VodkaPundit

Fall into The Gap

(Shutterstock image)

Ouch:

“This has been a disastrous quarter for Gap and one during which all of its main engines stalled and went into reverse,” said Neil Saunders, chief executive of research firm Conlumino.

While sales have been falling at the company’s Banana Republic and Gap brands, recent declines at Old Navy pose a bigger challenge for the 47-year old retailer.

“While the (Old Navy) brand has been the star of the show for many quarters, the past few collections have been dull and uninspiring,” Saunders said.

If you don’t recognize the headline to this post, it’s Gap’s ad jingle from 40 years ago or longer. Their brand back then was so strong — selling jeans and t-shirts in every conceivable size for every conceivable customer — that the jingle is still stuck in my memory. In the ’70s when Gap was expanding across the country, that kind of broad selection had been unheard-of. But by sticking with simple items anyone could wear (jeans, t-shirts, done), they were able to stock a seemingly infinite array of sizes.

Gap has broadened it range since then of course — and it’s a good thing, too. An internet-based retailer like Zappos or Amazon can stock an endless array of sizes and an endless array of product. When you don’t have to maintain a brick & mortar store in every mall and retail center in America, it becomes possible to beat The (Old) Gap at the jeans & t-shirts game, while giving broader retailers like Macy’s and Dillard’s a run for their money, too.

But The (New) Gap seems to have evolved to fit the times. Their product line is still geared towards the jeans & t-shirts crowd, but a little more up-market and with well-made products. I ordered a few tennis shirts for my 10-year-old a few weeks ago, and was impressed enough with the fit and materials, that I ordered a couple of oxford shirts for myself. They’re well-made, I love the cut, and they’re great right out of the dryer to go with jeans, or even with khakis and a sport coat.

Combined with any one of a number of coupons Gap sends me almost daily, the price was right, too. With a renewed focus on what made The (Old) Gap great, The (New) Gap could once again be the goto-store for shoppers looking for casual, classic American style combined with good value.

The real problem might be with Gap corporation’s non-The Gap stores: Banana Republic and Old Navy.

Banana Republic used to be this fun & funky collection of whatever clothing happened to catch the fancy of Mel & Patricia Ziegler in their travels around the world. One year they were selling a field coat that was a replica of something they’d found in Tanzania — from before it was Tanzania, from before it was Tanganyika, from way back when it was Imperial German East Africa. Man, when you were wearing a century-old design from a defunct colonial army of a defunct empire, you were wearing something nearly unique.

I once had a button-up shirt from BR which looked like it had been crafted out of mattress ticking — and the shirt was cool, comfortable, and wicked away sweat like nothing else I’ve owned before or since.

One catalog I remember from high school featured nothing but stuff the Zieglers found on their walking tour of Scotland’s hills and valleys, and I decided then and there that I was going to buy one of those super-warm sweaters and go on my own stumbling tour of Scotland, from distillery to distillery.

It was a great brand, always fun and surprising. Now Banana Republic sells nice, safe clothes. I went through their website before writing this article, and didn’t see anything fun, funky, or surprising. What a waste of what used to be such a charming brand.

And Old Navy, Gap’s discount chain? The last time Melissa or I bought school clothes there for our oldest boy, they were all either worn out or stretched out long before he outgrew them. We put some away for hand-me-downs for his little brother, but in the end they hadn’t held up well enough for even a Salvation Army donation. So I’m not sure what Old Navy’s brand is, other than “Inexpensive and not built to last.” Clothes don’t have to be made to last if they’re supposed to be disposable fashions — but it doesn’t take many “dull and uninspiring” fashion misses to turn buyers away completely.

Gap corporate seemed to have had a smart business plan, sort of a clothing version of General Motors old formula of “a car for every purse and purpose.” Old Navy would cover the low end, Gap the middle, and Banana Republic for more upscale customers. But management seems to have extended beyond the company’s core competencies in both directions. Price-conscious fashion customers aren’t finding enough fashion in Old Navy’s wares, and spendier customers aren’t finding much worth spending on at BR.

Perhaps their best course would be to sell off the two brands the company can’t seem to manage very well, and fall back into The Gap.