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Beginning next month, A&F launches a new chain to start chasing another crowd, a customer that has maybe shopped A&F for years but has grown up, graduated from college, seeks more sophisticated styles and may be turned off by the A&F brand after years of loyalty.
The first four test stores of the start-up chain, dubbed internally Concept Four, will be launched in different parts of the country to measure reaction from a cross section of the population. A fifth door will open in early 2005.
The strategy, which some sources speculate could attempt to compete with J. Crew and Banana Republic price points but with hipper looks that underprice contemporary brands, is being kept tightly under wraps. The company declined to provide any specifics for competitive reasons.
“When you test stores, you want to spread them out across the country so you can get unbiased data,” said a source close to the company. The source also said the new concept would be “aspirational.”
With A&F’s highly regarded Hollister division — launched in 2000 and catering to 14- to 17-year-olds, rather than the 18- to 22-year-old set that A&F division targets — the company conducted roughly a 12-month, six-store test, with units including locations such as the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.; the Mall of Georgia in Atlanta; Paramus Park, N.J., as well as malls in Easton, Ohio, and Kansas City.
The upcoming division for an older crowd is expected to follow a similar strategy of testing a handful of units in different regions of the country for about a year, before reaching a verdict and more aggressively rolling out stores.
The new division is being run by Carole Kerner, considered a strong, creative merchant with a range of experience at high-profile brands, who was instrumental in launching Hollister.
“She is a phenomenal merchant because she generates an original idea no matter where she has worked. She’s great,” said Elaine Hughes, of E.A. Hughes & Company executive search. “She has a unique combination of abilities to understand where the trends are going, regardless of the age, demographic or price point, understanding what’s hip, and beyond envisioning the next trend, she knows how to develop and execute to that trend. It’s one thing to have a great idea. It’s another to translate it to a salable product.”