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離開老東家,老海軍即將駛入風浪區

王波非(Phil Wahba) 2019年10月08日

在這家大型服裝公司為剝離做準備之際,CEO索尼婭·辛格爾把趣味性和創新作為首要任務。

“布樣隊長”:Old Navy的首席執行官索尼婭·辛格爾在Old Navy舊金山總部的設計室中。圖片來源:Cayce Clifford for Fortune

不久前的一個周一,當Old Navy的員工走進舊金山總部時,幾乎是在進門的那一刻就迎來了顧客直截了當的反饋。一位購物者提醒說:“隊伍排得太長了,而且你們的客服代表一點兒也幫不上忙……”另一位顧客則失望地表示:“要是我在YouTube上再看到Old Navy的廣告……”

這些抱怨來自于Old Navy的社交平臺。在大前臺后方的液晶屏幕上,這些醒目的紅色滾動字幕在員工的頭頂上嗖嗖地閃過。在Old Navy的首席執行官索尼婭·辛格爾的要求下,去年這家平價時尚連鎖公司設在Mission Bay區的大型總部安裝了這塊液晶屏。屏幕上的評論往往是稱贊多于批評,諸如:“我買過的最好的牛仔服”和“我一直討厭牛仔褲,直到發現了rockstar”(稱贊的評論會以藍色顯示)。不過,在液晶屏上滾動播出批評和贊許的目的是讓這個品牌持續掌握購物者的情況。在未來的一年中,對辛格爾和她的團隊來說持續了解實際情況可能會尤為重要。

在2020年的某個時刻,最有可能是上半年,Old Navy將從母公司Gap Inc.中剝離出去。屆時,這個年銷售額接近80億美元的品牌將作為獨立上市公司開啟自己的新歷程(投資者持有的Gap股份將轉換成同等數量的Old Navy股份)。有25年歷史的Old Navy將首次完全憑借自身實力來實現騰飛或是沉淪,而與Gap和Banana Republic等其他母公司頂尖品牌再無瓜葛。同時,后者的滑坡表明在競爭殘酷的服裝行業成功是多么的脆弱。辛格爾對《財富》雜志表示:“我們公司的所有成員現在都將執著于服務Old Navy及其客戶。”如果其關注點出現偏差,他們只需要抬頭看看橫亙在大門口的那塊液晶屏就行了。

多年來,Old Navy一直是支撐Gap的發動機,這得益于它的經營模式,即銷售流行而且價格不高的基本款服飾,如短褲和抓絨運動服,并將這些服裝以略顯隨意的方式擺在生氣勃勃的店鋪中。Old Navy為Gap貢獻了近一半收入和很大一部分利潤。歐睿國際的數據顯示,Old Navy是美國第二大服裝品牌,僅略遜于耐克。2011年以來,Old Navy的全球銷售額增長了20億美元,增幅為35%,這幾乎是Gap在這段時間里的全部新增收入。如此成功的表現在很大程度上要歸功于辛格爾,這位資深硅谷人士的物流特長讓Old Navy能夠異常熟練地推出讓人稱心如意的新產品,速度很快而且價格親民。

不過,即將作為獨立CEO開啟新旅程的辛格爾面對的是“風浪區”。用華爾街的行話來說,剝離Old Navy是“釋放其價值”的途徑,不會被陷入困境的兄弟品牌所拖累。但Old Navy自己最近卻出現了大滑坡。它的可比銷售額(不包括新門店和最近關閉門店的銷售數據)已經連續兩個季度下挫,該公司稱原因是顧客過于關注Old Navy的老產品。

其他威脅也在逼近。塔吉特(去年在美國實現自有品牌服裝銷售額52億美元,排名行業第三)、沃爾瑪、T.J. Maxx以及歐洲的Primark等低價競爭對手都緊追Old Navy不放。加之經濟有可能衰退,投資者對本次剝離不是那么興高采烈就沒有什么可奇怪的了。目前Gap的股價約為19.5美元,而在今年2月剛剛宣布上述剝離計劃時,其股價為29.51美元。

不過,如果辛格爾和她的上司,也就是即將成為競爭對手的Gap首席執行官阿特·派克是對的,實際情況就會表明Old Navy的滑坡只是短暫的周期性現象。成為一家獨立企業將有助于擺脫這些負面因素,辛格爾這次賭了一把;實際上,她已經表示要將年銷售額再提升25%,達到100億美元,并將店鋪數量增加近一倍,只是未說明實現這些目標的具體時間。她把Old Navy比作已經為離家做好準備的少年。她說:“我們可以走的更快。”

Old Navy employees heading into their San Francisco headquarters on a recent Monday were greeted almost the second they walked in with some bluntly candid customer feedback. “The lines are way too long & your customer service reps are not helpful at all,” griped one shopper. “If I get served one more Old Navy ad on YouTube?…” lamented another.

The complaints, taken from Old Navy’s social media feeds, whizzed high above staffers’ heads in vivid red type as a chyron streaming across an LED screen behind the main reception desk. The chyron was installed last year at the low-cost fashion chain’s sprawling home office in the Mission Bay district, under orders from Sonia Syngal, Old Navy’s CEO. The electronic comments often include more bouquets than brickbats. “Best jeans I have ever owned” and “I hated jeans until I discovered the #rockstar” read other messages (displayed in blue type because they were laudatory). But the whole light show of recrimination and adulation is designed to keep the brand attuned to its shoppers. And that perpetual reality check could feel especially urgent for Syngal and her team over the coming year.

Sometime in 2020, most likely in the first half, Old Navy, a brand with nearly $8 billion a year in sales, will begin life as a stand-alone, publicly traded company, after its parent, Gap Inc., spins it off. (Gap investors will get one Old Navy share for each share they own in the parent company.) For the first time in its 25-year history, Old Navy will soar or sink on its own merits, free of a parent whose other top brands—Gap and Banana Republic—have endured declines that show how tenuous success can be in the pitilessly competitive apparel industry. “Everyone in the company will now be obsessed with serving Old Navy and the Old Navy customer,” Syngal tells Fortune. And if their focus wavers, they can just look up at the screen as they swipe their building pass.

For years, Old Navy has been the motor sustaining Gap Inc., thanks to its formula of selling trendy but inexpensive versions of basics like shorts and performance fleece, presented with a touch of whimsy in lively stores. Old Navy generates nearly half of Gap’s revenues and the bulk of its profit. According to Euromonitor International, it is the second-largest clothing brand in the U.S., a hair behind Nike. The brand’s global sales have risen $2?billion, or 35%, since 2011, accounting for essentially all of Gap Inc.’s revenue growth during that span. And much of that success has been owing to Syngal, a Silicon Valley veteran whose knack for logistics has helped make Old Navy unusually deft at rolling out desirable new merchandise, quickly and inexpensively.

But Syngal’s inaugural voyage as an independent CEO faces choppy waters. In Wall Street parlance, hiving off Old Navy is a way to “unlock its value,” unhindered by its struggling siblings. But Old Navy has recently hit a slump of its own. The brand’s comparable sales (which exclude figures from new or recently closed stores) have fallen two quarters in a row, following a lackluster holiday season—a stumble that analysts and the company attribute to customers seeing too much of the same-old, same-old in Old Navy’s offerings.

Other threats loom as well. Low-priced competitors, including Target (which rang up $5.2 billion in U.S. private-label apparel sales last year to rank No. 3 in that category), Walmart, T.J. Maxx, and European discounter Primark, are nipping at Old Navy’s heels. Stir in the possibility of a recession, and it’s little wonder why investors are less than euphoric about the spinoff: Gap Inc. shares are trading at around $19.50, down from $29.51 right after the move was announced in February.

Still, if Syngal and her boss—and soon-to-be competitor—Gap Inc. CEO Art Peck are right, Old Navy’s slump will prove to be a short, cyclical blip. Being a stand-alone will help shake the funk, Syngal is betting; indeed, she has vowed to lift annual sales an additional 25%, to $10 billion, and to nearly double its store fleet, though she hasn’t set a firm timetable for those goals. She compares Old Navy to the proverbial teen who is ready to leave home. “We’ll be able to move faster,” she says.

****

Old Navy的起源可以追溯到1993年,時任Gap CEO 的米基·德雷克斯勒憑直覺感到人們開始認為購買低價服裝并不丟人。他把48家表現低迷的Gap店鋪改造成了“倉庫”,嘗試銷售價格低于Gap及其競爭對手但質量高于折扣連鎖服裝店的服裝,而且購物環境相對于這些連鎖店也更好。Gap內部的說法是,德雷克斯勒在去巴黎的路上看到一家酒吧屋頂上寫著“Old Navy”,就把這個名字用在了自己的新概念上。1994年,第一家Old Navy店鋪開門營業。

實際情況表明,服裝質量接近“百貨商場店鋪”而價格較低是一個致勝組合。當時,一件Old Navy運動衫可能含棉50%,沒有含棉85%的Gap運動衫那么“天然”,但比沃爾瑪等零售商的同類商品含棉量高。令人難忘的古怪廣告成了Old Navy的助推器,時尚編輯卡麗·多諾萬和她的超大號眼鏡、女演員摩根·費爾切爾德和Magic the Dog都曾經出現在這些廣告中。

節儉的媽媽和預算有限的時裝設計師們發現,價格不高再也不一定意味著乏味和死板。咨詢公司SW Retail Advisors的總裁斯泰西·韋德里茨說:“對那些消費者而言,Old Navy的性價比一直是市場上最高的。”它馬上開始奪走J.C. Penney、塔吉特和西爾斯等零售商的市場份額。投入運營四年后,Old Navy的價值已經達到10億美元,成為第一家如此迅速地達到這一里程碑的服裝連鎖店。

Old Navy’s origins date to 1993, when Gap Inc.’s then-CEO, Mickey Drexler, intuited that the stigma around bargain-priced clothes was dissipating. Drexler converted 48 weak Gap stores into “warehouses” to experiment with selling clothes that were cheaper than those at Gap and its rivals but of higher quality than discount chains offered and in a nicer environment. Company lore has it that on a trip to Paris, Drexler saw the words “Old Navy” above a bar and settled on that name for the new concept. In 1994, the first Old Navy stores opened.

Offering clothing of nearly “mall store” quality at low prices proved to be a winning formula. An Old Navy sweatshirt of that era might have been 50% cotton and thus less “natural” than the 85% cotton top you’d find at Gap but more so than an equivalent item at, say, Walmart. Memorably quirky ad campaigns featuring fashion editor Carrie Donovan and her oversize glasses, actress Morgan Fairchild, and Magic the Dog propelled the brand.

Thrifty moms and fashionistas on a budget took notice: Inexpensive didn’t have to mean boring and square anymore. “They’ve been the best value in the market for that consumer,” Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors, says of Old Navy. The chain immediately started to take market share from the likes of J.C. Penney, Target, and Sears. By its fourth birthday, Old Navy was a $1 billion brand, the first clothing chain ever to reach that milestone so quickly.

Old Navy騰飛于20世紀90年代,它的店里都是流行但不貴的服裝,展示的方式也比其他折扣零售商更生動。圖片來源:Cayce Clifford for Fortune

如今,Old Navy的審美已經在平價時尚領域處于主導地位。穿一件9美元的T恤衫,再加上設計師簽名挎包,這在別人眼中就會成為時尚達人,而不是菜鳥。每年7月第四周的Old Navy 1美元人字拖甩賣和5美元美國國旗T恤衫促銷已經深深融入了這種文化之中。在它的唯一海外市場加拿大,由于加拿大總理賈斯汀·特魯多穿著Old Navy粉色亞麻襯衫參加了2016年的多倫多LGBT驕傲游行,隨之掀起了一陣熱潮。研究公司Prosper Insights & Analytics的數據顯示,Old Navy顧客的平均年齡為39歲,其家庭年收入為75000美元,沒有塔吉特和Gap的消費者那么富裕,但更重要的是,他們較為年輕。

多樣性是讓這些消費者變成回頭客的秘訣。雖然Old Navy是購買基本款服裝的必去之處,但它最主要的資產之一就是能夠迅速推出令人驚訝的新款商品,從而讓購物者獲得“尋寶”心態,這在低利潤率服裝領域十分關鍵。舉例來說,在上一個假期購物旺季,Old Navy售出了1000萬雙帶有雪人或企鵝等季節性萌物圖案的保暖短襪,從而避免了表現平庸的季度業績。紐約時裝技術學院的助理教授雪莉·科恩說:“如果他們不斷推出新產品,擔心自己失之交臂的消費者就會一直蜂擁而來。”

保持這樣的客流需要卓越的運營,而索尼婭·辛格爾就是這樣成了CEO。

Today, the Old Navy aesthetic is just as dominant in middlebrow fashion: Wearing a $9 T-shirt with a designer bag is seen as savvy, not gauche. The brand’s annual $1 flip-flop sale and the $5 American flag tee it sells around the Fourth of July are ingrained in the culture. Old Navy created a buzz in Canada, its only major international market, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wore one of its pink linen shirts to Toronto’s 2016 LGBT pride parade. According to Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average Old Navy shopper is 39 and comes from a household with income of $75,000. That makes those shoppers slightly less affluent that those at Target and Gap—but more important, they’re younger.

Variety is the secret sauce that keeps those customers coming back. While Old Navy is a go-to store for basics, one of its biggest assets is its ability to speedily roll out surprising new items, creating the “treasure hunt” mentality that’s crucial in the low-margin apparel world. Last holiday season, for example, during an otherwise underwhelming quarter, Old Navy sold 10 million pairs of cozy socks depicting cute seasonal beings like snowmen or ?penguins. “If they keep bringing in new product, their customer, for fear of missing out, will keep popping in,” says Fashion Institute of Technology assistant professor Shelley Kohan.

Keeping that stream flowing requires operational excellence—and that’s how Sonia Syngal came to be CEO.

****

現年49歲的辛格爾從青春期開始就一直喜愛技術和時尚。她在加拿大長大,青少年時期是個瘦高個,當時她發現許多服裝品牌跟她都沒有交流,或者穿著不合適。辛格爾回憶說:“我找到衣服穿很不容易。”所以她自行設計并制作了很多衣服,甚至還給朋友和家人做。雖然只有十幾歲,但在蒙特利爾的流行時尚文化啟發下,她已經建立了自己的公司Style Montreal。

辛格爾尤其喜歡生產和經銷服裝涉及的物流過程,這把她帶進了科學和工程領域。她上了凱特林大學,這座設在密歇根州弗林特市的大學和通用汽車有很深的淵源,并以STEM(科學、技術、工程和數學)為教育重點。辛格爾達到了福特金牛座轎車工廠的工作和學習要求。21歲的她成了該廠罕見的女性員工,這讓廠里50多歲的男性雇員感到吃驚,辛格爾回憶說,這是一段艱難但關鍵的早期職業學習經歷,她是通過和男工友開玩笑來適應環境的。辛格爾在斯坦福大學獲得了制造系統專業碩士學位,也是在那里遇到了自己的丈夫。隨后,辛格爾在太陽微系統公司的制造團隊中工作了幾乎10年時間。

然而,零售行業仍在召喚她。辛格爾說:“這始于我對時尚的熱愛以及服裝是穿著藝術的純粹理念。”同時,建立和運營供應鏈滿足了她左半腦的需求。辛格爾還說,和科技領域相比,零售行業的環境對女性更友好,女性董事和高管所占比重更大,而這并不讓人感到受傷。同工同酬對零售業女性來說也更為普遍。實際上,Gap就有同工同酬的規定,而且這一傳統可以一直追溯到1969年,也就是多麗絲和唐納德·費舍夫婦分別出資2.1萬美元建立這家公司的時候。辛格爾在Gap得到了第一份(作為成年人的)零售業工作——2004年她出任該公司資源策略副總裁。

Syngal, now 49, has been passionate about both technology and fashion since her adolescence. As a lanky teen growing up in Canada, she found that many clothing brands didn’t speak to her or fit her well. “I was not easy to dress,” Syngal recalls. So she designed and made much of her own clothing and eventually did the same for friends and family. While still a teenager, she started her own small company, Style Montreal, inspired by that city’s trendy fashion culture.

But Syngal particularly liked the logistics involved in making and distributing clothes, which led her toward science and engineering. She went to Kettering University, a college long associated with General Motors in Flint, Mich., that focused on STEM education. She met the work/study requirements by working the floor at Ford’s Taurus sedan factory. Being the rare woman on the floor, and a 20-year-old one at that, and supervising men in their fifties was a tough but crucial early career learning experience, Syngal recalls; she navigated the environment in part by cracking jokes with the boys. Syngal later got a master’s in manufacturing systems at Stanford—where she met her husband—and then worked at Sun Microsystems on its manufacturing team for almost a decade.

But retail still called to her. “It starts with my love of fashion and the pure notion that clothing is wearable art,” Syngal says. The idea of building and operating supply chains, meanwhile, satisfies her left-brain needs. It doesn’t hurt, she adds, that retail is a more woman-friendly environment than tech, with a bigger proportion of women sitting on boards and in the C-suite. Equal pay for women is also more common in retail. In fact, it’s the rule at Gap Inc., a tradition with roots dating back to its founding in 1969, when spouses Doris and Donald Fisher each put in $21,000 to launch the company. It was there that Syngal took her first (adult) job in retail, as a vice president of sourcing strategy, in 2004.

Old Navy舊金山旗艦店里的秋季套裝。圖片來源:Cayce Clifford for Fortune

辛格爾在Gap的升遷與行業思路的轉變同時出現。許多年來,各個服裝品牌一直在所謂的商業王子和公主中間尋找CEO,這些人能夠通過直覺發現購物者會買哪些商品。但Gap的CEO派克認為,經營能力是最重要的,特別是在業務量很大的連鎖企業。派克指出,Old Navy的80億美元收入來自于“每筆9.20美元的買賣”,這是指它的平均商品價格。大家可以想一想,Old Navy每年要出售7億件服裝,同時要推出4000種新產品或變體產品,這種情況下物流就不僅僅是紙上談兵,它堪稱這家公司的生命線。Gap的非執行董事長、該公司的創始人之子羅伯特·費舍說:“你得靈活對待消費者數據,并且同樣靈活地對待電子商務規劃以及店鋪中商品的銷售。”

大衰退前和衰退期間,Old Navy都在努力對付H&M、Zara等低價流行品牌帶來的激烈競爭,這些品牌專門尋找新的時尚并迅速向市場推出產品來滿足相應需求。與此同時,2006-2008年Old Navy的銷售額下降了10億美元以上。幾年后,時任該品牌CEO的斯特凡·拉爾森決定終止他給Old Navy定下的“以磅賣衣”的方法,并把更流行的產品更快地放在店里。這就意味著通過重組來建立更迅速的供應鏈,而這正是辛格爾的強項。此前經營Old Navy國際業務的辛格爾于2013年成為Gap的供應鏈和產品運營總負責人。在物流領域的成功則為她接替拉爾森的職位鋪平了道路——2016年拉爾森離開Old Navy,接掌拉爾夫·勞倫。

雖然所有Gap品牌都使用同樣的物流業務,但速度更快的時尚運營對Old Navy的影響更大,這個品牌的文化也更具試驗性和趣味。在辛格爾治下,Old Navy率先采用的一項最佳措施就是先購買大量布料,然后再決定用來做什么,這樣能夠更好地利用意外出現的流行趨勢。Gap和Banana Republic隨后也采用了這樣的做法。Old Navy還建立了16億美元的龐大在線業務,其動力則來自于辛格爾時代的另一項創新,那就是讓線上訂單實現店內取貨的快遞服務,被稱為“閃電時尚”。

分析對服裝生產商的戰略決策變得越來越重要,這讓辛格爾的技術背景變得更有價值。但這并不是說這些年來Old Navy沒有失誤過——想到幾年前推出的金光閃閃的浴袍,辛格爾就會覺得尷尬。但她從不為這樣的事情道歉,比如,Old Navy通過分析押注復興的男式工裝短褲(這讓許多美國女性感到不滿)。辛格爾則打趣說:“可憐的男士們,他們連手包都沒有。”不過,這種多兜短褲現在已經不那么寬松了。此外,辛格爾的數據告訴她男性想要這種短褲。她非常成功地拓展了Old Navy的大尺碼服裝。現在,女式連衫褲開始流行起來,Old Navy也開始在這方面著手。辛格爾說:“兩年后美國人會穿什么呢?我們的工作就是弄清楚這一點。”

Her ascent at Gap has coincided with a shift in thinking in the industry. Clothing brands for many years had sought their CEOs among so-called merchant princes and princesses, people with a knack for intuiting which merchandise shoppers would buy. But today, says Gap CEO Peck, operations expertise is paramount, particularly at a high-volume chain. Old Navy gets to $8 billion in revenue “$9.20 at a time,” Peck notes, referring to its average revenue per item. When you consider that Old Navy sells 700 million clothing items a year, and introduces 4,000 new products or product variations every year, logistics aren’t just a nerdy consideration: They are the corporate lifeblood. “You’ve got to be equally agile with consumer data as you are with how to plan e-commerce, and as how you merchandise the store,” says Gap’s nonexecutive chairman Robert Fisher, a son of the founders.

Before and during the Great Recession, Old Navy struggled with intense competition from cheap but trendy brands like H&M and Zara, which specialized in spotting new vogues and rushing products to market to satisfy them. Old Navy’s sales, meanwhile, declined more than $1 billion between 2006 and 2008. A few years later, Stefan Larsson, then the brand’s CEO, decided to end what he’d called Old Navy’s “clothes by the pound” approach and get more on-trend products into its stores faster. That meant building a quicker, rejiggered supply chain—and that, in turn, played to Syngal’s strengths. After a stint running Old Navy’s international business, she became head of supply-chain and product operations for all of Gap Inc. in 2013. And her successes in logistics paved the way for her to succeed Larsson as CEO in 2016, after he left to take the helm at Ralph Lauren.

While all the Gap brands have shared supply-chain expertise, faster-fashion practices have had a bigger impact at Old Navy, where the culture is more experimental and playful. One best practice pioneered at Old Navy under Syngal, which Gap and Banana Republic have since adopted, involves buying huge amounts of fabric ahead of time and only later deciding what to make with it, the better to jump on an unexpected trend. Old Navy has also built a massive $1.6 billion online business, with a boost from another Syngal-era innovation: a “Fashion in a Flash” express line for in-store retrieval of online orders.

Syngal’s tech background is becoming even more valuable given the growing role of analytics in guiding apparel makers’ strategic choices. That’s not to say Old Navy hasn’t had misfires over the years: Syngal cringes at the memory of the gold lamé bathing suits the chain tried to sell a few years ago. But she makes no apologies, for example, about Old Navy’s analytics-driven bet on men’s cargo shorts, a garment enjoying a renaissance (to the chagrin of many American women). “Poor guys, they don’t get to carry a purse,” Syngal quips. Still, the multipocketed shorts tend to be less baggy now. Besides, Syngal’s data tells her that men want them. Syngal has expanded the brand’s plus-size selection with great success. Now, jumpsuits for women are trending, and Old Navy is on it. “What will Americans be wearing in two years?” Syngal asks. “That’s our job to figure out.”

****

多年來,Old Navy在這方面的決策一直好于兄弟品牌,這也有助于延緩后者的崩潰。Gap品牌曾經是一股主要文化力量,名人爭相在它的廣告中出境。但2011年以來,這個品牌已經在北美關閉了數百家店鋪。Banana Republic同樣呈下滑態勢,它無法在新的時尚格局下找到自己的位置。

長期以來,Gap的管理層對華爾街剝離Old Navy的呼聲一直無動于衷,他們說在同一家公司能夠讓這些品牌面對供應商時形成合力,而且還可以共享資源并相互學習。現在他們卻改弦更張。阿特·派克說這些業務及其客戶有很大的差別,而且Old Navy需要單飛了。他還說本次剝離“能宣泄感情”。為了讓Gap在Old Navy離去后繼續增長,派克的如意算盤是女性運動服飾品牌Athleta有能力繼續和Lululemon抗衡。Gap寄予很大期望的還有只在網上銷售的男性運動服品牌Hill City,以及從申請破產的童裝連鎖Gymboree那里收購的童裝品牌Janie & Jack。Gap的董事長費舍說,剝離Old Navy將迫使Gap品牌自我改進:“情況緊迫,而在這個行業中,緊迫感就是你的朋友。”

這些年來,Old Navy質優價廉的觀念一直在奪走Gap的生意。派克開玩笑說,兩家公司將變得亦敵亦友。在近期和華爾街人士探討本次轉型的介紹會上,派克跟辛格爾開玩笑說:“現在我們應該擁抱一下嗎?”但他說,實際上兩家公司并不會直接競爭。就像費舍家族和Gap的其他大股東一樣,他有理由樂見Old Navy蓬勃發展,原因就是剝離時發行的股份。派克說:“我會成為Old Navy的主要投資者,所以我會為了它的成功而投資。”

For years, Old Navy has been better than its sibling brands at making that kind of calculation—and thus has helped blunt the implosions at those chains. The namesake Gap brand, once a major cultural power with celebrities vying to be in its ads, has closed hundreds of stores in North America since 2011, and Banana Republic has also declined, unable to find a place for itself in fashion’s new landscape.

Gap Inc.’s management had long dismissed Wall Street calls for a spin?off of Old Navy, arguing that staying together gave the brands collective clout with vendors, along with the ability to pool resources and learn from one another. Now, the leadership has changed its tune: Art Peck says the businesses and their clienteles are too different and Old Navy needs to fly on its own, calling the separation “cathartic.” To keep Gap growing without Old Navy, Peck is betting on the ability of women’s sportswear brand Athleta to keep competing solidly with Lululemon. Gap is also pinning substantial hopes on Hill City, a men’s activewear brand that’s currently online-only, and Janie & Jack, a children’s brand it acquired from Gymboree after that chain filed for bankruptcy. Fisher, the chairman, says not having Old Navy around will force the Gap brand to raise its game. “There will be urgency, and in this business, urgency is your friend,” he says.

Old Navy’s quality-at-a-discount ethos cannibalized business from Gap over the years, and Peck jokes that the companies may soon become frenemies. “Should we hug now?” Peck quipped to Syngal at a recent presentation to Wall Street to discuss the transaction. But in practice, he argues, the companies won’t be direct competitors. Like the Fisher family and all other major Gap Inc. shareholders, he’ll have an incentive for Old Navy to thrive because of the shares issued in the spinoff. “I will be a major investor in Old Navy, so I will be invested in its success,” Peck says.

作為有設計頭腦的加拿大青少年,辛格爾曾經建立過自己的小型時裝公司。對時尚物流的興趣讓她接受了工程師方面的培訓。如今,她經常依靠數據分析來就庫存做出決定。圖片來源:Cayce Clifford for Fortune

除了這樣的善意,本次拆分也面臨著挑戰。這些品牌的后端業務,比如IT和供應鏈管理,已經緊密地融為一體。咨詢公司A.T. Kearney的全球消費和零售部門合伙人阿德希爾·巴胡爾卡說:“Old Navy遲早得打造自己的一些后端業務,而這會分散管理層的注意力。”同時,剝離的成本也不會低。今后兩年Old Navy將斥資8億美元來建立新的經銷中心并升級技術和物流,此外還會出現其他開支。

不過,“離巢”并沒有讓辛格爾感到緊張。在百貨商場客流下降對各式各樣的零售商產生不利影響之際,Old Navy的門店則主要設在百貨商場以外。辛格爾還說,上班時穿休閑服和運動服等主要流行趨勢將使Old Navy繼續處于有利位置,從而對長期增長加以充分利用。此外,她指出,Old Navy的規模已經足夠大,面對供應商時也有了Gap那樣的話語權。

Such goodwill aside, the separation poses challenges. The brands’ back-end operations—functions like IT and supply-chain management—are tightly integrated. “Sooner or later [Old Navy] will have to build some of that on its own, and it will be a distraction for management,” says Adheer Bahulkar, a partner at consulting firm A.T. Kearney’s global consumer and retail practice. And splitting up won’t come cheap: It will cost as much as $800 million in the next two years to build Old Navy a new distribution center and update its technology and logistics, among other expenses.

Still, fleeing the nest doesn’t unnerve Syngal. At a time when declining mall traffic is hurting retailers of all stripes, Old Navy stores are primarily “off mall.” And Syngal says that broad social trends like the rise of casual wear and activewear in the workplace will continue to position Old Navy well to ride a long wave of growth. What’s more, she says, Old Navy has grown large enough to wield the same clout with vendors that Gap Inc. has.

****

Old Navy面臨的較大問題可能是它讓人覺得它在打安全牌。和其他所有零售商一樣,Old Navy一直很難找到平衡點,一方面是提供足夠多樣的產品來持續吸引消費者關注,另一方面則是被消費者看不上的未出售商品所拖累。派克和辛格爾表示,過去幾個季度,Old Navy的問題在一定程度上源于錯誤地平衡二者的關系,具體來說就是未能向女士服裝消費者提供足夠多的選擇,并在曾經取得成功的商品上投入太多。

對于一位把推陳出新作為職業發展基礎的CEO來說,這是一個痛點。在宣布分拆計劃后,辛格爾聘用的第一位主要成員就是要讓Old Navy的業務有更多的創造性“藝術”色彩,這并非巧合——最近她挖來了南希·格林,后者本是正在騰飛的Athleta品牌的總裁,10年前曾經作為高管之一幫助Old Navy建立了童裝業務。如今,格林的頭銜是Old Navy的總裁兼首席創意官。

但短期內Old Navy的健康狀況或許取決于它能否讓自己的店面保持活力。在赴舊金山市集街考察3萬平方英尺的旗艦店時,辛格爾點出了Old Navy連鎖店具有吸引力的秘密,那就是店內的一些細節,包括用波爾卡圓點做裝飾,在墻上掛一長排牛仔褲讓人們抬頭觀看,地板上畫的跳房子方格以及孩子們(和其他人)可以用蠟筆在上面涂色的桌子。Old Navy店內的鏡子上還寫著引導語,比如“趁熱購物”和“嗨,美女”。

此前,Old Navy一直用較便宜的商品讓自己類似倉庫的店鋪充滿活力。而今它正在逐步重塑自己的1100多家門店,包括用較明亮的色彩重新粉刷較老舊店面的深色木器、加裝電燈以及重新裝修試衣間(9月出版的《財富》雜志曾經報道,塔吉特,也就是Old Navy的最大競爭對手之一,也在做類似的工作)。

辛格爾說,實體零售仍處在Old Navy增長策略的最前沿。約14%的美國店鋪交易以現金進行,從而意味著這項業務不大可能網絡化。Old Navy還認為它能夠在較小的市場中大幅增長。辛格爾說:“我們聽到很多顧客說:‘你們沒有在我們那兒開店——我得開45分鐘的車到你們的店里。’”Old Navy的業務覆蓋面積一般是每20萬人一家店,這就意味著該品牌一直不大可能擴展到人口不那么密集的地區。但辛格爾認為他們可以在那些地區發展。她的意思是在西爾斯、梅西百貨、Gymboree、Kmart和J.C. Penney最近關閉店鋪的社區建立Old Navy的業務。過去兩年,Old Navy新開了100家店,而且還可以再開800家。

當然,店鋪能夠帶給你的只有這么多,你還需要恰當的商品。和大多數百貨商場零售商以及百貨店不同,Old Navy不怕在選擇商品時犯傻。比如說,他們會在收款臺旁邊擺上很多束發帶,人們曾認為這種東西已經被時尚拋棄,但現在它又回歸了(就像工裝短褲一樣,辛格爾也沒有就此道歉)。

同時,辛格爾對Old Navy打造重磅產品,從而使銷售額達到100億美元的能力充滿信心。2011年至今,Old Navy的運動服業務從無到有,規模已經達到數十億美元。它還把牛仔褲做成了大生意,在熱門女式品牌Rockstar的推動下,Old Navy每天能夠賣出4萬條牛仔褲。這些牛仔褲的零售價約為35美元,它們引起購物者共鳴的特征包括四面拉伸面料以及避免膝部褶皺的回復力。在Gap或Abercrombie & Fitch,具有同樣特性的牛仔褲售價為70美元。

關鍵就在于讓Old Navy處于這樣的恰當位置上,不過于時髦,但夠酷,質量也足夠好。辛格爾說,只要保持這個狀態,獨立后的Old Navy就會生機勃勃,特別是在業務整頓和數據科學降低時尚選擇失誤幾率的情況下。她說:“我們占美國家庭的三分之一。那么我們為什么不能占二分之一呢?為什么不能占四分之三呢?”(財富中文網)

本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2019年10月刊,標題為《在風暴中起航》。

譯者:Charlie

審校:夏林

Old Navy’s bigger problem may be the perception that it’s playing it safe. Like all retailers, Old Navy struggles with the balance between offering enough assortment to keep customers interested and getting stuck with unsold merchandise customers yawn at. Peck and Syngal say Old Navy’s problems in the past few quarters have stemmed in part from getting that balance wrong—in particular, from not giving women’s wear customers enough new selections and betting too heavily on items that succeeded before.

That’s a sore point for a CEO who has built a career on rolling out novel products. Not coincidentally, Syngal’s first major hire since the spinoff was announced is one that bolsters the more creative “art” side of the business: She recently lured away Nancy Green, president of the thriving Athleta brand and the executive who helped build Old Navy’s kids business a decade ago, to become Old Navy’s president and chief creative officer.

In the short run, though, Old Navy’s health may depend on keeping its stores lively. On a tour of the brand’s 30,000-square-foot flagship on Market Street in San Francisco, Syngal explains the secret to the chain’s appeal. She points to features such as polka-dot motifs, jeans that hang on a wall in a long line to lift the eyes upward, hopscotch outlines on the floor, and tables where kids (and others) can color with crayons. Exhortations such as “Shop It Like It’s Hot” and “Hi, Beautiful” are painted on mirrors.

Old Navy, which has a rolling remodeling campaign for its fleet of more than 1,100 stores, has been livening up its warehouse-like locations with relatively inexpensive touches, including repainting the darker wood in older stores with brighter colors, adding lighting, and redoing fitting rooms. (One of Old Navy’s biggest challengers, Target, has been making similar moves, as Fortune reported in its September issue.)

Physical retail remains at the forefront of Old Navy’s growth strategy, Syngal says. About 14% of U.S. store transactions are in cash, meaning that business is unlikely to go online. The company also thinks it can grow big in smaller markets. “What we hear a lot is customers saying, ‘You’re not in my town—I have to drive 45 minutes to get to an Old Navy,’?” Syngal says. Typically, the brand’s “trade area” has been 200,000 people per store—which means it has been less likely to expand in less densely populated areas. But Syngal thinks Old Navy can proliferate there: She points to increased business for the brand in such communities where a Sears, Macy’s, Gymboree, Kmart, or J.C. Penney has recently closed. In the past two years, Old Navy has opened 100 new locations; it has another 800 on tap.

Of course, stores will only get you so far: You also need the right merchandise. Unlike most mall-retail and department stores, Old Navy is not afraid to be goofy in its product selections. By the cash registers, for example, there is an abundance of hair scrunchies, an item thought to have been relegated to fashion’s dustbin but now coming back (and one, like cargo shorts, for which Syngal makes no apology).

Syngal also has faith in Old Navy’s ability to build blockbusters that could steer the brand to $10 billion in sales. Since 2011, the chain has created a billion-dollar activewear business from scratch. It has also turned its denim business into a juggernaut, thanks to its popular Rockstar brand for women—selling 40,000 pairs a day. Those jeans, which retail for around $35, struck a chord with shoppers for features such as four-way stretch and recovery so they don’t droop at the knees—the kind of attributes found on pairs that go for $70 at Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch.

The key is to keep Old Navy in that sweet spot: Not too fashion-forward but cool enough and of good enough quality. As long as it holds that position, Syngal says, Old Navy should thrive as a stand-alone—especially if operational chops and data science reduce the odds of fashion misfires. “We are in one-third of American households. Why can’t we be in half?” she asks. “Why can’t we be in three-quarters?”

A version of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Setting Sail in a Storm.”

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