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Fired At The Gap – The Rudderless Merchant Struggles

05/06/2011

In 2007 when apparel retailer Gap announced the hiring of Patrick Robinson there was an ominous indication of things to come when it was said, “Gap Inc. has turned to the fashion world to revive its namesake brand, hiring Patrick Robinson, a designer who has received critical acclaim but whose clothes have not always appealed to the masses.” Yikes! Isn’t that what the Gap is about? Selling to the masses?

Further, “Long a darling of the fashion press – wife Virginia Smith works for Vogue – Robinson’s Perry Ellis clothes were lauded for their creativity but did not meet sales targets.”

So it should come as no surprise that Thursday, he was out of a job.

Mr. Robinson notched some successes, including a revamped line of jeans that was critically and commercially well-received. But overall, improvement didn’t materialize. Same-store sales at Gap brand’s North American stores declined for 14 of the 16 quarters of his tenure.

Robinson’s departure is the third management shakeup at Gap Inc. this year. Marka Hansen, the president of Gap brand North America, was ousted in February. Pam Wallack, who previously led Gap’s adult business, was named head of the new global design center, and Art Peck, head of outlets, was picked to lead Gap North America. The company also realigned its international team. Mr. Peck is the fourth person to fill the post in nine years.

The Gap has struggled mightily since the departure of the “merchant prince” Mickey Drexler in 2002. Drexler has since gone on to reinvent J Crew, as CEO, iconic leader and major investor, to critical and financial success. For a fantastic insight into the merchant prince read the feature article in the New Yorker from September 20, 2010.

At some point – like right now! – Gap’s board has to be looking at all the chief’s and not just the indians. Clearly Gap’s malaise is self-inflicted and the result of directionless merchandising and marketing. Gap needs someone to step in and take charge.

I’m available.

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