Boston Proper Pleased With Spring Response

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The Mark Group's Boston Proper spring catalogs have surpassed expectations after the company entered the year with a cautious mailing plan -- a bit too cautious in hindsight.

"September 11th sent a scare through everybody and circulation this year was flat with last year," said Skip Hartzell, executive vice president/chief creative and Internet officer at The Mark Group, Boca Raton, FL. "That has proven to be a little more cautious than we needed to be."

The spring book began mailing Jan. 7 with a circulation of slightly more than 3 million while a second spring catalog went out in February to 2.5 million recipients. A second drop followed the initial drops of each catalog three weeks later.

"It was a roll of the dice with what was going on with the sentiment of people after September 11th and all of the layoffs. There were a lot of 'what ifs' going into this year and most direct marketers were playing it cautious. We are pleasantly surprised."

The average order amount for the two books combined, which feature women's swimwear and apparel, has been $170 with an average units per order of approximately 2.5.

"The numbers are pretty much exactly what we expected and it's the response rate that has us exceeding plan," said Hartzell. "Any time you have a response rate over 2 percent you're doing good in this business, and we are definitely over 2 percent."

This year's Spring book used a 60-40 house file-to-prospect split while a 50-50 mix was used for the Spring Two catalog.

Hartzell described the typical Boston Proper consumer as an "upscale female customer" between 35 and 50 years old with an average household income of more than $70,000.

Also ahead of plan this season is the volume coming through

"More than 20 percent of our total catalog demand is coming through the Web compared to 12 percent last year," he said.

A change in the books' dimensions also has helped the bottom line.

"In the middle of last year we went from a 7 1/2-by-10 1/2 book to a 7-by-10 1/2 catalog," he said. "By reducing the size of the pages, we were able to make a major difference in our costs due to weight. And we also saved on printing and paper due to the change. Even though the format is smaller, we still have the same number of items per page."

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