Abercrombie & Fitch returning to prestigious spot in sports?
These stories originally appeared on Sunday, June 29, 1980, when Abercrombie & Fitch was a sporting goods retailer, before it became the current mall staple that sells teen apparel. They have been edited for length.
Abercrombie & Fitch, for 85 years the sporting goods store for American and international society, may be THE sporting goods store of the 1980s.
Prior to going broke in 1977, the New York-based store outfitted socialites for hunting and fishing expeditions, safaris and the simpler sports.
Its merchandise included everything from handmade canoes to elephant guns. From the exotic to the practical, A&F was the place where society bought its gear.
A victim of changing times, Abercrombie & Fitch, which had lost money every year since 1970, closed its doors in the fall of 1977.
Oshman’s Sporting Goods Inc., the nation’s largest sporting goods chain in terms of stores, 91, purchased the Abercrombie & Fitch name from the First National Bank of Chicago, A&F’s largest lender. The price was $1.5 million or 1 percent of sales over the next 15 years, whichever is greater.
Alvin N. Lubetkin, vice chairman and chief executive officer of Oshman’s, has no doubt that sales will exceed the $1.5 million guarantee.
“The Abercrombie & Fitch name is still magic,” said Lubetkin at Oshman’s general headquarters off the Gulf Freeway.
To help handle the expanded operations that A&F is generating, the company has recently added 20,000 square feet at its headquarters, bringing the total to 200,000 square feet.
“With catalogue orders for Abercrombie & Fitch now coming to Houston, we have purchased the four acres adjacent to the main building,” said Lubetkin. He said part of this tract will be converted immediately to a warehouse and fulfillment center with the remainder available for future expansion.
Abercrombie & Fitch will open its second store this summer in Dallas. The new unit, with 26,000 square feet, will be considerably larger than the first A&F which opened last September on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
“The Dallas store will have a different mix than the one in Beverly Hills,” said Lubetkin. “We are still experimenting with store modes, although I must say that sales in the Beverly Hills unit certainly exceeded expectations.”
Although Abercrombie & Fitch is an exciting project, Oshman´s certainly is not being neglected. Lubetkin says that nine more stores will be opened this year, all in the Sun Belt.
Talking with Lubetkin one senses that Abercrombie & Fitch is more than a project to the Oshman’s CEO, it is the all-American Dream.
“In Abercrombie & Fitch,” Lubetkin says, “we have an enormous diamond in the rough. And we have all the fine jewelers needed to shape it into numerous sparklers.
Lubetkin said that while people talk of the recession, “the sporting goods business is a growing business, year in and year out. “He said that generally people have more time, more money and a desire to participate in physical activities.
“They are challenging themselves and challenging us to meet their demands. We think we can do this better than anyone else,” Lubetkin said.
While the A&F stores and their expansion are creating excitement in the front office, an extra plus for the future is catalogue sales. Both Lubetkin and Jerry Nanna, recently named president of A&F, see great possibilities.
“The catalogue is an investment,” Lubetkin said. “As shoppers become more aware of our existence, I am certain this side of the business will become highly profitable.”
Nanna, who has been involved in high fashion retailing since 1963, was hired away from Lord & Taylor, where he was regional vice president in Detroit.
“This type of challenge is a retailer’s dream,” said Nanna. “In Abercrombie & Fitch, we think we have a national franchise (a store that would be popular coast to coast) some place. Not only do I think the 1980s will be the decade for A&F, but what we learn from this will enhance Oshman’s.”
Nanna said A&F will experiment with store modes the rest of this year. “We are going through a learning period, and while we don’t have a fix yet, we do have a concept and will continue to refine it.”
“That’s right, we’ll just run with the two stores the rest of this year,” said Lubetkin. “We will monitor these, make the change needed, then next spring we will come out running.”
When expansion comes, will New York be one of the cities on the list?
“Well, I just can’t believe we could have A&F expanding in major cities without having a major operation in the city where it all started,” said Lubetkin.
The A&F expansion will mean that Oshman´s will be leaving the Sun Belt for the first time. It currently has stores in Texas, Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee.
The Oshman’s CEO also said he and Nanna and the A&F crew are currently studying a boutique type of Abercrombie & Fitch, one that would range from 6,000 to 7,000 square feet, for specialty areas such as the Galleria. Lubetkin says this smaller version of A&F probably will make its debut next year.
Lubetkin said these units probably will be called “The Best of Abercrombie & Fitch” and will be located in the nation’s best shopping malls.
To show how much magic the A&F name still has, a pair of hand-made, 20-gauge shotguns were advertised in the 1979 catalogue for $55,000. These Holland & Holland guns, made in London, sold promptly.
Lubetkin said the most popular item in the 1979 catalogue was electric razors, especially those made in Austria for A&F. A close second was the Flattie, a women’s walking shoe.
The slogan for the revitalized A&F is “the adventure goes on.” And no one is enjoying this adventure any more than Lubetkin and Nanna, who are carefully sculpting the niche A&F will occupy in the sporting world.
A short time with this pair and one feels that Abercrombie & Fitch will be wearing its crown as the world’s greatest sporting goods store by the end of this decade.
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A&F lost sight of what it was
How can a store like Abercrombie & Fitch go bellyup after being the world’s most famous sporting goods store for 85 years?
Oshman head Alvin N. Lubetkin feels the company lost sight of what it was.
“In the last 10 years of its existence, Abercrombie & Fitch had five different presidents and in this period, they got into the wrong things trying to turn the store around,” said Lubetkin.
Lubetkin said Abercrombie & Fitch management did not read the sports boom correctly, that they moved into clothing areas where they were not a leader and did not meet the needs of the middle class and upper middle class when the active sports explosion came.
Cartoons in the New Yorker helped keep the A&F image going for several years after it had lost its status. One of my favorites showed a hoodlum exchanging shots through a window with the police while his “moll” calmly pulled on her gloves and said, “I am going by Abercrombie & Fitch, shall I get you any ammo?”
Another pictured a man in a telephone booth with a huge black bear holding each side. The caption read, “Hello, Abercrombie & Fitch?”
– Tommy Thompson