I can tell you the exact dates I last visited an Urban Outfitters, an Abercrombie & Fitch, and an American Eagle Outfitters to do some personal shopping: July 8 for the two former, and July 13 for the latter -- that's 2006, by the way. But it's been nearly a decade since I last set foot in a Gap
Look no further for evidence than in its most recent second-quarter results, where the apparel retailer once again posted dismal results. The earnings faux pas led my colleague Seth Jayson to conclude that, although "some kind of turnaround is likely to come some day," at the present price, the company doesn't deserve "one investor dime."
What about for those currently invested in the retailer? Is there anything on the horizon that might suggest that a turnaround is possible sooner rather later? One of the best ways to find clues is through an analysis of Gap's most recent earnings conference call. Join me in a round table discussion with Bodhi Zappa and Hank Schofield as we look for evidence pointing to better days for Gap shareholders.
Not so hot summer
Jeremy: The summer months were a major disappointment for Gap and Old Navy. In response, the company was forced to clear out its summer inventory to prepare for its fall lineup. Hank, can the company get it together in time for the back-to-school shopper, build some positive momentum through the fall months, and end up with a nice present for the holiday season?
Hank: We're talking about the same company, aren't we? Um, I rather doubt it. CEO Paul Pressler stated in the call that "August results to date are below our beginning-of-month forecast." Which would indicate to me that the back-to-school shopper decided to shop somewhere else, although we know it certainly wasn't Hot Topic
Jeremy: During the Q&A portion of the call, one analyst also asked where its customer has run off to, to which management responded, "Any of the competitors that are positively comping in the categories where we do business certainly are gaining share while we're not . And there's lots of competitors out there." I guess the fact that it's losing ground to competitors that Seth pointed out such as Abercrombie & Fitch
A new navy
Bodhi: Yeah, but this is partially due to the fact that Gap and Old Navy have yet to fully apply the new product development strategy. The fall will be the first season that shoppers will begin to see these changes in full effect. There's already evidence that women are responding well to the fall lineup at Old Navy.
Hank: The same cannot be said for Old Navy's men's and kids' business, however -- its denim category seems to have more holes in it than the jeans themselves.
Bodhi: True, but Pressler believes its "denim assortment in the second half [of the year] has more trend-right styles and washes." If they can get this message out to the customer, Old Navy just might be able to get some positive momentum going into the holiday season.
Jeremy: To accomplish this, Old Navy will be employing aggressive promotions for its denim offerings in conjunction with various other marketing strategies.
Banana Republic looks like it may be headed in the right direction, and if Old Navy can get men back into the stores with an attractive denim campaign, it, too, may see a solid fall season. But what about Gap stores?
Gap on the comeback trail?
Hank: Oh, you mean that never-ending story called the "The Turnaround Will Happen . One Day . Maybe"?
Well, Gap has spent the past year "laying a foundation" to revitalize the business. All the work has led up to this very critical moment when the "full expression" of its fall merchandise hit store shelves July 20. Cynthia Harriss, president of the Gap Brand, states that these new lines reflect "the work of our new design team featuring elevated, trend-right designs, quality fabrications, make, and details."
We'll find out soon whether all of the work has paid off. It's certainly crunch time for Gap.
Jeremy: Its apparel wasn't the only thing refreshed. Gap also invested in the redesigning of its top-performing stores. Additionally, it's hitting television hard again with a new Jeans Take Shape marketing campaign.
Unfortunately, even with all of these changes, Harriss indicated, "Sales results month-to-date are trending below our expectations."
Bodhi: I know I sound like a broken record.
Hank: You do.
Bodhi: . but it's a mistake to view a long-term plan through a short-term lens. Harriss countered one analyst, asserting, "We are at the beginning of what we know is a long-term strategy to win back our customer." Despite the early numbers that may not exactly be up to expectations, Gap's leadership ultimately believes the changes implemented "are the right strategies for the long-term health of Gap Brands." We need to practice patience.
A turnaround this time around?
Jeremy: While Bodhi is preaching patience and Hank is skeptical whether Gap can follow through with its long-term strategy, I can't help but wonder if investor confidence has been shaken to the point of no return. Like my colleague Seth, I stay away from companies that seem to be in a permanent state of turnaround.
The last time Gap was a major force among America's youth was when an old 1990s grunge band called Alice in Chains rocked the stage. Since then, the teens and 20s have danced to a different beat and sported different threads, such as the fashion-forward Abercrombie. It's time for Gap to prove this turnaround plan is the Real Thing.
Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy has no financial interest in any company mentioned.