Bedbug Infestation is Only Part of the "Epic" Management Failure at Hollister

Hollister's flagship 40,000 square foot store (a.k.a. Hollister Epic) in Manhattan's trendy SoHo was inexplicably closed yesterday due to "maintenance." Turns out the place was crawling with bedbugs as witnessed by the staff -- all scantily clad and scratching -- but management ignored it for nearly a month. Effective extermination of the insects is the least of parent company Abercrombie & Fitch's (ANF) worries. It's going to take more than protective gear and canister of toxic fluid to correct a management failure of these proportions.

First, deal with the employees. It was bad enough that their attempts to inform the management were ignored. But now only full-timers are being paid while the store is closed, as well as the three shirtless models posted at the door to tell customers to come back soon (!). Great way to motivate your sales people -- not.

Not to mention that while bedbugs don't pose a health risk (other than itching and irritation on the skin from bites) the mental stress that comes along with an infestation has been well documented.

If Abercrombie's brass wants to boost morale, they need to take a look at compensation packages ASAP. Making up for their lost pay is a start, but Abercrombie needs to give these employees a forum to air their grievances, as well as a way to deal with whatever health-related issues that may arise.

Next, take the managers to task. If a staffer has to go to the media to get some action something is seriously wrong with the store's management team. In an email to Gothamist, an employee wrote:

The first report of bedbug bites in the store was three weeks ago by and employee and a manager, but that was ignored. On Tuesday the 29th, an employee found that she had been bitten, and also found a live bedbug and an exoskeleton on her borrowed Hollister outfit. All of the employees were forced to continue working even though more and more bugs were being discovered. Hollister was more concerned about losing money than the health and safety of their hundreds of employees and thousands of customers.

The fact that this person spoke on condition of anonymity so they wouldn't lose their job at the "bedbug breeding ground," tells you that the job market is so tight, no one is taking any chances. But that doesn't give the store manager license to treat them like vermin. At best the SoHo supervisors would be fired, but at the very least, they should be made to attend some remedial courses in retail management and how to deal with potential health hazards.

Finally, take care of the customers. The WSJ consulted an expert on torts law who said shoppers who discover bedbugs in their recent purchases could have a case.

Technically it's a breach of warranty of merchantability," said Michael M. Martin, a professor at Fordham University School of Law. "They are defective because they don't meet consumer expectation. The usual remedy for that, first of all you can get price back and, second, you might well be able to recover for the consequential injuries.

It's quite likely that customers will find the critters clinging to their hoodies and tees when they get home. Bedbugs are not only tenacious (they adapted to DDT) but they are very accomplished hitchhikers. Add the fact that Hollister stores are notoriously poorly lit and merchandise is often piled in messy stacks, et voila -- insects with your purchase at no extra charge.

If Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries can pull his head out of the new A&F Quarterly long enough to pay attention, he'll do well to fire up the company's customer service representatives. Have them start making calls now warning of the potential for the bugs, offer a discount on a future purchase, and cross all fingers and toes that this big, bad, bedbug mess doesn't come back to bite him.

Image via Flickr user Enric Archivell CC 2.0