(Adds comments by CEO, analyst, details, background; updates share)
By Ramkumar Iyer
Aug 28 (Reuters) - Abercrombie & Fitch Co is finally shedding its traditional logo-focused apparel, clothes that made the brand one of the most sought after among teens in the past two decades.
The company’s preppy t-shirts and sweatshirts have fallen out of favor with students who are more inclined to spend their allowances on cheaper and trendier clothes offered by chains such as Forever 21, Inditex’s Zara and H&M.
Abercrombie shares fell as much as 8.5 percent on Thursday morning, after it reported its tenth straight decline in quarterly same-store sales.
“In the spring season we are looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing,” Chief Executive Mike Jeffries said on a call.
Abercrombie is trying to revamp its image after Jeffries stirred controversy last year by suggesting the company’s clothes were made for “cool” and “attractive” kids and not for “fat” people.
The company has since expanded its merchandise to include larger sizes for women. It has also doubled down on more fashionable clothing and slashed prices to win back teen customers who have cut back spending in a tepid job market.
Still Abercrombie’s clothes are costlier than those sold by fast fashion rivals, which have shrunk the runway-to-shelf turnover time to about a fortnight.
While a pair of women’s skinny jeans from Abercrombie would set a shopper back by about $75, the same could cost less than $10 at Forever 21 or H&M, according to company websites.
Phasing out logo-centric clothes “is a good strategy and consistent in where consumer interest lies but it is not going to be enough to entirely turn sales,” Macquarie Research analyst Liz Dunn told Reuters.
Abercrombie’s same-store sales declined 7 percent in the second quarter ended Aug. 2 - more than the 4.1 percent dip expected by analysts polled by research firm Consensus Metrix.
Same-store sales in the United States - the company’s biggest market - dipped 5 percent, dragged down by weak demand at its largest chain, Hollister Co.
International comparable sales slid 9 percent. Abercrombie will continue to sell its logo-focused apparel at international stores, said Jeffries who had strongly defended the logo-centric culture up to late last year.
The CEO for the past 16 years has faced heavy criticism for Abercrombie’s recent dismal performance, and was stripped of his chairman title earlier this year.
Net sales decreased 6 percent to $890.6 million. Excluding items, the company earned 19 cents per share.
Analysts on average had expected a profit of 11 cents per share on sales of $909.2 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Abercrombie shares were down 3.7 percent at $42.36 on the New York Stock Exchange in afternoon trading, after touching a low of $40.43. They have risen 34 percent this year up to Wednesday’s close. (Additional reporting by Shailaja Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Joyjeet Das)