When Paul Pressler took over as CEO of Gap ( GPS) more than four years ago, he said he was honored to have the opportunity to work with the company's many talented people. "Together," he said in September 2002, "we will continue the great legacy of the Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic brands, while creating a new and exciting vision of the future." The future has arrived, and it isn't pretty. While Pressler did manage to halt Gap's earlier slide, the company is in another seemingly interminable slump, and some analysts believe that Pressler's tenure with the San Francisco-based clothing retailer may be nearing an end. On Thursday, Gap said same-store sales for December fell 9%, while net sales slipped 4% to $2.34 billion. The company slashed its full-year earnings forecast to 83 cents to 87 cents a share from its previous guidance of $1.01 to $1.06. For all of 2006, Gap's same-store sales, or sales at store open at least a year, tumbled 7%. That was on top of a 5% decline in 2005. Pressler expressed disappointment in the results and said in a statement that "the management team, with the active involvement of our board of directors, is currently reviewing the Gap and Old Navy's brand strategies. We are committed to making the necessary changes to improve performance."
Analysts reviewing the Gap's brand strategies came up with their own ideas about improving performance. "Change the management," says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of retail consulting and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates. "
Pressler's had a long time there; nothing's working." Davidowitz notes that Pressler, who came to Gap from Disney's ( DIS) parks and resorts division, has no background in fashion. "The guy has been there for years," he says. "He has no background for the job. He stepped into a fashion company and the result is that company is decimated. This guy is the captain of the ship. Is he accountable? I think he ought to be." Davidowitz also says he expects Gap to announced a number of store closings for the Gap and Old Navy. "I simply think a lot of stores have fallen into the red and I look for major closures in those two divisions," he says. Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, says that while there are no easy answers to the Gap's problems, there is "a clear question of needing a change in leadership." "Gap lost sight of who their core customer is," he says. "They need to go back and reinvent themselves to re-attract that core customer. It's not going to be overnight. They have to do a turnaround and bring in some new blood."
Scott Rothbort, founder of LakeView Asset Management and a contributor to Street Insight says Pressler has been successful in the past, "but you have to wonder whether or not he met his Waterloo." "Teens don't want to shop there and kids don't want to wear anything that says Gap on it," he says. "It's just not fashionable." Rothbort said the company has too many concepts, such as Gap Kids, Gap Maternity, and suggested the company should rethink the whole model. "I think they're very confused," he says. Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, compared Gap to a sports team on a losing streak. As the pressure mounts, it becomes more difficult for the team to turn around. "Their management team has not been sitting idly around," he says. "They've certainly tried to do a lot things to reverse the trend and so far haven't hit the exact right formula." Gap spokesman Greg Rossiter declined to speculate on the Gap's plans for the future, but noted that Banana Republic is making progress as the company had predicted. He also said the reaction to the new Forth & Towne brand has been very positive and the company has recently launched an online footwear business. "We have growth initiatives we're rolling out and we feel good about those," he says.