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Five Leadership Insights from A&F CEO Fran Horowitz

What’s working for retail brands and why?

Abercrombie & Fitch is a multi-billion dollar, multi-brand global retailer with over 800 stores worldwide. In a recent interview at the WWD CEO and Apparel Summit, Herbert Mines Associates’ Managing Director, Gene Manheim, interviewed Abercrombie’s Chief Executive Officer, Fran Horowitz. Fran was placed by Herbert Mines Associates. As CEO of this multi-billion dollar global company, Fran is one of only nine female retail industry CEOs in the Fortune 1000. During Gene’s interview, Fran shared some of her leadership insights.

1.      Stay close to your associates

Don’t keep yourself secluded from the team. Give yourself the opportunity to listen and learn. “Always send the elevator back down” to connect and learn from employees at all levels. It is important to stay grounded and encourage collaboration to empower everyone in the company, from top to bottom.

2.      Keep the customer at the center

The single most important element is to keep the customer at the center of everything you do. The first step is to define exactly who your consumer is and make the customer the center of decision-making. Giving customers a part to play in innovation forces your business to make stronger connections between what’s happening outside the brand to what you need to plan and create internally. In order to innovate in a way that is customer-aligned, you need to translate data and interpret insights from your customers into what and how you sell to them. Listen to customer feedback - there is no substitute for spending time in stores.

3.      Create a true ‘Lifestyle’ brand

Everything should revolve around product, voice and experience. Brands matter today, more than they’ve ever mattered, and a brand needs to stand for something and have a purpose. Product, voice and experience must be aligned for a brand to be authentic. Work on campaigns that engage the team in giving-back and developing philanthropic partnerships that tap into millennial influencers and issues in order to build a voice for the brands and create a lifestyle that permeates the culture.

4.      Experiment

Innovate in ways that connect to the brand message, develop unique customer experiences, and attend to your most loyal customers. Exactly what stores should look like and what they should offer customers is constantly evolving and brands need to test and learn via pilot programs. Abercrombie & Fitch created a high school ambassador program where students give product feedback. Two Learnings Labs were just opened at Ohio State and USC with tremendous omni-capability. This user-generated feedback and content is authentic and true to trends in the marketplace because it is coming directly from customers.

5.      Be digitally-driven & focused

In today’s digital retail world, you have to blend the physical and digital to create a seamless customer experience. Customers don’t think in terms of channels; the brand needs to serve them whenever, wherever and however they choose. Prioritize customer needs and generate useful and immediate customer data. A&F continues to invest in order to be in the forefront of the shift to digital; for example, it recently became the first apparel retailer to add Venmo to its mobile app as a payment option.

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