Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Prospects for GAP as a clothing retailer

A really great analysis of the company can be found at "Can Gap Effectuate a Successful Turnaround?" The statement by the author that "You can’t be an edgy clothing retailer when you’re selling large volumes of goods to your desired market’s parents" should be carved into the wall of every Gap executive's office. I am in my late thirties and used to shop at Gap stores because they consistently had the basics, i.e. business casual and denim. When sales growth started to flatten because they had saturated the market with their stores, they started flailing around with more bizarre items and that pretty much turned me off. Their gimmick commercials with retread rock stars did damage to the Gap brand as far as younger shoppers were concerned, as well. Also, there is a limit to how much of the basics a clothing purchaser needs, especially those in their thirties and forties. You aren't growing physically(hopefully) so a few purchases of khakis, some polo shirts, and some denim jeans and shorts is going to last you a while. So I think that the Gap business is going to have to accept that it is a mature business and will need to be managed as a dividend-generating business. Based on that, I agree with the authors points of the signs of a Gap turnaround are:

1) Reestablishing the brand, with the first key being the company behaving as if it’s in touch with the customers it wishes to court.
2) A new attempt to court the female shopper in the 35-45 age range, only with them sticking with it this time around and getting the job done.
3) A stronger and more stable product mix that appears in tune with the Gap’s efforts to rebuild its brand.

as far as the Gap line is concerned.

I think that the Old Navy line should just be liquidated; long-term I don't think that the business model can survive against Target and Walmart. When your kids are shopping for discount clothes, they don't want to advertise the brand when they wear the clothes. Perhaps they could negotiate a deal to sell Old Navy branded product through Walmart's stores and eliminate the store overhead they have now.

Last time I looked, Banana Republic's prices were significantly higher for similar items that Gap's. I see BR as competing with Nordstrom. I suppose Gap's theory is that once you get to a certain income level you will shift to shopping at BR from Gap. That doesn't make any sense because it's shifting sales around within the company as a whole.

My answer to the question of "does the Gap actually understand its problems?" is that I don't think Gap management understands its problems and is basically throwing darts and hoping they hit something. I think the best course of action would be for a breakup of the company. Spin off BR as an independent company, liquidate Old Navy stores and cut a deal to market the product through an established big-box discounter, and focus on the Gap brand by reinforcing the denim and business casual product line and accept a position as a value stock rather than a growth stock.

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