Usually Kathleen writes these types of articles, but lately I’ve felt like doing a little commentary myself. As many of you know, H&M first landed on the east coast a few years ago with many store openings and last fall, they opened their first series of west coast stores. Coincidentally, at the time they were starting their west coast stores, I was using the same fulfillment center that had been hired to handle their west coast distribution.
I never visited the two stores they opened in downtown San Francisco, because I know H&M can be a madhouse, and a madhouse in downtown San Francisco is neither easy to get to nor pleasant to shop at. To my amusement, H&M opened a store in the shopping district of upscale Walnut Creek, right next to one of my favorite lunch spots, Il Fornaio.
I was crazy enough to venture into the store, not realizing it was opening weekend. Broadway Plaza (where this H&M is located) is home to many upscale independent boutiques (including the one shoe store I curiously wandered into not realizing it was Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik central and thus, out of my price range), Nordstrom, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Tiffany. There is no Old Navy here.
It had been a year since I ventured into an H&M store and I’m reminded why there is a 15 minute wait for a dressing room, even though they have over 15 of them. Love it or hate it, H&M gets a lot of things right that the GAP has gotten incredibly wrong over the years.
If H&M ever decides to take their US expansion full steam ahead, the GAP is in big trouble. The price points compete with Old Navy, but the style is something that the GAP just could never get right (according to both industry analysts and my friends who have given up on the retailer after years of disappointment). Kathleen is a huge fan of Zara’s business model (and I am too), but Zara is too stylish to have the mainstream potential that H&M has. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a recognition that the business models are different.
There are many people who love Target (or Tar’ jhay as some would call it). And while they have reinvented themselves with designer partnerships and their incredible ability to convince established brands to license or develop products just for them, there still is a certain cheapness to Target that some women cannot embrace.
So here I am, standing in a store in a high income, high cost of living, relatively upscale shopping area, watching women wearing $200 jeans, and carrying Nordstrom shopping bags, buy a par if $30 jeans from H&M, with a wink and a nod understanding that they have reached a customer that the GAP can’t touch.