Byline: Debbie Gebolys

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With its men’s business outperforming women’s, Abercrombie & Fitch’s biggest challenge in the next 12 months is to bolster the sagging women’s apparel sales, chairman Michael Jeffries said Thursday.
“I’ve been working 18-hour days to make sure we show some progress there,” Jeffries told investors at an annual shareholders meeting here. “What’s happening in women’s is there’s been a change there, and fashion is moving much faster.”
Trouble with A&F’s women’s apparel sales surfaced last summer when Abercrombie’s string of strong same-store sales increases began to taper off. Jeffries took control of the division last fall and appointed several women’s merchandising executives earlier this year. But women’s sales continued to underperform men’s when first-quarter results were reported last week.
Jeffries is targeting back-to-school sales in July and August as the bellwether of the new fashion approach.
He added that the second biggest challenge this year is “to build an organization to operate on its own, to put better and better people in place.”
Some Wall Street analysts have questioned whether Jeffries can continue to shoulder the bulk of decision-making as the retailer expands to its third concept, Hollister Co., a West Coast-inspired store for high schoolers that begins a five-store test this summer.
The company also has taken criticism for failing to keep analysts and investors up-to-date on corporate developments. Last week, Jeffries made a concession to those repeated complaints by agreeing to release same-store sales results monthly instead of quarterly.
Executive vice president Seth Johnson added that the company is close to naming a new chief financial officer and an investor relations chief. Both should help the flow of information about company performance, he said.