WWD: AEO Marks 25 Years as a Public Company

The American Eagle and Aerie gang headed to Wall Street to celebrate

By Kellie Ell / Link to article

American Eagle Outfitters turned 25 on Monday.

The retailer celebrated its quarter-century run on the public market by ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange the same day.

The party included Jay Schottenstein, executive chairman and chief executive officer of American Eagle Outfitters; Chad Kessler, global brand president of American Eagle; Jennifer Foyle, Aerie global brand president; Stacey McCormick, vice president of marketing at Aerie, and AerieReal role model Iskra Lawrence, as well as local retail associates from both brands, all of whom were outfitted in American Eagle jeans. Some were wearing matching denim jackets with a picture of the Stock Exchange printed on the back.

“We’re the fastest-growing retail bran d in the United States,” Schottenstein told WWD. “The secret is, number one, you have to give the customer real merchandise and real value, and you win on quality. Everything has to be right.”

Schottenstein said the goal two-and-a-half decades ago when the company went public, and he was still working alongside former chief creative director of American Eagle Roger Markfield, was to “own the denim” business and “put a pair of jeans on everyone’s behind.”

“And we’re achieving that,” Schottenstein said.

American Eagle Outfitters right now is the number-one retailer of ladies denim, according to the ceo. In the 15- to 25-year-old age range, the company is the number-one jeans company for men and women. In December, American Eagle surpassed $1 billion in sales during a single quarter. In all of 2018, the retailer sold more than $1 billion of its popular AE jeans. Last quarter, American Eagle marked its 16th consecutive quarter of positive comps growth. The stock, which closed up 2.45 percent to $21.78 a share on Monday, is up more than 2,700 percent since its initial public offering back in 1994. Schottenstein pointed out that’s a growth rate twice the size of the S&P 500.

And if the party on Wall Street Monday morning wasn’t enough, Monday night American Eagle will accept the American Apparel and Footwear Association’s Retailer of the Year award.

“Twenty-five years after going public, we’re really just beginning,” AEO’s Kessler said.

Schottenstein added, with so much competition, everything has to be right — from design to fit to fabrics. “At the end of the day, we have to do better than anybody else and keep evolving ourselves,” he said. “You have to be a good merchant to start with. You can have the best systems in the world, but if you’re not a good merchant, it’s not going to work.

“And the beauty of our business, we’re strong in brick-and-mortar [stores] and we’re strong online,” Schottenstein said. “You have to speak to the customer and all the channels have to have the same consistent message. You can’t have one message for online and one message for the store.”

And one thing American Eagle has that it didn’t have a quarter a century ago when it first listed on the Nasdaq is women’s apparel and intimates retailer Aerie.

During the most recent quarter, comps at the hugely popular women’s apparel brand rose 23 percent — on top of a 34 percent increase last year. The company also recently revealed plans to open between 60 and 75 Aerie stores in 2019.

“I think a lot of brands today get a little bit over assorted,” said Foyle of Aerie. “They’re trying to do too many things. We talk about staying in our lane and just completely staying focused on our offerings.”

Foyle said she doesn’t even mind smaller brands trying to capitalize off the Aerie brand message of body positivity and inclusiveness.

“There are a lot of copycats and people following us,” she said. “We think that’s the best compliment. There’s lot of market share out there for us to grab.”

Lawrence, one of the original AerieReal role models, added that among all Aerie employees — from retail associates to c-suite executives — there is a sense of pride belonging to the Aerie family; everyone stands behind the brand’s message.

“Which is something I rarely see in retail,” the model said. “The great thing about Aerie is that we evolve with the customer. We are so in tuned with the customer and we’re constantly listening that we’ll be able to evolve with the customer. We’re constantly on the ground and we make a really important point of actually going out there and actually meeting people.”

In fact, the success of Aerie has been so pronounced and so rapid that it’s left some wondering if the brand will spin-off into its own company.

But Schottenstein said Aerie will only spin off only if there’s a good reason for it.

“Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean we have to do it,” he said. “But if something makes sense and it’s better for both companies, [then] we are studying the best options. But it’s just too premature to talk about it [now].”