Abercrombie learns some hard retail lessons

Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) is finally growing up.

After getting socked with profit plunges, a plummeting stock price and a general feeling that it’s just not cool anymore, the clothing retailer is making a change.

The chain is no longer acting like the dark nightclub that you’re not good enough for, pumping out thumping beats and strong aromas of cologne. It’s no longer splashing giant photos of shirtless men all over its walls, sporting more six-packs than you’d see in a liquor store. It’s no longer gleefully ignoring people who aren’t rail thin — turns out they have money to spend, too, money that Abercrombie sorely needs now.

The company has been pulled, kicking and screaming, into maturity. Whether that’s enough to revive its bottom line is another matter altogether.

Abercrombie is now turning up the lights at its stores and turning down the music, Bloomberg reports. It’s also easing up on the fragrance that it sprayed all over the place. It’s removing the blinds that were designed to give it an exclusive, don’t-look-in-here feel. The company is considering using window displays to show off its products. And all those photos of abs and more abs are being replaced with photos of stuff people might actually wear.

Abercrombie will also sell black clothes, something CEO Mike Jeffries has refused to do in the past. It’s toning down the large logos that once screamed from nearly every shirt. And it’s begun adding larger sizes, a dramatic change for the company.

Jeffries has come under fire in the past for telling Salon that he only wants attractive customers. “Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people,” he told the website in 2006. “We don’t market to anyone other than that.”

Although Jeffries, 69, said that years ago, he hasn’t been able to live it down. And as his company’s fortunes fell, his power diminished as well. He was forced to step down as chairman in January as same-store sales declined for eight straight quarters. His control is being weakened further as Abercrombie gets set to name presidents for the Hollister and Abercrombie brands. It has also hired a chief operating officer. The activist investor firm that was trying to get Jeffries fired has now backed down, soothed by the company’s decision to install four independent directors on the board.

It’s unclear whether these changes can rev up a brand analysts have criticized as stale. And it doesn’t help at all that teen retailers in general are suffering as parents keep a tight hold on spending. American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) said Wednesday it will close 150 stores over the next three years as quarterly earnings plunged by 86 percent. Urban Outfitters (URBN) said this week it has lost its “fashion footing,” and shares promptly fell by 9 percent.

The stores have so far been unable to keep up with the likes of H&M and Forever 21, which sell cheaper items and use a “fast-fashion” business model that refreshes racks with a steady stream of new clothing.

Abercrombie is for now pinning its hopes on expanding internationally and continuing to boost online sales. It’s also turning to social media to spread the word about its U.S. overhaul.

Some Twitter users were intrigued by the company’s news Thursday. “Well this is interesting,” wrote one. “I may step into an Abercrombie store now. Maybe.” But others were dismissive. “Who still wears Abercrombie n Fitch, that’s so 2006,” wrote another.