Gap just separated from its Chief Designer, Patrick Robinson, and the heading of the WWD article reads: "Gap Future Scrutinized as Designer Exits", but also says "The $ 14.7 billion Gap Inc. needs a big fix". A makeover of the iconic brand of the 90's has been overdue for the last 10 years. Two graphs succinctly resume the situation:
The first, published by Les Echos on May 23, 2011, shows us the main challenge that Gap is faced with: it has been largely overtaken by Zara (and H&M) - which, it did not realize, were direct competitors.
As for the second, in Business Week, it shows that the domestic market has lost interest in Gap: its "same store" sales have been declining for almost 10 years. The brand has thus only found a form of salvation in what has turned out to be a headlong attempt to escape the inescapable: by opening new stores.
Gap, in my view, has 2 fundamental problems:
- Its positioning: Who remembers the origin of the name "Gap"? It was chosen by its creator, Donald Fisher, to represent the "generation gap", which the brand symbolized. Gap was a brand for the young - a breakaway from brands such as Levi's. Its products, which differed completely from those of traditional jean manufacturers, the structure of its boutiques, the very "service-oriented" spirit of its vendors, were the factors of its success. All this has been lost. American youth today relate to Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, American Apparel or Gucci.
- Its trivialization ("commoditization"): in 2000 the brand boasted of the opening of a new store every day. The 3 brands (Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy) thus opened 570 stores in 1999 and 731 in 2000. "From the end of fiscal 1995 (Jan. 28, 1995) through the third quarter of fiscal 2003 (Nov. 2, 2002), total store count more than doubled, from 1,508 stores to an all-time high of 3,158". Gap followed the same itinerary as Starbucks during the same period: over-exposure, which resulted in trivialization. This went hand-in-hand with a considerable decline in the quality of its products.
Gap lost itself - and the tragicomic episode of its new logo last year (see my post of October 14, 2010) was the best proof of this. However, it made two efforts worth noting:
- A significant reduction in the number of stores: they were reduced from 1,500 in 2003 to 1111 in 2011
- It decided to call in Patrick Robinson in 2007 - and give a face to its creation for the first time. Gap became a part of the current trend of personalizing the fashion designer. But is Gap a fashion brand? Its constant veering from basics to fashion is confusing.
However, this is not enough: the brand has to be infused with a new meaning (as also Banana Republic and Old Navy) and it should therefore find the one that corresponds to the "generation gap" of today - like the one that Spike Jonze and Daft Punk represented in the 90's. One could probably find a solution with "cool" modern styles and excellent quality, where each client can make his/her own fashion statement (and inspire the others). By placing its faith in each one's creativity (as the site poyvore.com explains - see my post of June 13, 2010), a brand such as Gap could even regain its popularity in the U.S.