David Abercrombie founded the A&F in 1892 as a sporting goods store. Forming a partnership with Ezra Fitch, the company continued to economically expand into 20th century. After Abercrombie left, Fitch became sole owner and ushered in the “Fitch Years” of continued success. After his retirement, the company fell under succeeding leaders until its financial fall and closed doors in 1977. Limited Brands purchased the ailing brand in 1988 and brought in Mike Jeffries who completely revolutionized the image of Abercrombie & Fitch in to an upscale youthful fashion retailer. Today, the company continues to experience economic expansion through the introduction of four growing concepts and cautious international expansion into key markets. Prominent figures who patronized the company in its excursion goods, early-20th century days include Teddy Roosevelt , Amelia Earhart, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, John Steinbeck, John F. Kennedy, Ernest Shackleton and Dwight Eisenhower.
David Abercrombie & Ezra Fitch
The company was originally established as Abercrombie Co. by David Abercrombie on June 4, 1892, as a small waterfront shop at No.36 South Street in downtown Manhattan, New York. Wealthy New York lawyer Ezra Fitch became one of the store’s regular customers. In 1900, Fitch left his law practice and bought a major share into the growing Abercrombie company and thus joined as co-founder. Abercrombie Co. later moved into larger quarters at 314 Broadway, and Fitch began to implement experimental ideas to renovate the store. In 1904, Fitch’s surname was incorporated and so the official name was changed to Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Partnership between the founders did not end well. The two men, envisioning different ideas for the future of A&F, quarreled frequently while the company continued to prosper. Fitch wished to expand the company’s appeal to the general public, whereas Abercrombie wanted to continue selling professional gear to professional outdoorsmen. As a result, Abercrombie sold his share in the company to Fitch in 1907 and returned to manufacturing outdoor goods. Fitch continued the business with other partners and directed the company as he pleased. Ezra Fitch wanted his store to have an ambient, outdoor atmosphere. His strategy to expand the company included the creation of a mail-order catalog.
In 1909, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. mailed over 50,000 copies of its 456 page catalog worldwide (a staggering and costly amount of publication at that time, each cost a dollar to produce).The catalog featured outdoor clothing, camping gear, articles, and advice columns. The cost of the catalog nearly bankrupted the company, but the catalog proved to be a profitable marketing device. Within the store, the catalog was available to customers for free. By 1910, the company became the first store in New York to supply clothing to women as well as men. In 1913, after moving into Reade Street, which was not a convenient shopping location for women, the store relocated to a more fashionable and easily accessible midtown address near Fifth Avenue at 55/57 West 36th Street, expanding its inventory to include sportswear. In 1917, the store moved again into a twelve-story building at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 45th Street. The store occupied the entire available space (12 stories). The Madison Avenue store included many different amenities. The basement roomed a shooting range while on the mezzanine (main floor) and paraphernalia for skiing, archery, skin-diving, and lawn games. The second through fifth floors were reserved for clothing that was suitable for different climate or terrains. On the sixth floor, there was a picture gallery, a bookstore (focused on sporting themes), a watch repair facility and a golf school (fully equipped with a resident professional). The seventh floor included a gun room, stuffed game heads, hundreds of shotguns and rifles, and a dog and cat kennel. The eighth floor contained fishing, camping, and boating equipments and included a desk that belonged to a fly- and bait-casting instructor who gave lessons at the pool, which was located on the roof. The fishing section of the store alone was stocked with over 48,000 flies and over 18,000 fishing lures. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. became the first American store to import Mahjong. Ezra Fitch imported the game after a female customer looked for the game that she had played in China. He went to China for the game and translated the instructions into English. Mahjong became a fast selling product, and Abercrombie & Fitch became the epicenter of the Mahjong craze. The company sent emissaries to Chinese villages to buy as many Mahjong sets as possible and eventually sold over 12,000 sets. In 1927, Abercrombie & Fitch outfitted Charles Lindbergh for his historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean. By then, the company began to attract a few prominent figures. In 1928, Fitch retired from the company and sold his shares to his brother-in-law, James S. Cobb. Soon Cobb became president and Otis L. Guernsey, an employee of the store, became vice president. Cobb acquired for the company Von Lengerke & Detmold and Von Lengerke & Antoine (the Chicago branch). Von Lengerke & Detmold was a well-respected company in New York, a maker of fine European-made sporting guns and fishing tackle, in the same industry as Abercrombie & Fitch. Cobb also acquired another gunsmith company, Griffin & Howe. Both Von Lengerke & Detmold/Griffin & Howe merchandise were placed in stock in the Madison Avenue store. At this point A&F also provided equipment for polo, golf, and tennis. By 1929, sales of 6.3 million USD were reported with net sales of $548,000 USD. During the Great Depression, the company’s revenue decreased and stopped paying dividends. Sales plunged to $2,598,925 in 1933. A&F recovered in the following years and resumed paying dividends in 1938. During the year, sales from guns accounted for 40% of total sales at the Madison Avenue store. Clothing, shoes, and furnishings accounted for 45%, while inventory was valued at about 40% of annual sales (reflecting A&F’s readiness to meet customer demands). 10% of the business was credited towards the catalogue mail orders. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. continued to expand. In 1939, it adopted the slogan, “The Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World”.It offered a massive collection of firearms, fishing flies to accompany rods, reels, and other fishing tackle. The highest record for net profit was $682,894 in 1947. Abercrombie & Fitch opened a store in San Francisco in 1958 and soon opened small winter-only stores in Palm Beach, Florida and Sarasota, Florida, and summer stores in Bay Head, New Jersey, and Southampton, New York. Guernsey succeeded Cobb as president. He is known to have remarked, “The Abercrombie & Fitch type does not care about the cost; he wants the finest quality.” With so many locations now under the control of Abercrombie & Fitch, the Madison Avenue store remained the flagship store. In the 1950s, the main floor of the flagship was remodeled to include heads of buffalo, caribou, moose, elk, and other big game, stuffed fish of spectacular size, and elephant’s-foot wastebaskets. In 1960, net sales rose to $16.5 million, but the net profit fell for the fourth straight year to $185,649. By 1961, net sales dropped to $15.5 million USD, and net profit to $124,097 USD. The new president and successor of Guernsey, John H. Ewing, paid little attention to the decline in sales. In 1961, he told an interviewer of Business Weekly that Abercrombie & Fitch enjoyed a special niche “by sticking to our knitting; by not trying to be all things to all people.” Throughout the 1960s, A&F opened locations in Colorado Springs, San malls in Short Hills, New Jersey (1963), Bal Harbor, Florida (1966), Troy, Michigan (1969). It also opened small shops in other stores. In 1964 Abercrombie and Fitch achieved a notable early example of the “brand integration” form of product placement by providing the notional venue for part of the Rock Hudson / Paula Prentiss romantic comedy film Man’s Favorite Sport? Abercrombie and Fitch held a warehouse sale in 1968 and early 1970 and presented offbeat newspaper advertisements that reflected a measure of desperation. Abercrombie & Fitch continued to drop in revenue with a loss of about US$500,000 in its previous fiscal year. Noticing the effect that the ads and sale-days had upon the Abercrombie & Fitch customer base, the next president William Humphreys, a former Lord & Taylor executive, halted the measures. He focused on A&F’s inventory control and credit practices by cutting the company’s budget; changed the store design to present a different image; expanded into the suburbs;, and opened a location in Oak Brook, Illinois in 1972. Noticing that the A&F offbeat ads were bringing in customers “not of classic Abercrombie & Fitch material,” A&F ceased its mis-directing ads and sale-days in October 1970. Presentation within the flagship changed as well to provide a more new look for clientele. Expensive sailboats were moved from upstairs to the main floor, a discount clothing section was introduced on the tenth floor, sportswear lines were expanded, and new buyers for women’s apparel were hired. The changes did not improve sales performance and the company continued to decline financially under Humphreys and his successor Hal Haskell, who was a major stockholder of the company. After losing $1 million USD in 1975, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 1976 and finally closed doors in November 1977. Oshman’s, a sporting goods retailer, acquired Abercrombie & Fitch Co. in 1978 for $1.5 million. It opened an Abercrombie & Fitch store in 1979 in Beverly Hills, California, and another in Dallas, Texas, which was bigger and sported $40,000 USD elephant guns and an “Abercrombie Runabout sports convertible” worth $20,775 USD. Stores continued to open in South Street Seaport and Trump Tower and catered towards contemporary interests of golf, exercise, and tennis. Clothing collections for men and women carried business and casual dress, and sportswear. Forbes described the merchandise as “a hodgepodge of unrelated items” and that “sometimes it is better to bury the dead than to try reviving them.” Abercrombie & Fitch continued to struggle as Oshman’s struggled itself to develop a strong identity for the company. In 1988, Limited Brands acquired the ailing company for $47 million after having success in popularizing Express and Victoria’s Secret. Headquarters was moved to Columbus, Ohio, and all inventory was cleared out. The new president of Abercrombie & Fitch, Sally Frame-Kasaks, placed a strong emphasis on apparel.Michael S. Jeffries, a clothing executive, took over as president in 1992. He popularized the brand to a teen apparel merchandiser from an ailing sports brand. He believed that focusing the A&F brand towards the American teen market would be financially beneficial as that sector of retail economy was said to be growing at a record rate at the time. The new Abercrombie & Fitch reopened shortly afterwards with a preppy outdoors theme reminiscent of the company’s original roots. He desired to have Bruce Weber, known for his sexual beefcake photography, as the photographer for the brand, but could not do so until the company gained financial success.
The apparel consisted of woven shirts, denim, miniskirts, cargo shorts, wool sweaters, polo shirts, and t-shirts. Its prices were unprecedentedly high in the teen apparel industry. Sales rose $85 million in 1992, $111 million in 1993, and to $165 million in 1994. 49 stores were opened by 1994, 6 January 7, 1995, and 102 was aimed by the end of 1995. In 1994, new records for merchandise margin rate and profitability were established by Abercrombie & Fitch for its parent, The Limited. To maintain popularity and to keep up with teen trends, Jeffries hired executives to keep up on popular teenage clothing, music, and entertainment. By the mid-1990s, there were dozens of Abercrombie & Fitch stores in the United States. On September 26, 1996, The Limited, Inc. took Abercrombie & Fitch public on the New York Stock Exchange with the ticker symbol “ANF” and with the per share offering as $16. In late 1990s, the company began to opt building stores only averaging between 8,000 to 20,000 square feet (700 to 2,000 m²) in high-volume retail centers around the country. It also launched the canoe store prototype of white facade and interior gray walls to accommodate the growth of its brand.
In 1997, Abercrombie & Fitch launched A&F Quarterly. The publication included photography, interviews and articles about sex, pop culture, and other teen interests. In 1998, the company introduced its first subsidiary, Abercrombie. The concept was designed as the Abercrombie & Fitch for a younger clientele between the ages on 7-14. In 1999 began a 3-year-long class action lawsuit in which Abercrombie & Fitch was one of several American retailers involved for its sweatshops in Saipan. Revenue recorded for Abercrombie & Fitch at the end of fiscal 1998 was at $805.2 million USD. By 1998, Abercrombie & Fitch went became an independent company, and Mike Jeffries assumed the position of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. As the brand regained its prominence, industry analysts began to speculate how long Abercrombie and Fitch would be able to retain its popularity.Analysts predicted that A&F would fall from popularity, but sales continued escalating after a provocative Christmas 1999 in which the A&F Quarterly issue of the season featured sexually explicit content that drew angry complaints. In 1999, the A&F also launched “A&F TV”, which featured young people engaged in sports and leisure activities. A&F TV was originally developed to run on cable television and on monitors in Abercrombie & Fitch stores. It was soon removed. Revenue for fiscal 1999 was at $1.030 billion USD. The overall approach of Abercrombie & Fitch, by the end of the decade, to its customers seemed to please male shoppers more than females, who shopped more frequently at competitor shops. Throughout the 1990s, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. enjoyed sales of over $400/ft2 ($4300/m2). By December 1999, Abercrombie & Fitch operated a total of 212 stores nationwide. Entering into the 21st century, Abercrombie & Fitch was rated as the sixth most popular brand before Nintendo and Levi’s by teenagers. The company introduced its third brand, Hollister Co., in July 2000. The third concept was based on Southern California surf lifestyle, and was targeted towards high school students.
After Hollister lowered the revenue of Abercrombie & Fitch, the company launched the Ezra Fitch collection, and began producing A&F clothing with higher grade materials, increasing the prices. In 2001, the company moved into a new 300-acre (1.2 km2) home office in New Albany, Ohio. Headquarters were further expanded by 2003. Also in 2003, the company released its last issue of A&F Quarterly after amounting complaints. After successfully launching Hollister, the company introduced its fourth brand RUEHL No.925 for older consumers, 22 through 35, on September 24, 2004. Revenue continued to escalate as sales are reported at $2.021 billion for 2004. In November 2005, the company completed construction of the first Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store on Fifth Avenue.
By this time, the company began to use its trademark Casual Luxury for promotion. Revenue reported for 2005 was $2.021 Billion. Abercrombie & Fitch began its Canadian expansion in January 2006 when the company opened two Abercrombie & Fitch stores and three Hollister Co. stores in Toronto and Edmonton. By fall 2006, a third Canadian Abercrombie & Fitch store opened in the Toronto Eaton Centre. Also in the year, the brand opened a west coast flagship in The Grove at Farmers Market. Revenue reported for 2006 is $3.318 billion, an increase of over $1.297 billion from 2005. Beginning 2007, the canoe stores were revamped with dark louvers (see right image). On March 22, 2007 Abercrombie & Fitch opened its first European flagship in London at 7 Burlington Gardens in Savile Row. The store generated a volume of $280,000 (around £140,000 GBP) in its first 6hours of operation. The flagship remains one of the most profitable A&F locations. Revenue reached record heights in 2007 with an overall sales of $3.749 billion.
On January 21, 2008, Abercrombie & Fitch introduced its fifth concept, the intimate apparel brand Gilly Hicks. Inspired by Down Under, it is officially labeled as the “Cheeky cousin of Abercrombie & Fitch.” In April 2008, A&F re launched A&F Quarterly for release in the UK flagship. On August 31, 2008, the “bright and insightful” company director Allan A. Tuttle died. By December 22, corporate announced that it had produced a new employment agreement with Mike Jeffries set to expire in 2014. For the first time in its recent history, A&F suffered a financial decrease to $3.540 billion revenue for fiscal 2008. The blame was to the current economic recession, and also to the fact that the company refused to lower price points and offer sales citing brand image-protection. Early in January 2009, the company reported the worst drop in sales and shares. By the end of the month, 50 employees lost their jobs and many positions were still unoccupied. 170 more employees were dismissed in May. In a difficult but necessary move, A&F announced the closure of its ailing Ruehl No.925 brand on 17 June 2009 by January 2010.
The London Flagship store
Abercrombie & Fitch, open its first ever store in London in a Grade II listed building. The shop – in Burlington Gardens - is retailer’s first ever venture into Europe. Mike Jeffries, the chairman and chief executive of Abercrombie & Fitch, said: “We are thrilled by the opening of the London store, which will truly become a worldwide flagship. Its location in one of the most historic districts in the retail world will provide an extraordinary showcase for the Abercrombie & Fitch brand.” The company said the building in Burlington Gardens, originally built as a home in 1725, had been restored over 18 months to incorporate the brand with the historical attributes.
In all honestly, we liked the layout and concept of the store, a grade 2 listed building with lots of small wooden rooms and the American varsity style paintings, giving it the ‘All American’ feel the US stores all have. However, the prices were much higher than the American stores. So if you are visiting London, check out Abercrombie & Fitch (and the topless man on the door!) at 7 Burlington Gardens, London ,W1S 3ES.