Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Gap at the end of the road.

Poor “the Gap”. You know the Gap. The store you are your friends used to flock to for yuppie splendor. The creator of the khaki. The height of casual style driving out the boardroom suits for less suits more chino Monday to Friday in the office world. Marketing and advertising to die for. Photography by Annie Leibowitz – and then the ultimate in pop culture status points. The Saturday Night Live sketch with gap girls ordering the customer to “sinch it” with a sneer at the lowly gap newbie.

Fast forward to Fall 2006 and the holiday season and wha happened??? The whole bottom fell out. Sales down 4.3%. Desperate face ads imploring you to get funky – find the seventies – embrace singer Seal. Stores full of merchandise – crammed in the blonde wooden fixtures. Shoved in the t-racks – crumbled by the dressing room all for HALF PRICE – 75% off – CLEARANCE – SALE SALE SALE.

Slamming ANYTHING out the door at discount prices – buy two! Three! Your cousin will need four! Puhllleasseeee buy from us. It was frankly disturbing, unseemly, and desperate.

As January draws to a close the suspicion that all is not well in the house of Gap was confirmed as Goldman Saks was brought in to “explore all options” and presumably put the chain on the chopping block and bring a close to the Yuppie couture chapter of American retail.

So what can we learn from this? Well a few thoughts that come to mind:

Know who you are.
Not too long ago the wheels came off the Gap train when they lost focus. Were they selling to teens? Twenty-somethings? Boomers? Up to the mid-nineties Gap knew who their audience was – once that was lost, retailers loose. Never loose focus of who your customer is. To do so spells disaster and desperate buying with little consistency.

Don’t slice up the pie.
Lets face it. As soon as the Gap started opening Old Navy’s on every street corner flogging fun yet poorly manufactured product in cheap cotton with aging 60’s TV stars imploring you to buy the 9.99 jeans – someone at Gap shoulda wondered what would happen when you slice the market that way. Big surprise – why shop at the Gap when you can walk down the mall and buy the same thing for half the price?

If you don’t know your market – don’t hire a “star”
Gap “jumped the shark” the day they hired Madonna to star in TV ads – who was she appealing to? With her uber-yogisized 40 something bod bouncing on stage that was as likely to appeal to the boomer masses as it was to the teen boys and girls. Similarly, Sarah Jessica Parker was all sex in the city but hardly sexy gap.

You’re only the “It” girl for so long
Sometimes you’re in, and then, for a while, you’re out. Gap forgot this adage and instead of changing with the times stole a page from the Levis operation and just firmly refused to change. An angry, petulant “It” girl for years will bore your customers. You gotta stay with the pulse and with the customer interest. Otherwise, you’re the only Girl not going to the prom.

A Final thought. Last week the Tower City Gap in Cleveland, OH announced it is closing and will be filled by Forever 21. Another “It” girl is in the market – and she’s stealing Gap’s scepter... .

Mark Patten
MacEwan Bookstores

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