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The kids are all right: Gap’s Rob Vaupel on giving kids clothes they’ll covet

Design, PeopleTighe Flatley, Gap Inc. blogger1 Comment

Design is in the details. And it takes obsession with detail to breathe life into that irresistible piece of clothing. These are the people behind the scenes at Gap Inc. — the dedicated professionals who push themselves every day to create customer experiences that resonate. Get to know these heroes of their craft.

Gap kids craft hero

Don and Doris Fisher opened the first Gap store with a mission: create a fantastic customer experience by making it easier and more fun to find clothes you love.

Decades later, Rob Vaupel is one of many carrying that torch at Gap Inc. He's driven daily by the desire to build a customer experience to remember. How? By making sure the clothes jump off the shelves, and are more fun and delightful than they are sleek and fashion-forward.

That's no easy task when everything catches your customers' eyes — because the customers Rob and his team serve are still in grade school.

As Divisional Merchandise Manager for Gap Kids & Baby, Rob tracks customer data to get the clothes people want, when they want it and how they want it. Every sweater, T-shirt, or tiny pair of baby jeans must be placed with a purpose, defined and directed by a team of merchants, planners and others.

“Every day, the customer gives you feedback by buying or not buying, and every day, week and season, you have a new chance to win [the customer]," Rob says. “You have to be the person who hates to lose. You have to be driven to come in every Monday morning, to get your reports and to see your sales results and see a win."

“It's a lot more fun to win than it is to lose," Rob added. “It's just that simple."

Put simply but far more difficult to achieve, Rob is constantly looking for a game-winning strategy. He's at the park with his daughter, observing the wear-and-tear her clothes, and the other kids', undergo. He's hearing feedback from customers through surveys and analyzing purchasing trends across the stores, adjusting products to align with what they want.

There's a unique obstacle front and center on his playing field: serving an inseparable customer pair of parent and child. Kids have to love the colors, patterns and prints of the clothes — so much that they want to wear them all the time. Parents have to love the fit, the quality and the price tag.

"We're paying attention to what kids are wearing and not being distracted by the cover of Vogue," Rob says. “That may have trends that are applicable to us, but it also may not."

Each sales report — or the opposite: each time a product is silently put back on the table — reinforces the team's first filter: what do kids want, and what do parents think is appropriate for them? Rob runs between meetings with design, inventory planning, sourcing and others to influence what he hopes will be the next best-selling clothing collection.

“Everything needs to be executed, from the right design, the right colors, prints and patterns, the right price, the right quantity," Rob says, also noting the marketing, delivery and in-store visuals must all be on-point. “You can have everything. And then the customer walks up and they want a medium and you have all smalls and larges, and it doesn't matter. All that effort is wasted."

The process ultimately ends with clothes that, Rob hopes, kids will not only wear, but will want to live in.

"They're not going to the office for 10 hours a day," says Rob. "They're running around and having fun and the clothes should go hand-in-hand with that. There should be that playfulness."

Because what happens if there's not?

"My daughter will want to go shopping with Grandma at another store instead of Gap," says Rob. "And there's nothing worse than that."