NASHVILLE MARKETING BLOG: Insights on strategic branding, marketing management, general business and Nashville marketing topics. By Monica Powers, Vanderbilt MBA and marketing consultant in Nashville, TN.

Friday, April 21, 2006

When Did The Gap Become a Black Hole?

I don't know what happened. It feels like a deep personal loss, really. Seems like just a few months ago I dogeared my copy of Fortune with Mickey Drexler on the cover, marveling alongside so many other readers at the genius that built the Khaki Empire. That was actually 1998. "Gap Gets It," they proclaimed.

What changed? Was it the taste level of the jeans & t-shirt wearing population? Did retailers overeducate us, making us too sophisticated in our clothing preferences? Or did Gap shoot itself in the foot by saturating the market and letting "basic" become "ordinary"? When did we all stop being so vanilla?

All I know is GAP doesn't speak to me anymore the way it used to. The middle brand seems to have become Gap Inc.'s less-favored middle child, or perhaps red-headed stepchild. We used to flock to the stores for the combo of style and value, but whatever style the company had gravitated toward the Banana Republic end of things. And if you want Gap-looking stuff at a great value--well, heck, you can get it at Old Navy. Gap painted itself out of the picture.

Mickey Drexler has moved on (J Crew is giving him a chance to shine). I look forward to seeing what Gap does next to dig itself out of this gaping black hole of oblivion. Is it time to get back on-message, or is the era of Basics dead and gone?Should they fire their design team and reinvent the Gap aesthetic altogether? Or should they try to become the first great American fast-fashion company, a la Zara or H & M?

My vote is for the last. I think they could pull it off.


Blogger Monica Powers said...

Incidentally, there is an interesting thread about whether Old Navy and H&M are really comparable and how, at The Sartorialist blog . I'm totally hooked on this blog, too.

May 08, 2006 8:23 AM

Anonymous argos said...

As to the "when" there is a valid case for assuming that the Gap was sucked into the black hole after becoming extremely proficient at managing a global supply chain of textile providers and sewing contractors. The talent by which they accomplished this lead them into the race for the bottom, which they won. The costs of bringing product to market began to shine and, the quality went way down. Supply chain innovation, they mastered. Innovating with the customers desires in mind, they ignored, almost.

It has been the blind spot of many public companies to assume they are cleaning the chain for thier customers, when in fact, all energies were diverted toward pleasing shareholders. This is part and parcel of the innovators dilemma.

While customers are not stupid, they really were not aware of the fact they were being ignored for seemingly more honorable business pursuits Gap management came to focus on. In reality, the one thing they did do many years ago was get into the Gap Kids thing.

This was the end of the line for many of us. We grew up and had kids, we certainly were not going to dress like them. This was the "when" for me.

Fast fashion outfits such as Zara are what the Gap should have become. They missied this boat and, are now attempting to re-invent themselves as lovable again.

Personally, I don't wish for the same outcome as you do yet, with such a powerful brand, they have a fighting chance. They just built an upscale store in NYC in hopes of being re-born in our eyes. Wal-mart is just now attempting to do the same thing, after insulting us with their very own and masterfully done self absorbtion.

I wish them luck. Maybe when the kids get older, they will visit for nostalgia's sake.

May 09, 2006 7:24 AM

Blogger Monica Powers said...

Great points. On the remark about self-absorption, I'm glad you bring up Wal-Mart as another example. I read they have removed Mr. SmileyFace from their campaigns because they don't just want to be known for Everyday Low Prices anymore. They want to push higher-margin items on their shoppers. Talk about brand confusion and shooting oneself in the seems like a desperate measure. Might have to blog about that one.

May 09, 2006 11:16 AM

Anonymous argos said...

Might not be a bad idea as Wal-mart is a wealth of study material for all of us.

I just read today in Apparel magizine that Wal-mart is looking to become a very serious contender in the organic fiber segment of the market. The source was Patagonia, who have invested heavily in organic wool supply chain development. This could get very interesting.

May 10, 2006 4:28 PM

Blogger Monica Powers said...

Yes, good catch, I'm paging through that latest edition of Apparel Magazine myself. Wal-Mart, the new champion of organic fibers, health foods, and upscale merchandise. I can see it now....

May 10, 2006 4:38 PM

Anonymous argos said...

Wow. You are scaring me a little with your visions.

This subject is near and dear to many hearts and minds. So very worth our discussions. Wal-mart's coveted chain mastery is second to none. They are growing quickly in China now, another subject I am personally fascinated with. (another blog subject)

Can they pull it off? They certainly have the money. I just don't know how I feel about it, which is exactly why it is a worthy topic. Something inside of me wants to fight for maintaining my very own shopping experience as somewhat of a graceful one. I just don't know what I'll do, if and when that day comes. I'm a guy, but I still love magnificent department stores. Whole Foods? don't even get me started, I could live their.

I know a guy, he has a wonderfully successful organic pie company. His pie's wholesale for 7 dollars. I mean, they are that good. Many famous chefs buy them. He was approached by Wal-mart! He did no soliciting of business there whatsoever. They offered him $1.19 and he declined. He knew the relationship would ruin him. They kept calling and bugging him about it. (did you mention you were a Godfather fan?)

I just don't know. Thinking of them leaves me feeling a little dizzy. I am just entering the world of apparel wholesale and manufacturing with my own offerings. They are not a prospect. They are a competitor as they now manufacture their own private label brands. All I can say is thank goodness for the Nordstroms of the world.

O.K. So, Gabriel Garcia Marquez finishes the fantastic and much anticipated sequel to "Cent Anos de Soledad." He is having a book signing at the Wal-mart in Nashville. You are going aren't you?

Of course you are.

May 10, 2006 7:42 PM

Blogger MrWynn said...

Might I suggest you fill up on the most excellent Japanese "Gap": Uniqlo. They just opened up in Soho.

May 17, 2006 6:50 PM

Blogger Monica Powers said...

Very good suggestion. I look forward to checking them out next time I'm in Manhattan...

We can only hope Uniqlo and H&M both expand to other cities soon to fill in some of the "gaps" in retail.

May 18, 2006 3:57 PM


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