshmans Sporting Goods revived the Abercrombie & Fitch name but shifted its focus to more contemporary sporting goods and a wider array of apparel for men and women. The Limited, Inc., after acquiring the company in 1988, eliminated sporting goods entirely.

The Early Years

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. was founded in 1892 in New York City by David T. Abercrombie and Ezra H. Fitch. Abercrombie, a former prospector, miner, trapper, and railroad surveyor or engineer, owned a small shop and factory producing camping equipment in lower Manhattan. Fitch, one of his customers, was a successful lawyer in Kingston, New York, but the outdoors was his chief interest.

The partners were ill matched. Fitch was the visionary of the two, anticipating a clientele far broader than merely those who camped out in the course of earning a living. Furthermore, both men were hot-tempered. Following the latest of many long and violent arguments, Abercrombie resigned in 1907 to return to manufacturing camping equipment. Fitch continued with other partners. In 1909 he mailed out 50,000 copies of a 456-page catalogue. Since they cost a dollar each to produce, they almost bankrupted the company, but the subsequent flood of orders justified the expense. In 1917 Abercrombie & Fitch moved into a 12-story building on Madison Avenue at East 45th Street, a location the advertising department described as Where the Blazed Trail Crosses the Boulevard. It included a luxuriously furnished log cabin that Fitch made his town house, with an adjoining casting pool.

By this time Abercrombie & Fitchs reputation as purveyor to the sporting elite already was well established. It had equipped Theodore Roosevelt for an African safari and also outfitted, or was soon going to outfit, polar expeditions led by Roald Amundsen and Admiral Richard Byrd and flights made by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Every president from Roosevelt to Gerald Ford eventually would buy something from the store.

Roaring Twenties and Depression Thirties

Fitch retired in 1928, selling his interest in the company to his brother-in-law, James S. Cobb, who became president, and an employee, Otis L. Guernsey, who became vice-president. In his first year at the helm, Cobb acquired a similar New York business, Von Lengerke & Detmold, respected for its European-made sporting guns and fishing tackle, and Von Lengerke & Antoine, the Chicago branch, which became a subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch but continued until 1959 under its own name. In 1930 Cobb bought Griffin & Howe, a gunsmith shop. The merchandise that Von Lengerke & Detmold and Griffin & Howe had in stock was added to the Madison Avenue store.

By this time Abercrombie & Fitch was selling outdoor and sporting equipment not only for hunting, fishing, camping, and exploration, but also for skating, polo, golf, and tennis. It also carried a variety of outdoor clothing, boots, and shoes for both men and women and cameras, pocket cutlery, and indoor games. In the 1920s Abercrombie & Fitch became the epicenter of the burgeoning mah-jongg craze and the place in New York to thumb ones nose at Prohibition by purchasing a hip flask. Also during the 1920s, Abercrombie & Fitch opened a summer-only store in Hyannis, Massachusetts, for the yachting set. Net sales and income, rising steadily in this decade, reached a record $6.3 million and $548,000, respectively, in 1929.

These figures would not be topped in the next decade. Sales, in the grip of the Great Depression, fell to $2,598,925 in fiscal year 1933 (ending January 31, 1933), when a loss of $521,118 was recorded, on top of a loss of $241,211 the previous year. During this period, Guernseys negotiations with the firms creditors probably saved it from collapse. Subsequent years were profitable, and in 1938 Abercrombie & Fitch resumed paying dividends. It also established golf and shooting schools in the store.

By 1939 Abercrombie & Fitch was calling itself The Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World. It boasted the worlds largest and most valuable collection of firearms and the widest assortment of fishing flies obtainable anywhere (15,000 in all) to accompany its array of rods, reels, and other fishing tackle. Riders, dog fanciers, skiers, and archers all found every conceivable type of gear. Guns and camping and fishing equipment accounted for 30 percent of the New York stores sales volume in 1938. Sales of clothing, shoes, and furnishings accounted for 45 percent. Inventory on hand was valued at about 40 percent of annual sales, an extremely high ratio that reflected Abercrombie & Fitchs readiness to meet its customers demands. Catalogue mail orders accounted for about ten percent of business.

Abercrombie & Fitch in Midcentury

Net profit during the 1940s was highest in fiscal year 1947, when it reached $682,894, which turned out to be an all-time record. In 1958 Abercrombie & Fitch opened a store in San Francisco. Soon after, it added small winter-only stores in Palm Beach and Sarasota, Florida, and summer stores in Bayhead, New Jersey, and Southampton, New York. Guernsey, who had succeeded Cobb as president, explained his firms mission at this time in frankly elitist terms: The Abercrombie & Fitch type does not care about the cost; he wants the finest quality.

The New York store remained, of course, the companys flagship. At the close of the 1950s the main floor sported heads of buffalo, caribou, moose, elk, and other big game, stuffed fish of spectacular size, and elephants-foot wastebaskets. Here were sold a variety of contraptions for indoor and outdoor pursuits. One corner held dog and cat items. The basement was given over to the shooting range, while the mezzanine contained paraphernalia for skindiving, archery, skiing, and lawn games. Floors two through five were reserved for clothing suitable for any terrain or climate. On floor six was a picture gallery and bookstore concentrating on sporting themes, a watch repair facility, and the golf school, complete with a resident pro. On the seventh floor, the gun room, besides more stuffed game heads, held about 700 shotguns and rifles, constituting the most lavish assemblage of sporting firearms on earth. The eighth floor was devoted to fishing, camping, and boating, and reserved a desk for the companys fly- and bait-casting instructor, who gave lessons at the pool on the roof. He also handled mail and telephone inquiries on fishing, hunting, and skiing. The fishing section alone stocked about 48,000 flies and 18,000 lures.

In fiscal 1960, net sales rose to a record $16.5 million, but net profit fell for the fourth straight year, to $185,649. The next year net sales fell below $15.5 million, and net profit dropped again, to $124,097. Nevertheless, Guernseys successor as president, John H. Ewing, saw no cause for alarm, rejecting the idea of a budget shop or splash ads for storewide sales. He told a Business Week interviewer in 1961 that Abercrombie & Fitch enjoyed a special niche by sticking to our knitting; by not trying to be all things to all people.

A Disastrous Decade: 19681977

During the 1960s Abercrombie & Fitch opened new stores in Colorado Springs; Short Hills, New Jersey; Bal Harbour, Florida; and Troy, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. It also opened small shops in other stores. And in 1968, a year in which riots in the ghettos, protests against the war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy seemed to be tearing the country apart, Abercrombie & Fitch was finally ready to shake up its way of doing business by holding a warehouse sale. More than 90,000 bemused customers sifted through the Manhattan store one summer day for bargains that included pop-up tents bought so far in the past that no one remembered how to pop them up, boots made of long-haired goatskin hide, miniature antique cannons, leather baby elephants, and Yukon dog sleds.

In early 1970 the store held another sale. A horde of hopefuls turned up to seize such bargains as a 15-foot inoperative hovercraft for $3 and eight $100 surfboards for $17 each. An offbeat newspaper advertising campaign followed that featured a single item, such as hunting shoes, accompanied by diagrams and copy that overwhelmed the reader with product information. If these antics indicated a measure of desperation, it was because Abercrombie & Fitch had recorded a loss of more than $500,000 in the latest fiscal year. In October 1970 William Humphreys, the new company president, said the ads would be changed and sales would cease because the people who showed up were not Abercrombie & Fitchs kind of customer.

In the ensuing years, Humphreys, a former Lord & Taylor executive, concentrated on cutting the company budget, improving inventory control and credit practices, and expanding into the suburbs. A new Abercrombie & Fitch store opened in Oak Brook, Illinois, north of Chicago. To win a broader range of clientele, the New York store moved its expensive sailboats upstairs from the main floor, expanded its gift and sportswear lines, added a discount clothing shop on the tenth floor, and hired new buyers for womens wear. Nevertheless, the company continued to lose money under Humphreys and his successor, Hal Haskell, its chief stockholder.

In August 1976, after a year in which the company had lost $1 million, Abercrombie & Fitch filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When it closed its doors for good in November 1977, post-mortems pointed out the obvious: the company had failed to make the transition from supplying fat-cat sportsmen of the old school to the skiers, bikers, and backpackers of the 1970s. One advertising man described management as ossified, and another said company officers had no faith in televisions ability to draw in customers even after its first TV commercials, in 1969, filled the store.

The Oshman Decade: 19781987

Oshmans Sporting Goods, a Houston-based chain, bought the Abercrombie & Fitch name, trademark, and mailing list in 1978 and opened a store in 1979 under the A&F name in Beverly Hills, California. Featuring a 52-page catalogue and eclectic merchandise, including exercise machines, Harris-tweed jackets, and $70 pith helmets, it also outfitted actor Jack Lemmon for an Alaskan fishing trip and Dodger baseball star Steve Garvey for grouse hunting in Minnesota. A bigger Dallas store opened in 1980, complete with $40,000 elephant guns and an Abercrombie Runabout sports convertible for $20,775.

Abercrombie & Fitch returned to New York City in 1984, opening in the renovated South Street Seaport area of lower Manhattan. By the end of 1986 the chain had grown to 26 stores, including a second Manhattan outlet in midtowns glitzy Trump Tower. Net sales reached an estimated $40 million to $45 million in 1985. The Oshman-owned Abercrombie & Fitch chain stocked relatively few hunting and fishing supplies or exotic items, concentrating on exercise machines, tennis rackets, golf clubs, and other paraphernalia of more contemporary interest, much of it designed exclusively for the chain. Mens and womens clothing departments featured business and casual dress as well as sportswear, and the gift departments offered an array of goods, including gourmet edibles.

An upbeat assessment of the new Abercrombie & Fitch by Chain Store Age Executive in September 1986 was followed by a more skeptical appraisal by Forbes six months later, which described the chains merchandise as a hodgepodge of unrelated items and concluded, Sometimes it is better to bury the dead than to try reviving them. Forbes estimated sales for fiscal 1986 at $48 million and profits at a so-so $1.5 million.

Expansion in the 1990s

In January 1988 The Limited, Inc. acquired 25 of the existing 27 Abercrombie & Fitch stores from Oshmans for about $45 million in cash. The organization was moved to corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and the inventory was cleared out. A stronger emphasis was placed on apparel, with 60 to 65 percent of the merchandise mens sportswear and furnishings, 20 to 25 percent womens wear, and the remaining 15 to 20 percent gifts, including grooming products and nature books. We cant get caught up in guns and fishing rods, the chains president, Sally Frame-Kasaks, a former womens-wear executive, told a Daily News Record reporter. Nearly all the goods were midpriced and bore an A&F label.

When Frame-Kasaks became chairman and chief executive officer of Ann Taylor in February 1992, she was succeeded as president of Abercrombie & Fitch by Michael Jeffries, a clothing merchandising executive. At this time the chain had 36 stores credited with annual sales of about $50 million. Sales grew to $85 million in 1992, $111 million in 1993, and $165 million in 1994. There were 67 Abercrombie & Fitch stores at the end of January 1995, compared to 49 a year earlier. A target of 102 stores, mostly in malls, was set for the end of 1995. The Abercrombie & Fitch division established new records for merchandise margin rate and profitability during 1994.

Further Reading

Abercrombie & Fitch. Fortune, July 1939, pp. 124. 230, 232. 234.

Abercrombies Misfire, Time, August 23. 1976. p. 55.

Caterer to the Outdoor Man. Business Week, December 16. 1961. pp. 8486, 89.

New Life for Troubled Chains. Chain Store Age Executive, September 1986, pp. 21, 24.

Palmieri, Jean E.. Abercrombie & Fitch Aim: 100 Units; S300M Sales, Daily News Record, June 14. 1991, p. 7.

Paris, Ellen. Endangered Species? Forbes, March 9, 1987, pp. 136137.

Sayre, Joel. The Twelve-Story Game Room. Holiday, December 1959.

Robert Halasz

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Abercrombie & Fitch Company

ABERCROMBIE & FITCH COMPANY

American sportswear and outerwear retailer

Founded: in 1892 by David Abercrombie to sell camping supplies; joined by Ezra Fitch to become Abercrombie & Fitch, providing exclusive outdoor needs, including clothing and equipment. Company History: Moved to new Madison Avenue digs, 1917; filed for bankruptcy, 1977; bought by Oshman's Sporting Goods, 1978; bought by The Limited, 1988; Michael Jeffries became CEO, 1992; back in black ink, 1995; went public, 1996; spun off by Limited, 1998; introduced children's stores, 1998; launched Hollister stores, for younger teens, 2000; also publishes A&F Quarterly catalogue/magazine. Company Address: 6301 Fitch Path, New Albany, OH 43054 USA. Company Website: www.abercrombie.com.

Publications

On ABERCROMBIE & FITCH:

Articles

Paris, Ellen, "Endangered Species? Abercrombie & Fitch," in Forbes, 9 March 1987.

Brady, James, "Abercrombie & Fitch Forgets Its Days of Hem &Wolfie," in Advertising Age, 31 August 1998.

Cuneo, Alice Z., "Abercrombie Helps Revive Moribund Brand via Frat Chic," in Advertising Age, 14 September 1998.

"Fashion's Frat Boy," in Newsweek, 13 September 1999.

Young, Vicki M., "Catalogue Controversy Rages on as More States Criticize A&F," in Women's Wear Daily, 8 December 1999.

Goldstein, Lauren, "The Alpha Teenager," in Forbes, 20 December 1999.

Perman, Stacy, "Abercrombie's Beefcake Brigade," in Time, 14February 2000.

Margaret McKegney, Margaret, "Brands Remain in the Closet for Gay TV Show," in Ad Age Global, December 2000.

Wilson, Eric, "A&F: The Butts Start Here," in Women's Wear Daily, 5 February 2001.

Elliott, Stuart, "Bowing to Nation's Mood, Retailer Cancels Issue of Racy Catalogue," in the New York Times, 17 October 2001.

***

Although Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has been around for about 110 years, most of its current customers could care less that it outfitted legendary explorers like arctic explorer Richard Byrd. The firm's clientéle is predominantly Generation X and Y, and the Abercrombie logo has gone way beyond its sturdy apparel and into the realm of cool.

Abercrombie & Fitch has come back from the brink of extinction several times since its founding in 1892 by David Abercrombie. Originally created to sell camping gear, Abercrombie met up with lawyer Ezra Fitch and expanded the business to include a myriad of products for the rugged outdoorsmen of the time. Yet A&F didn't cater to just anyone with a yen for adventure, but only to those who could afford to pay premium prices for high-quality goods. Among the firm's early adventurers were Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, Byrd, Charles "Lucky" Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart; the next generation included Winston Guest and macho sportsman and writer Ernest Hemingway.

The company did a bumper business until the 1960s, when flower power and environmental awareness began to seep into the American consciousness. Abercrombie & Fitch's atmospheric stores, with mounted animal heads and stuffed dead animals, were soon out of sync with a country awash in change and protest. The majority of A&F merchandise catered to hunting and fishing enthusiasts, and blood sports lost their popularity as the decade ended and the 1970s began. Although the firm valiantly tried to expand its wares to appeal to more customers, A&F filed for Chapter 11 in 1977.

Oshman's Sporting Goods bought A&F in 1978 and hoped to parlay its fame into a broad mix of sporting goods and apparel, as well as a wide range of other products. The rescue failed, despite repeated attempts to revive the Abercrombie cachet. In 1988, clothier The Limited Inc. acquired the struggling A&F for $47 million, along with its 27 stores. The Limited, however, was an evolving retailer itself, having bought Victoria's Secret, Penhaligon's, Henri Bendel, and others in quick succession. The future of A&F, however, came in the form of Michael Jeffries, who took the reins as chief executive in 1992, when there were 35 rather unimpressive A&F stores dotting the nation. Jeffries had an unusual way of conducting business, from his 29-page employee manual to his maniacal detailing of each and every store.

Jeffries' know-how and marketing savvy were put to the test. He drastically overhauled Abercrombie's image to appeal to a younger, hipper crowd, doing away with anything but apparel and accessories. Jeffries wanted to entice the collegiate crowd into A&F and did so with creative advertising and making each A&F store a cool place to visit and spend money, with blaring popular music and a sales staff with attitude. By 1995 the retailer was not only in the black but a true cultural phenomenon. Abercrombie's logoed t-shirts and cargo pants became the must-have apparel for teenagers on up, which happened to be the fastest growing segment in retail.

To keep the momentum going, Jeffries initiated the A&F Quarterly (a slick magazine-like catalogue they call the "magalogue") and aggressive advertising. Both measures received much attention but brought the ire of parents, advocacy groups, and politicians when some of the material offered drinking tips and some content was deemed pornographic. Like Calvin Klein before him, Jeffries had pushed the envelope too far but had no remorse or plans to change his ways. In 1999 the company ran its first television ads, and the company hit a staggering milestonebreaking the $1-billion sales threshold.

By the end of the 20th century, the A&F magalogue was marketed only to more mature kids (18 and older with an ID to prove it) because of its emphasis on sex and "college-age" pursuits like partying. The younger crowd, of course, and virtually anyone buying Abercrombie had already bought the image along with the jeans, baggy pants, cargo shorts, and t-shirts. Though sales remained relatively solid, A&F had its share of troubles in the new millennium. Stock prices tumbled, its television ads didn't quite hit the mark, and as always, the firm continued to receive criticism for its A&F Quarterly. Oddly, in an instance when Jeffries could have reached millions of television viewers with his products, he refused to allow A&F clothing to appear in Showtime's Queer As Folk seriesfeaturing young, hip, sexually active teens and adults doing all the things A&F showcased in its magalogue, with the exception that these pretty boys and girls were gay.

By 2001 Abercrombie had attempted to delineate its customers into three categories: for the younger or preteen crowd, it had launched Abercrombie stores in 1998; for teens and high schoolers, there was the newly introduced Hollister Co. in 2000; and older, college-aged buyers remained prime targets of traditional A&F stores. The latter group was also those to whom A&F Quarterly was addressed, but Jeffries seemed to have gone too far with the 2001 issue featuring the usual bevy of naked males and females. Bowing to pressure Jeffries pulled the issue, titled XXX, despite pleas that the magalogue was wrapped in plastic (like Playboy ) and sold only to those with proof of their age.

Abercrombie & Fitch has proven itself a purveyor of more than just style, but of fashion advocating a particular lifestyle. Some quarrel with the firm's message and methods, but millions continue to pay premium prices for the simple apparel emblazoned with its name.

NellyRhodes

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