retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We keep getting email about the internet firestorm taking place over comments made by Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, in which he essentially said that he really only wants slim, good looking people to come into his stores and buy his clothes, and that he's really only interested in marketing to cool people - to the point that the company does not even make large sizes. "Are we exclusionary? Absolutely," he said ... in an interview that took place in 2006.

I thought that while niche marketing can be an excellent strategy, using such inelegant language rarely is, especially since often it is sometimes not-so-attractive people who actually buy stuff for attractive people, and A&F has just become a less appealing option than, say, J. Crew. I also argued that this is a great example of how information live son the internet in perpetuity.

One MNB user responded:

Many in Abercrombie & Fitch’s target audience might be just fine with the attitude and comments expressed by CEO Mike Jeffries—it sounds something a character from “Mean Girls” might have said.  But that target consumer isn’t known for having its own independent source of income. Am I fat and ugly?  Maybe it depends who you ask.  Will my stepson be getting an outfit from A&F next Christmas?  No way.  I can only hope that other parents pay attention to this and use it as a teachable moment.

And MNB user David Livingston wrote:

Interesting comment by your reader "A&F clearly hasn't paid a price for those 2006 comments -- and likely never will."

One thing I've learned is pretty women solve a lot of problems.  A bad restaurant is a good one if they have pretty waitresses.  A bad hotel is a good one if they have pretty girls in the bar.  A bad flight is a good one with pretty flight attendants.  Even going to work at a boring cube job is more interesting when there are a lot of pretty women working there.   Hooters would not even exist if not for hiring pretty girls.  Your local TV new channels know this, unless you live in Canada.

I wonder how many people you managed to offend with your comments.

I do know this. When I go to a restaurant, I pay attention to the food and the service. When I stay in a hotel, I'm more interested in the speed of the internet, the comfort of the bed, the force of the shower and the thickness of the towels. On a flight, I want an aisle seat and a safe landing. And I don't go to Hooters, because a) the food sucks and b) I wouldn't want my daughter working there. And so on.

It is attitudes like these, and people like you, who create an often unfriendly and often even hostile work environment for a lot of women. I know, based on previous exchanges, that you say you hire a lot of women for different functions and that they are thrilled to often take less money because you are "tolerant" of the fact that they have different work-life balance needs than men.

But I cannot imagine why any woman with a shred of dignity would want to work for you. Nor why any woman with a shred of common sense would ever want to hire you.

On the subject of Steve Burd's tenure as Safeway CEO, one MNB user wrote:

In 2001 Safeway's stock was $65 a share. Under his leadership, Safeway mismanaged several acquisitions (Dominicks, Randalls and Genuardi's) and  in the last decade wrote off hundreds of millions of investor's $$ and drove the Safeway stock price to the low $20's and below. Just one question: How in the world did he keep his job? This fact seems to be completely lost on the media.  Strange?

From another reader:

I agree with you about your comments about Steve Burd’s successor and  what he has to do to replace Steve Burd. Just watch what happened to Albertsons when they took their eye off the ball and made some wrong decisions.

Lesson learned from Albertsons a few years ago. Warren McCain made the decision to replace with Gary Michael. Joe Albertson and Warren McCain were merchants of the first order. Mr. McCain’s biggest mistake was not putting Bob Miller in to replace him. Bob is an operations guy and a great merchant. Gary was a great financial guy, as his tenure as the Albertsons CFO, has Albertsons as one of the premier grocery chains in America. Most people do not know that Albertson was once the 4th largest grocery chain, in terms of sales in the country and one of the most profitable as well.

And another:

I had to write back to you on this one, I have been a long time employee at Safeway and agree the company is in much better shape now than it has been in years.  I also agree with you (and Burd to some extent) that you have to have some skin in the game, but it has gotten to the point where they want some tissue and bone now too.  There is a culture of health here and they will try to encourage you, in mostly positive ways to get healthy and live longer.  They make no illusion that their goal is a happier, healthier employee will live longer with their family and make the company stronger in attitude, effort, and productivity.

However, God forbid you actually have to use the insurance, the out of pockets and hoops you have to go through now are ridiculous.  They have program after program to help you “shop” for the cheapest “best” care – since it is first coming out of YOUR pocket.  Most of my fellow employees are now afraid to go to the doctor because the copays and deductibles are so much.  My friends outside of this company all cannot believe what we have to pay for our healthcare.  They have a spousal surcharge (if your spouse works and has insurance available) that forced me to drop my spouse and get coverage from her company.  Then ours got so expensive and didn’t cover so much, I had to drop my insurance here and join hers.  So yes the company has saved money (through attrition).  I want to clarify, I am a very healthy person that does not need to use my insurance much, but my spouse has some health issues that are not going to go away by doing all the things they encourage us to do.

I do like my job, and believe the company marketing strategy is on the right track.  I am amazed at the Just 4U program and when you work that program, I find prices are cheaper than Target or Walmart on most things I buy.  So in that area I think we have really improved our company in the last year or so.

We had a story yesterday about how the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) is looking for the Obama administration to intervene with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before it implements new rules that are part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - better known as "Obamacare" - that would mandate providing calorie information for every product sold in the store.

I commented:

The government should not be engaged in throwing up obstacles and cost designed to make it harder for the food industry to be more creative, nutritious and healthy when it comes to fresh foods - especially when making healthier food more available and cost-effective is another priority of the administration.

One MNB user responded:

What ever happened to your views on the importance of transparency? In the bakery department where I work we have one person items with 800 and 900 calories. We have other items whose calorie count I do not know but, after looking at the ingredient list, I would guess they have over a 1000 calories. People who buy items from a bakery counter know the item is not going to be low calorie. I am not so sure they realize just how many calories they are getting. The reason I believe this is that one time in the break room I told the general manager of the store how many calories these items had and he was aghast and said I had ruined the item for him.

Please explain why you think it is OK to hide this information from being readily available to customers.

Good point.

Let me be clear. If an item is a "regular item," then it should have nutritional information. This means basic stuff on labels, and more extensive info available via QR codes and the internet. I do think that there needs to be some allowances in some fresh food areas, where ranges can be established without absolute precision.

That work for you?

Yesterday's MNB did not have a sports report, which led one MNB user to write:

I was surprised you did not mention Tiger Woods in your sports updates. What he is accomplishing is nothing short of incredible. If he stays healthy, we are witnessing the most incredible achievements in golfing history. This is based on winning percentage, total wins and total majors won.

He was written off and continue to defy the "experts". He is a true golfing genius.

Whether up like him or not you have to respect his accomplishments and work ethic.

To be honest, I paid no attention to the fact that there was a golf tournament last week, so I didn't even know that Woods had won anything.

I've been way too busy watching - and moaning about - the Mets.

Regarding Alibaba CEO Jack Ma, who is retiring from the e-commerce company because he feels like he is too old to run such a company, one MNB user wrote:

The story about Jack Ma made me think about Steve Jobs.  Could someone like Steve Jobs ever be viewed as ‘too old’?  I think his age would be irrelevant.   I wish that there was an older business ‘icon’ who continues to be curious and enterprising.  It would be wonderful to think that you can escape Geezer-hood despite chronological age.

Are you kidding? I'm counting on the fact that I'll be able to escape Geezer-hood in part by doing this every morning, in part by teaching at places like Portland State University, and in part by being willing to take on new challenges.

To me, retirement is the enemy, because it suggests that I'm done.. I'm with Winston Churchill:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

And reacting to what was perceived as the general tenor of some of the emails yesterday on MNB, one reader wrote:

Jeez!  Is the 13th of May now bitter, condescending, conservative viewpoint day on MNB?  I feel the need to go off and find the biggest, most majestic oak tree I can find...and hug it!

I never worry about this stuff.

While people may try to characterize my politics, I always try to listen politely, respond reasonably, and then do my best to think through every issue and consider where the people with opposing opinions are coming from. It often is not hard to disagree with an opinion and still respect the rationale behind it.

But when pressed about my politics, I always want to respond the same way that Humphrey Bogart did in Casablanca when asked by Major Strasser about his nationality: click here
KC's View: