Trading on its century-old name, Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) sells upscale men's, women's, and kids' casual clothes and accessories -- quite a change from when the company outfitted Ernest Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt for safari. A&F operates about 1,045 stores in Asia, throughout North America and in Europe, and also sells via catalog and online. Its carefully selected college-age sales staff and use of 20-something models imbue its stores with an upscale fraternity-house feel. A&F runs a fast-growing chain of some 570 teen stores called Hollister, and a chain targeted at boys and girls ages seven to 14 called abercrombie. Its Aussie-inspired, just-for-girls brand, Gilly Hicks, has about 20 stores.
After a rough patch during the recession during which shoppers shunned its pricey apparel, A&F has logged its second consecutive year of strong sales growth. In fiscal 2012 (ends January), sales popped 20% vs. the prior year, and same-store sales (those at stores open for at least a year) grew by 5%, after rising 7% in fiscal 2011. Double-digit sales increases from its international and direct-to-consumer operations, up 74% and 36%, respectively, were growth drivers for the company. By comparison, sales at its stores in the US rose just 6% in fiscal 2012 vs. 2011.
While the sales picture was rosy, net income fell 15%. (Write downs, costs associated with closing underperforming US stores, and other charges hurt profitability.) A&F has been closing unprofitable stores in the US, while expanding its international presence. New markets for the company include Austria, China, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Singapore. A&F began its international expansion when sales headed south in the US and continues to look abroad for growth even as its sales rebound at home. Indeed, international expansion is key to the retailer's growth strategy.
A&F has aggressively culled its US store count, closing more than 100 locations over the past two years, including all of its high-end RUEHL chain stores (launched in 2005). Hollister, which accounts for nearly half of the company's sales, is A&F's fastest-growing chain both at home and abroad. Since its launch in 2008 Gilly Hicks -- an Aussie-inspired purveyor of bras and underwear for young women. -- has grown to nearly 20 locations, including several overseas. The chain competes with Victoria's Secret Pink line of intimate apparel for young women.
The investment firm FMR LLC owns about 15% of the company's shares. – less