The Abercrombie & Fitch “scandal” has been all over the news lately- and for good reason. For those of you who might not have heard what this is about, here’s a quick recap: A&F CEO Mike Jeffries made some less-than-kind comments regarding how he wants his target market to be the “cool kids”- not the fat, out of shape kids. He further states that he only wants “thin and beautiful people” wearing his clothes.

“That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores,” Jeffries said. “Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” He went on: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Is this smart marketing or just plain….mean? Regardless of each of our personal opinions, in the midst of all this, there are 4 business lessons businesses can learn from this latest scandal:

1) DO Separate Business and Personal Agendas

I know this is a hard one, especially for small businesses and family owned businesses – but there comes a time when business owners, CEOs, and leaders must separate their identity from the identity of their own company. If you don’t believe in something, or have specific beliefs, it’s okay to have those core values in your business- it’s not okay to allow that to limit your company’s growth and own personality.

2) DON’T Ignore Market Changes

What some people (including A&F’s CEO) don’t seem to know is that Abercrombie is actually losing their market share to companies such as Forever 21 and others that are embracing “plus sizes” and curvier designs. As a business, especially in fashion, it is crucial to watch the rising trends and surf their wave instead of paddling against them- as long as that coincides with your company’s mission. In this case, plus sizes clash abruptly with A&F’s vision and mission, and they are suffering the consequences. As a leader you must decide when it’s worth adapting to your changing demographic, because success now doesn’t always mean success later.

3) DO Address Controversy

Be upfront and honest about the root and causes of controversy within your company. If you stand for something controversial, stand proud, but be ready to take the fire and have to sometimes defend your position with legitimate data. When controversy happens as an accident, apologize and move on- be true to your followers and customers.

4) DON’T Insult Potential Clients

Just because plus sizes aren’t in A&F’s plans now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. Who is to say how the market might change? It’s one thing to be “exclusionary” to a specific market- it’s another thing to insult or talk down to those who aren’t in your target market. You never know who you will need in the future, so don’t go burning bridges!

If and when your company is faced with a difficult situation, or finds itself tangled up in its own comments, remember these lessons. However, if we could give A&F a piece of advice it would be to pay special attention to Lesson #4. Kindness never goes out of style!
QUESTION: What do you think about the A&F Scandal? Smart Marketing or Mean?