In today’s episode, we dive deep into the fascinating comeback story of Abercrombie & Fitch and uncover the key marketing lessons that can revolutionize your business. From strategic rebranding to pivoting their ideal customer, this episode unpacks the powerful tactics that led Abercrombie & Fitch to a 20% sales jump and a 223% surge in their stock in 2023 . 


By dissecting their journey, you’ll learn how understanding your ideal customer, redefining your brand, and listening to market trends can unlock immense growth opportunities for your business.


Get ready to gain invaluable insights that will elevate your marketing game and pave the way for sustained growth in your business.


Key Points: 

  • The Power of Long-Term Adaptability:
      • How to pivot your business to stay relevant and successful for centuries.
      • The importance of continually aligning with the desires of your ideal customers.
      • A critical factor in building a sustainable, thriving company.
  • Learning from Successful Brand Rebirths:
      • The impact of using modern marketing tactics to revitalize a traditional brand.
      • Discover how to meet customers where they are to drive increased sales.
      • How to make intentional shifts to resonate with a new generation.
  • Reinventing Your Brand Identity:
    • Crafting strong messaging to drive brand transformation and success.
    • Strategies for catering to changing customer desires and habits.
    • The importance of combining a solid product with effective marketing.


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Emily Hirsh:


Hello friends, welcome back to the podcast. I hope you guys are having a great start to your second week of the year. I have been seeing a lot of people talk about, I think your feed is curated, and like your world is curated based on what you should see. But for some reason, this year saw a lot of people talking about how the end of the year is not really like the calendar end of the year, and how we’re in the middle of winter, and it’s not really natural for us to treat it like a new year and that the real end of the year comes in March in the Equinox. So I’ve found that really interesting, and what’s also interesting is I’ve never not heard of that, like obviously I knew that, but that’s never been very loud for me. And I think it’s so cool how you see things that maybe you saw before but you didn’t relate to it or you weren’t drawn to it or you like weren’t ready for it, and then when you see things a bunch and you’re ready to hear them, it really lands. 


So that’s been something that I have found interesting this year and really resonated with personally because I really believe in aligning our body more with nature and the earth and the energy around us versus the calendar year because that was just invented by humans. And so next year, I might do things differently because it makes sense that right now we’re in the middle of winter, which is really more a time of like going inward and reflecting and slowing down, and it’s probably why I feel like sleeping so much more, and just so true.


So anyways, today’s episode is going to be kind of fun. I was having a conversation maybe a month ago with a group of entrepreneurs about Abercrombie and Fitch and how they completely changed their brand and made this massive comeback and it started. It was a group of women entrepreneurs talking about I think someone was wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch like sweatsuit and I was like oh my gosh, I really like it and as a teenager, I mean, I grew up as a teenager in the early 2000s, so right, is that right? Yeah, early 2000s. So I was a part of that era that like Abercrombie and Fitch was like the cool store to go to and to wear the shirts that said Abercrombie and Fitch on them to school, especially middle school was like so cool. So we started talking about that company because they totally became irrelevant for a long time, but I can remember as a teenager it being the place to go when you were at the mall if you were cool and go spend the money on their overpriced jeans and those silly shirts that were just like Abercrombie and F sweatshirts. And yes, I definitely had them. I was in that crowd of people as a kid at school but then they became irrelevant, and so it was a great conversation about a lot of lessons that we can learn in business and marketing that I’m going to share.


But then as I was going to record this episode, I wanted to go look up their actual stock and how it’s doing since they’re publicly traded, and I learned that Abercrombie and Fitch was actually founded in ’92 as an outdoor gear store, like an outdoor retailer. And then I was like, whoa, this is even cooler because they’ve gone through multiple iterations and even like the Great Depression, they sold clothing. So now it’s an even better example of my story. I didn’t know when they were founded. I think I can remember now that it says like established ’92, but I don’t know. I didn’t pay attention to at all what that meant, and I literally just learned this and read this whole article about the history of Abercrombie and Fitch, and I was very fascinated because I was like this is so much of some of the things that I talk about. So we’re going to talk about what we can learn from Abercrombie and Fitch, which by the way, so they’ve had a 20% jump in sales. Their stock is up 223% in 2023, and in February 2017, they changed CEOs, but they way exceeded by like $100 million their projections. It was either in the last quarter of last year or all of last year, so they’re like way up, especially 2023, and they started to see an increase in 2021 and then 2022 inflation impacted them, and then 2023 they blew up. Not blew up like they were already big, but they. Massively changed things around. Like a 20% jump in sales is really big when they were only expecting like a 4% or something like that. So I just found this so interesting. So let’s talk about some takeaways.


First of all, the fact that they were founded in 1892 as an outdoor gear. Store is so fascinating because that means they’ve gone through multiple iterations as a brand based on what their ideal customer wanted, but they’ve also shifted their ideal customer a little bit. It very clearly talks about how Gen X right now is their target ideal customer which they were targeting more Millennials in the early 2000s when they were big in the mall. So first of all, it is such a huge example. Like I talk about all the time on the podcast, I’m like if you go look at any company that has been around for a long time, like we’re talking hundreds of years, not like 3 or 4 years or even 10 years, hundreds of years, they’re not just making slight changes. They’re literally reinventing themselves and completely changing their business, and in some cases throughout this, they’ve changed their ideal customer that they were targeting where they clearly thought the most success and possibility and wealth would come from, and so that just shows you right there that in order to be a sustainable super long-term company, like we’re talking centuries, you have to make massive pivots and make sure that you not only stay relevant but that you’re continually listening to your ideal customer and you’re analyzing things, and you know sometimes it’s bigger pivots than others, and so when you actually go read through their history multiple times, they have completely reinvented themselves, reinvented like what they’re selling, who they’re targeting, and the type of brand that they want to be. 


So if we focus on this recent reinvention because that was the one that I was talking about in the conversation, and it’s going to be most prevalent to everybody here who knows of this brand. But. The fact that they were founded in ’93 is just even more fascinating because they’ve been here for over 100 years. So in the early 2000s, if you remember Abercrombie and Fitch, they were like the store with the super loud music in the mall. Very sexual pictures of men all over their walls, like super loud music, and if you were a teenager like I was at that time, it was super cool to go to Abercrombie and Fitch. And they very much branded themselves as wanting to be that cool spot in the mall, and it was cool if you were wearing their clothes. And so therefore, all their clothes had their name on it. I know it’s so silly talking about it, but it worked, and that was their brand like hiring attractive men to model and even work in the store was part of their whole thing, and that’s what got them in trouble. 


But that’s what worked in the early 2000s, so they were very clear about their brand, what they sold, like the image they were trying to create, the branding they were trying to create, and that definitely worked for a while. And if you think about that time frame, like my generation when I was a teenager and definitely before going to the mall was like a thing, like people did that all the time, that’s how they did their shopping. I mean, this was before Amazon was huge, right? I mean, I didn’t have Amazon as a teenager; it was a bookstore then. But also, side note, another huge company that completely reinvented itself from books, anyways, not getting distracted with that. So that worked for them, right? And that was capitalizing on. They were very clear like here’s the. The things that they followed that I talk about all the time in marketing when they were doing well in the 2000s, they were very clear on their ideal customer. They created their messaging and their entire brand and their experience, right? All based on and for that ideal customer. They were clear about like this is how we want people to feel when they come in our store, when they wear our clothes, when they see our brand name, right? We want them to feel like they’re wealthy, like they’re cool, like they have status. Like they’re attractive. That’s what they were creating. They also created coming to their store into an experience. The whole thing was an experience from the people who worked there to the smell of the store to the music. It was an experience that they created. 


And so even. I remember going to the mall and just looking around there and looking at the like probably, I don’t know, are their jeans like $100 and to me as a teenager, that’s like super expensive and and like my mom would be like no, we’re not buying those, but then she’d end up buying them because it’d be my birthday, and I’d be like this is all I want, right? Like a 13-14 year old girl, so they knew their ideal customer. They had very strong, standout, clear, powerful messaging that was based on who their ideal customer was and their desires, mostly desire is what they were going after, right? And then they also created an experience. Shopping there meant status, and it was an experience going in there that look I’m still talking about now, like I still can remember the smell and going into Abercrombie and Fitch in the malls. So. They followed all those checklists then things shifted. Okay, they received a lot of heat for their hiring practices. I guess there was actually I just learned like some lawsuit of a girl who tried to get hired at Abercrombie and Fitch and because she wore like a head covering they wouldn’t hire her and she had some huge lawsuit and went all the way to the Supreme Court, and I think people just started not really being as attracted to the messaging that they had with huge posters of men and. The whole messaging that they had, right? It became unattractive, and then on top of that, we have online shopping now. 


So going to the mall and having this experience in the mall was no longer as prevalent as it used to be, and so for a while, if you look at their stocks, they had a massive decline in sales, and this was like, I think it was probably starting around like 2013-14, it looked like, and the previous CEO was getting a lot of heat, like they weren’t doing well, and. Then they had a new CEO come in in 2017 who is a female and clearly came in and was like we’re changing everything. It said in this article that I was reading that she went to a stock meeting or something where she was presenting, and she’s like we’re going to be basically a whole like a completely different brand. And that is something I always talk about, right? The importance of pivoting and that you can’t, like probably what happened is for a while, they didn’t make big changes and so they didn’t have great sales and then it took someone coming in and being like we’re going to. Throw all this. That’s not working away and completely changing it and stop trying to be like who we used to be because the reality is our ideal customers. Society is changing, their desires are changing, their shopping habits and desires around experience are changing, like people don’t go to the mall like they used to anymore. That’s not as relevant as a brand in creating that experience. All of those things are changing and so therefore we need to make a big shift. Not like a little shift, a big shift, I went into an Abercrombie and Fitch when I was in. So when I was in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s totally different. There’s no pictures of men on the wall. There’s no crazy loud music. None of their clothes say Abercrombie and Fitch across the front like they’re all different and actually cute and I would wear them. I bought stuff. And I was like this is so crazy because this is not at all like if I hadn’t gone into Abercrombie and Fitch as a teenager, I would not even like to associate what I used to associate it with, which is fascinating. They completely rebranded pretty much like their values, their ideal customer, like I’m a millennial I’m not really their ideal customer so they say they’re going after gen x so I think that’s the generation before me or after me and completely change their clothes, what they sell, the style, the experience. All of it.


And then look at their sales. It’s skyrocketed. So what have they done? Well here. Well, they number 1 listened to their ideal customer. They changed their ideal customer and then they listened to that ideal customer. They made an intentional business decision. To change who their ideal customer was based on experience and where they thought clearly the opportunity was and then they listened to that ideal customer what they wanted, the styles they wanted, what was important to them this generation. Equality and body positivity and all those things are really important. No matter what you think about all of that. It’s very important to that generation. It’s very prevalent so they have pictures that are totally different than the brand that they would have before. Because they’re catering to that generation. They change their clothes. They close down a bunch of in-person stores and move to online shopping, and then one of the ways that I guess they got really popular again is they used. TikTok influencers promote their jeans, and here’s the thing their jeans are awesome. Their jeans actually fit super well. Super comfortable. They’re great, right?


So they also backed up their marketing with a solid product. That the generation and the ideal customer they’re going after will talk about and come back for more I went there and shopped because I just had this conversation and the women I was having the conversation with were like yeah I love Abercrombiei and Fitch. The clothes are great. I’m wearing this sweatsuit. Right? I wouldn’t have gone there and shopped if the women were like yeah their marketing’s really good, but their new product is crap so they backed it up with a quality product. They used that influencer marketing. They got more up to speed with the times instead of having stores in the mall.


Created an experience. They created an experience for their ideal potential ideal customers to see their genes and have that feeling of I want that I need that using influencers on Tiktok and then actually following through with fulfilling that desire right. All of this is like core marketing stuff and that’s why it’s so good. So number 1 knowing on a deep deep level their ideal customer number 2 taking time to get really clear about their brand, their values, their image. Their messaging. Experience that they wanted to create the products they wanted to create they might as well have changed their name because they completely changed their identity as a business because they had to in order to be successful and then number 3 listen to their ideal customer and. Got with what was working in the current times. One of the biggest issues that companies have is they continue doing things that used to work but no longer work as if they’re delusional that at some point it might work again, but it’s like you can’t keep doing the same thing that’s not working and expect a different result. It is normal for things to stop working and you to have to do something new that is a normal part of business and then the other piece to note on this is that new CEO took over in 2017 and I mean there’s such a corporate company that changes are going to take a long time.


Naturally because they’re corporate. But also if you look at the stocks like it wasn’t until 2023 that they really saw a massive impact this did not happen overnight. They were very intentional with the changes and then it took time. Like this is a complete rebrand and shift in their name and I think they’re going after the younger generation because they’re kind of hoping they never really shopped at Abercrombie and Fitch like they didn’t have the experience that I did right? But now I’m going back and shopping there and it’s totally different than it was when I was a teenager. And so also looking at this took a little bit to see this massive increase in sales like 2017 to 2021, you can start to see them go up and they were definitely impacted in 2022 by inflation they said that and then 2023 it’s like a huge huge job in sales. So this is not an overnight thing. It’s not even a 1 new-year thing. This is an example of a company that also looks at their company and says like we’re going to be around for another hundred years we’re going to do whatever it takes to be successful. We are going to shift and change our products. Our marketing, our messaging, our ideal customer like we’re going to listen to people and society and patterns and habits and all of those things and stay relevant right? 


It’s just not a company that’s like a 2-year-old clothing company that really does not have that long game mentality like these guys play the long game, bring the depth in their messaging. They are not playing small with their marketing strategy and look at it’s successful. I mean they’ve been around since 1892 and if you actually are interested in. You go look at the whole timeline like they have rebranded multiple times like this is not the first time that they’ve done this and I know you can go look at companies I mentioned Amazon earlier in this episode same exact thing. So as. Us entrepreneurs smaller business owners like I’ve only been in business eight years that’s nothing compared to Abercrombie and Fitch right? We can learn from these companies that are solid century long companies and brands. And they didn’t even change their name through all this like it’s a brand. It’s same with Apple. It’s same with Amazon like they are a staple in the brands that we know and in order for them to do that. They have to reinvent themselves. It seems like every 1015 years right and so in that time you can also pull out little things that they do to make pivots and changes like using the influencer marketing closing down all those stores. That’s not a massive brand change but it’s pivots and adjustments that are.


Pretty big changes to their business model I’m sure that using influencer marketing was very new for them in how they used to market but a necessary change to meet this especially new customer I mean if they’re going after and. Is it gen x or gen z it’s gen x they’re going after gen x I mean those guys are on Tiktok right? So they’re going where their customer is meeting them with their shopping habits. It’s such a good example. So I wanted to share this because it’s just like I was having this conversation and I’m like oh my gosh this is proving. All the things I tell you guys all day long all the time on marketing right? and it’s just a very big company who’s making billions of dollars showing how this plays out and what works and what doesn’t and you know I’m sure if they if you were to ask. The company I bet they would go back and say oh I wish we made these changes sooner like they had this new Ceo step in in 2017. It’s probably changes that they wish they made sooner but would they ever have made them if they didn’t go through the harder times which is also a lesson right? sometimes in business. Experience a year or a season that doesn’t go the way we want it to and we look back on it and we’re like oh I should have done Xyz sooner. Well would you ever have done x y z if you didn’t do the rest of the things and get to that point probably not so if they didn’t go through those experiences of a lawsuit and.


All the heat that they got and all those things they probably never would have changed right? They probably wouldn’t have been pushed to make such a big change and literally change ceos if they didn’t go through those so they could say oh yeah I wish we did those things earlier but it’s also an example of like the journey in the path gets you to where you are today and that’s. True for them too. I made that part up like in my own takeaway. The Ceo obviously didn’t say that but I definitely think that they would probably be like yeah I wish we did these things sooner. But I guarantee you that the events that happened leading up to that had to happen. 


For the bigger shifts to take place because they basically rebranded their entire identity all right everybody I hope you found this as fascinating as I did and took away some things I love nerdy out on this stuff and I just think there’s so much we can learn from these bigger companies who have millions and millions of dollars to pour into their marketing every year and kind of what they choose to do that and and you know what you also see brands out there who they don’t last like old navy I don’t know how old Navy is gonna do they need they need to figure out a rebrand and take some lessons from Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s like Best Buy, how are they doing? I don’t know are they going to make it? They’re still big companies that they don’t make it for hundreds of years. But when you how you do make it is you make these massive pivots and you put your ideal customer first and you listen to them and you have the messaging I talk all the time, messaging, messaging is everything because the messaging drives the brand it drives the way that you show up the experience you create the connection. You have the relationships you build all of it and then of course having a good product because otherwise you’re not gonna have people coming back. Alright you guys I will talk to you on Thursday.