|Headquarters||New Albany, Ohio, U.S.|
Number of locations
|Mike Jeffries (CEO)|
|Revenue||$50.2 million USD (2007)|
|Owner||Abercrombie & Fitch|
Ruehl No.925 (marketed as "RUEHL No.925"), or simply Ruehl (//), was an upscale American lifestyle brand by Abercrombie & Fitch Co. The concept was inspired by the artistic and cultural heritage of New York City's Greenwich Village and was meant to attract post-graduate individuals aged 22 to 35, retaining consumer basis past collegiate consumers for the A&F company. Ruehl sold high-grade casual apparel, leather goods and lifestyle accessories through its stores and web site.
Citing the economic environment, in June 2009, Abercrombie & Fitch announced it would close all Ruehl locations by January 2010. A&F ceased processing Ruehl web orders on January 22, 2010 and, as of January 31, 2010, completed the closure of its Ruehl branded stores and related direct-to-consumer operations. In mid-2011, the Ruehl website was taken offline completely, with the domain name ruehl.com redirecting to abercrombie.com instead.
- 1 History
- 2 Marketing and its resulting performance
- 3 Ruehl branding and merchandise
- 4 Stores
- 5 Levi Strauss lawsuit
- 6 References
A&F created a pseudohistory to give depth to the brand image, tying together the elements of the Ruehl brand. The original Abercrombie & Fitch publicity material presented on the brand's opening day stated Ruehl as the legacy of the fictional "Ruehl" German family which immigrated to Greenwich Village's West Village in the mid-19th century. The patriarch opens a leathergoods shop in No.921 on Greenwich Street (in actuality, there are no numbers past 800 on the street). His son later moves into No.923 and brings in denim inspired by James Dean. As time passes, the third generation son moves into No.925 and brings together the family business with an emphasis on "the finer things in life." The fictitious story concludes with A&F purchasing the business from the family in 2002.
By 2009, the story was reimagined in a presentation for Piper Jaffray. The fictional roots of the business are established by the Ruehl "great-grandfather" in a mid-19th century Germany prior to the immigration (which does not occur until 1900 with the "grandfather"). Then, the business goes on to "[solidify] its craft of fine apparel goods" in the Village. In the fantasy, the business is still run by the "father" and "25 year-old son" as "the world class purveyor of casual, fine leather goods and designer denim."
CEO and Chairman of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jeffries, stated that Ruehl took years of planning, mainly for the store's atmosphere and image. From the start, the Company (A&F) was determined to keep their new brand concept veiled from public eyes. Retail analysts viewed this as peculiar. Not even retail landlords approached for space were told about the concept. John C. Shroder (COO of Westfield San Francisco Centre's U.S. operations) confessed that it was A&F's reputation which gave him the confidence to "sign up Ruehl sight-unseen."
Despite the secretive nature, rumors circulated about a "distinct departure" from the A&F style. It was evident that A&F sought to maintain consumers past ages 18 through 22. The concept was to venture out as more mature and sophisticated, all the while keeping it youthful. The brand was privately unveiled to investors-only on "Investor Day" September 7, 2004. The presentation was at Westfield Garden State Plaza in New Jersey. At the introduction and press tour of the Westfield Garden State Plaza location, Jeffries noted that Ruehl is "the fantasy of what it's like to graduate from college and go to New York and make it. It's the New York fantasy." He repeatedly referred to Ruehl as "the movie" because of its elaborate, flowing background.
Ruehl No.925 first opened on September 24, 2004 with three locations. These were at Westfield Garden State Plaza (New Jersey), Woodfield Mall (Illinois), and the International Plaza (Florida). Designed to look and feel like Greenwich Village, Ruehl presented a new, "more sophisticated" lifestyle than other Abercrombie & Fitch brands. The store prototype of this time was a two-floor prototype measuring at 9,500 sq ft (880 m2). Due to its structural form and size, locations capable of housing the prototype became hard to acquire.
Mike Jeffries did not launch an online store upon the opening of Ruehl. He wanted to attract customers to the stores to experience the Ruehl atmosphere. What was launched was a promotional website which gave store listings, previewed the private online policy, and allowed for email subscription to receive news on Ruehl.
Original prices upon opening were roughly 30% higher than at Abercrombie & Fitch (e.g. destroyed blue jeans $148.00 USD). Many consumers deemed this as too high for young professionals who normally begin their careers at fair incomes.
In June 2005, writer Alex Kuczynski published an article in The New York Times about her experience in the store at Westfield Garden State Plaza. She described the facade as "something provocative and different," and compared the store greeter to a "nightclub bouncer on the watch for good-looking customers." Kuczynski wrote that the store name conjures up actress Mercedes Ruehl and her hapless roles; "try as it might, the name just doesn't sound cool." She also criticized the lighting techniques, saying that "people at that age [20's and 30's] aspiring to the heights of sangfroid that Ruehl appears to promote would never deign to exert effort to find the right size, let alone spend 10 minutes squinting at a skirt to discern its color", a shame because "the clothing is worth the time and the money." She said prices were "reasonable", giving as an example $158 for the best-selling "destroyed" blue jeans.
In early 2007, RUEHL925.com became RUEHL.com and was upgraded as an Adobe Flash Player page. Also, to accommodate expansion, a new store prototype was developed measuring at 7,200 sq ft (670 m2). This new prototype encompasses one sales level only, reducing construction costs and increasing opportunities to secure prime locations. A limited online store was finally launched on October 25, 2007. It sold fragrances and handbags in a limited quantity of styles. By the end of the year, in an effort to retain consumer basis, price points for Ruehl clothing were significantly lowered as so to create a minimal 10-15% difference between Abercrombie & Fitch and Ruehl No.925 clothing. A&F rose its jeans prices to make a $10 USD difference between its jeans and Ruehl's. January 30, 2008 marked the launch of the full online store.
On June 17, 2009, Abercrombie & Fitch announced it would close all 29 Ruehl stores by the end of the fiscal year (January 2010).
Mike Jeffries, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Abercrombie & Fitch Co., said:
It has been a difficult decision to close Ruehl, a brand we continue to believe could have been successful in different circumstances. However, given the current economic environment, we believe it is in the best interests of the Company to focus its efforts and resources on the growth opportunities afforded by our other brands, particularly internationally. While I am disappointed with the ultimate outcome, I am grateful for the effort and commitment the Ruehl team has shown in developing and positioning that brand in the marketplace. In particular, the recent strides made in differentiating and elevating the Ruehl assortment make this an especially difficult decision. However, all of our brands will benefit from our experience and lessons learned with Ruehl.
After closing the accessories store in September 2009, women's handbags were allocated to the Abercrombie & Fitch New York City, London, and Milan flagship stores. Ruehl store closings began in October, while remaining stores were kept half-stocked with merchandise for the Christmas 2009 fashion season. Meanwhile, A&F's Ginza flagship carried a collection of leather handbags upon opening on December 15. By late-December, all merchandise were marked on clearance for 50% off, all sales final, in store and online. The final sale later rose to 60%, and finally to 70% by mid-January 2010. A&F ceased processing web orders on January 22 (nearly two years after its launch). In early 2011, the website was taken offline completely with Ruehl.com now redirecting to the Abercrombie & Fitch website.
Marketing and its resulting performance
Ruehl marketing photography had a blue color scheme and was meant to be perceived as more sophisticated than its parent brand's (Abercrombie & Fitch) marketing. Some imagery used angles of Greenwich Village as a backdrop. Jeffries made it clear that sex in marketing was a continual importance in Ruehl advertising. For that reason, Bruce Weber shot all campaigns. He is most noted for his provocative and sexual, beefcake work with Calvin Klein underwear and A&F. Photography from Ruehl's early days evolved from sepia and dark green color schemes before settling on blue. High-profile models have appeared in Ruehl marketing campaigns, including Miranda Kerr and Kim Stolz.
The brand has used the appropriate slogan, "Visit us in the Village." Its main marketing logo "Ruehl / No.925 / Greenwich Street / New York" later was replaced with "Ruehl / No.925 / Greenwich St / New York, NY". It mimics as an actual address.
Marketing techniques used on Ruehl have not benefited revenue expectations for the brand. The average store generated sales of over $3.2 million USD in 2006. In comparison to Hollister's outstanding popularity and sales by 2004 (four years after its opening), revenue from Ruehl by 2008 had not been satisfying.
Ruehl branding and merchandise
The logo: Trubble
The official logo for Ruehl No.925 was the French bulldog Trubble. He is the little "inquisitive" bulldog with a "steadfast demeanor" and "confident attitude" who walked into the Ruehl family shop in the mid-1850s - so states the fictional background to Ruehl. He was, as the fake literature continues, the family's first customer (to their surprise and delight). Subsequently, Trubble became the logo for the brand.
His name, "Trubble", is a play on the word "trouble." It signifies the trouble that Mike Jeffries and his development team underwent to create an appealing logo for Ruehl. Before deciding on Trubble, the company experimented with different designs on polos. The logos included: "R925"; an artistically cursive "R"; and "Ruehl / No.925". The bulldog from the Ruehl background was finally selected and named "Trubble" - a sort of counterpart to the Abercrombie moose, the flying Hollister Co. seagull, and the Gilly Hicks Koala. Trubble was embroidered on polos and silk-screened on other merchandise.
Merchandise cycled in stores weekly and there were four main seasonal clothing rollouts: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Christmas seasons. In efforts to entice consumers, books, music, newspapers, and fresh flowers were also on sale. Merchandise was made only available in Ruehl stores and at the web site.
The Ezra Fitch Collection by Abercrombie & Fitch, released in 2004 and discontinued in 2006, fragrance in 2007, shared similarity to Ruehl clothing.
Ruehl No.925 clothing was more sophisticated than of what is expected at college-inspired Abercrombie & Fitch during its initial launch, although soon changed to mimic Abercrombie & Fitch clothing after struggling sales revenue pushed Abercrombie & Fitch to make desperate changes to Ruehl No. 925. It was originally described as "edgier versions of Polo Ralph Lauren and J.Crew". Some Ruehl fashions could very well be "office-appropriate". Mike Jeffries, however, called Ruehl "100% casual." The price points at Ruehl were the highest in the family of Abercrombie & Fitch brands. This fact remained even after the drop in original price points. Nicknamed "A&F + $10" by original customers, there lingered a feel that the brand had been degraded from its high-end image by the drop in prices.
Clothing articles included tops (tees, shirts), bottoms (jeans, shorts), swim wear, accessories (flip flops, handbags), and underwear (men's only). Lace-and-velvet trimmed Lingerie and sleepwear were also previously offered to women (discontinued because of the Gilly Hicks brand). Materials used for Ruehl apparel were of a much higher-grade (using heavier denim, cashmere for sweaters, and embossed leather) than in other A&F brands. Overall, Jeffries wanted Ruehl to be positioned as a "jeans expert", with RNY jeans dominating the assortment of apparel. Inside all jeans was the embroidery: Ruehl New York 10014 (the New York City zip code).
Fragrance and leather goods
For its fragrance collection, Ruehl carried Signature (both cologne and perfume) and R-4 perfume and R-7 cologne. Signature cologne was the representing scent of the brand and was sprayed at intervals throughout the day in-store. R-4 perfume and R-7 cologne were dropped from retail October 2009.
Ruehl became the first in the chain of Abercrombie & Fitch brands to produce a genuine leather goods line for both men and women. Because of low purchasing rates, men's leather goods were discontinued (e.g. wallets and messenger bags). Women's bags, however, remained quite popular. Purse prices were at level with Coach prices for competition.
Ruehl No.925, in collaboration with its photographer Bruce Weber, produced what are called "Ruehl books." These are limited edition photography books. They encompass of photography inspired by the artistic and cultural heritage of Greenwich Village. The publications are similar to A&F Quarterly, a racy magalog also produced by Weber.
A typical Ruehl No.925 was structured as three, two-floored or single floored brownstones. Artificial windows contained flower boxes, and a black awning on the 3rd facade read "RUEHL." Surrounding the facades were wrought iron fences. Resembling a home off of Greenwich Street, concrete walkways lined in front of the store, leading to the two entrances. Inside, the store was walled off into about more than ten rooms. Entering the main entrance, one entered the leather shop which contained high shelves of leather hand bags before treading down a large corridor, the gallery, which divided the men and women departments. The flooring was of dark wood. To emphasize a Greenwich home, the women's side of the store contained the rooms of a normal home. This included a family room surrounded by couches and chairs with Ruehl merchandise displayed. There was also a dimly lit bedroom which could be led to the back of the women's side of the store containing one more room known as the mud room. The mud room was filled with women's apparel with a crystal chandelier hanging low from the ceiling. The men's side of the store contained a large room holding Ruehl denim across the wall. This room was located on the first floor and could be overseen from a bedroom containing a balcony. The men's side of the store had the secondary rooms of a Greenwich home. Men's merchandise were located in three bedrooms and overflowed into the Garage. At the end of the hallway separating the women's and men's side, was a divan surrounded with books and modern art - the room was known as the conservatory. Art and marketing photography were displayed as if in an art gallery. Merchandise was found on actual bookshelves and tables and highlighted with spot lighting and lamps. Located in the back corner of the store was the cashwrap, also known as the Garage, and was designed to have brick walls, dim/flickering lighting, and windows to represent the outside using intelligent lighting techniques. CDs were available for purchase and some stores had a burning fireplace.
The intent was to make the shopper feel in a unique place, a "private home." The music mixed for the brand attempted to employ soft modern house/lounge/downtempo tunes with jazzy beats to personify the jazz-influenced musical heritage of the Village. The modern art displayed instore was nostalgic to modern artists living in the early-20th century Village. The dim lighting projected an upscale image, and so did the lingering opulent scent of Signature. In A&F's words, "The classic décor and opulent ambience create a luxurious lifestyle inside this romantically lit West Village brownstone."
Kevin Ramstack (division manager of the Westfield Garden State Plaza store) revealed that new customers became overwhelmed over the number of rooms, "At first, they're shocked." The lack of typical mall windows also misled shoppers' view of the brand. A 50-year-old-man (interviewed by the New York Times) who walked into a Ruehl brownstone found himself in what he called "the wrong place" among "skimply dressed teenagers and stacks of tee-shirts that read Friday is a casual sex day ." He later confessed that the problem was "you really had to guess what it was until you got in." Quite on the contrary, a 17-year-old and her friend stated that they enjoyed the experience of the brand and that "instead of being in the middle of New Jersey, we are on a street in New York, and that is where we want to be anyway – living in New York City."
Many retail executives disagree with the idea of no mall windows. Some agree that stores similar to Ruehl (like Martin + Osa) with original and provocative storefronts attract curiosity to themselves against other mall merchants, and, thus, aid themselves economically. However, others contradict by stating that brands with storefronts as such are merely "shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to new customers who are so critical to a brand's success." However, with concern to Ruehl, Andrew McQuilkin (vice president of design at FRCH Design Worldwide) settles that "they [the storefronts] are sending a message early in the conversation [between consumer and store] that says you belong or you don't belong... The 17-year-old who wants to live in New York belongs. The 50-year-old suburban dad does not." Also, Kurt Barnard (president of Barnards Retail Consulting Group) stated that "the risk-taking behind Ruehl is not only a smart idea, it totally falls in line with the massive transformation of retail. Newness is needed. Abercrombie may have a hit upon a way to hold onto existing customers as they exit their teens."
Ruehl operated twenty-nine mall stores, one accessories store, and one outlet store. Locations included California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia. Mall locations took up store prototypes set up by corporate. The 600 sq ft (56 m2) accessories store was different, however, in that it only sold accessories, including handcrafted leather merchandise. It was located in West Village, New York City, New York at 370 Bleecker Street (on Bleecker between Charles and Perry).
Levi Strauss lawsuit
Levi Strauss & Co. filed a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch in July 2007 for trademark infringement, alleging that Ruehl jeans and other products used Levi's trademarked pocket design of connected arches. A similar suit was filed against Polo Ralph Lauren.
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