Doug Robinson: The world is running out of cool people

Published: Monday, July 15 2013 10:35 p.m. MDT

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO has said he wants only the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO has said he wants only the "cool and popular kids" to shop at his stores and wear his clothes. (Paul Sancya, Associated Press)

Along with good bands, rain and decent movies, there is another shortage that should alarm you: The world is running out of cool people.

I base this on deductive reasoning. Abercrombie & Fitch wants only cool, beautiful people to wear its clothes. Is it only a coincidence that A&F sales figures declined 17 percent in the first quarter when only a few years ago the store was thriving?

The problem is clear: not enough cool people.

Cool people are becoming an endangered species, like spotted owls. My best, totally unbiased, conservative estimate is that there are 65 percent fewer cool people now than there were in the '70s.

This means A&F is in big trouble. A few years ago A&F CEO Mike Jeffries revealed his marketing strategy to Salon Magazine (maybe you missed this issue):

"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. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don't alienate anybody, but you don't excite anybody, either."

You have to be in awe of someone who, in a single breath, can alienate ALMOST EVERYONE ON THE PLANET, never mind that he has targeted a shrinking market. I quote Seinfeld: "Ninety-nine-point-five percent of the population is undateable." Or unbeautiful and uncool, whatever.

Jeffries' comments were reprinted last May in a Business Insider article, which created a predictable backlash against the store.

"As far as Jeffries is concerned," author Robin Lewis told Business Insider, "America's unattractive, overweight or otherwise undesirable teens can shop elsewhere."

If this sounds like you, please do not attempt to enter an A&F store; also, remove your A&F clothing immediately, or wear it only inside your home. Your cooperation is appreciated.

(Based on photos, my guess is that Jeffries would not be allowed to wear A&F clothing and might even be stopped at the door of an A&F store by a herd of pretty sales girls wearing $100 denim jackets and $50 short shorts. He definitely wouldn't be hired to sell the clothes.)

A&F doesn't stock large sizes for women because they don't want large women wearing their clothes, so there's no need for them to shop there. And if you hope to work there, consult a mirror. A few years ago A&F drew public scorn (and a report on "60 Minutes") because they hire only beautiful young people to sell their clothes — who tend to be white. For Jeffries, it's all about the beautiful.

"It's almost everything," he said. "That's why we hire good-looking people in our stores. 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."

My guess is that prospective employees must fill out an application that includes questions such as: Are you attractive? Do you ever associate with uncool, unattractive people; if so, will you stop?

The question is, how smart is A&F's marketing plan? Wouldn't it be better to sell to the larger group — the uncool, homely crowd, the one that shops at Wal-Mart, which, by the way, seems to be doing pretty well. Sixty-three percent of the population is overweight or obese; 99.5 percent are undateable. If you want to sell overpriced cologne and shirts, shouldn't you target those people?

I visited the local A&F store (Salt Lake Valley is not cool enough to have more than one store). They let me in the door only because I brought along my daughter, who is young, tall, slender and totally cool. Otherwise, I would have had to peek through the window because I haven't been cool, if I ever was, since the Johnson Administration — Andrew Johnson. For one thing, unlike the A&F models, I wear a shirt and I have only one girl under my arm, and she's not a teenager.

The first thing I noticed is the smell of cologne. According to an attractive salesgirl, cologne is sprayed intermittently from ducts in the ceiling. Then there is the music, which is played at decibels somewhere between the LAX tarmac and a Metallica concert.

"I think they do this to drive old people and parents from the store," my daughter said. Cool kids don't have their parents shop for them.

A chubby kid managed to sneak into the store the day I was there, as well as a couple of kids who would not be considered cool, if I'm any judge of coolness. The employees are, as advertised, slender and attractive.

"One lady told me, 'You're very pretty,'" a salesgirl told me. "Then the other woman said, 'Well, they have to be to work here.'" She rolls her eyes at this. Another young woman said, "We noticed a big drop-off in sales right after (Jeffries' comments) came out, but things have picked up since then." I looked around the room and didn't see much traffic. The cool people must have been somewhere else on a Saturday afternoon.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com

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