* * *
He stuck his head in the door of my office, his eyes sparked with inspiration, ” can I talk to you about something?”
I looked to either side of me, but I was the only occupant of the small 6′ by 6′ box that served as my private office. My heart skipped a beat as my tongue tripped over itself, “yes.” I was honored, confused, and humbled all at once that the VP of our company had chosen a simple district manager as a soundbox. I reminded myself to keep my cool and keep whatever it was in confidence.
“I have a brillant idea, and I just want to hear what you think,” I didn’t speak, he was in the realm of his mind’s creation, whatever I had to say would have fallen on deaf ears. “I want to change our image completely. I want to be like Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters. I want to focus more on clothes, less on decor, you know like Francesca’s.”
What was excitement was now my stomach tying in knots. “Don’t piss him off,” was the only real advice I had received from a fellow colleague for this new promotion I had not been prepared for. “Anyone who pisses him off disappears.”
He then pointed at the new ad campaign that was printed in the monthly newsletter. “I mean look at her,” the girl in the image was a beautiful alabaster ginger with neat dreads who was covered in vibrant floral tattoos. She was the image of our customer, our demographic, the ones who bathed in Nag Champa soap and burned patchouli incense. “We don’t want customers like that do we? I can’t believe the art department even let that pass, that’s not the image we want.”
I shifted in my seat as he was now eagerly staring at me, reading me, and I hoped my inner thoughts did not read like a novel. I hoped he couldn’t see that I thought this was the worst idea ever. Sure a change was needed, but we needed our niche, and we needed to be faithful to our customers. We need to have pride in our mission, our vision, and the demographic who had carried us this far. If he wanted an Anthropologie, it exists already, and that’s where he’s free to go. But, of course, there’s an irresistible illusion of power as a big fish in a small pond over a medium fish in the Atlantic Ocean I suppose.
* * *
But we aren’t here to talk about me today…the letter is E…so let’s discuss Eddie Bauer.
In 2002 Eddie Bauer was coming out of a time of great success with over 200 mall locations offering outdoor hiking wear to the baby boomers of suburbia. Hungry for a wider audience and a younger scene they targeted the wallets of Generation X. So instead of expanding on their brand, they reinvented the wheel altogether. In 2002, the company, whose namesake invented the down jacket as a result of a near fatal fishing trip, had a crisis of faith. They dropped their outdoor focused khakis and Kurt Cobain flannels to welcome more vibrant colors. But the change was a flop; losing their demographic.
In 2009 Eddie Bauer, unable to revitalize their image, hit a wall. Their losses were proving to be more than they could manage so they filed for Ch. 11.
In 2012, Eddie Bauer welcomed a new CEO, Mike Egeck, who had worked at active wear companies like North Face and Columbia. When hired on he spoke to the owners about bringing Eddie Bauer back to its roots, an area of expertise he held well. The shift did not need to happen immediately because it needed to be executed with the Eddie Bauer image in mind. Egeck explained to Forbes:
“For sure outdoor is very trendy right now, but brands that survive are ones that have authenticity.”
After returning to its roots, Eddie Bauer announced its first quarter of profits since filing for bankruptcy in 2009! At the close of the fourth quarter comp sales were up 4.6% with an overall profit of $63.2 million.
All a result of keeping the faith.
Part of the April A to Z Challenge
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