Ross-Simons Tells Its Past, Future at NEMOA

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PROVIDENCE, RI -- Darrell Ross, president/CEO of multichannel marketer Ross-Simons, was unable to make his scheduled appearance Friday at the final session of the New England Mail Order Association's fall conference due to the Sept. 21 death of his father and company founder, Sidney Ross.

Substituting for Ross was chief operating officer Bob Simone, who kept the audience laughing as he related the history of the 52-year-old company. After the session, attendees toured the company's local facilities in the Providence area.

Ross-Simons was founded in 1952 as a store-based firm that was among the first to offer fine tableware such as Lenox and Wedgwood at a discount. In 1981, the company launched its first catalog. It contained 40 pages and was mailed to 100,000 customers.

A considerable amount of money was spent on prospecting during the next few years. By 1990, the catalog business generated $70 million in annual sales, and by 2000 that figure had ballooned to $200 million. For 2004, the multichannel marketer's volume across all three channels -- stores, catalogs and Internet -- is expected to reach about $250 million. About 50 million catalogs are mailed yearly.

The company looks to de-emphasize its concentration on china and focus more on jewelry as consumers' buying patterns shift away from fine china and toward more casual tableware. Also, Amazon and eBay have diluted Ross-Simons' competitive pricing edge in china.

The jewelry selection tends toward high-end gems and gold.

In 1990, Ross-Simons opened its first stores outside Rhode Island. It operates retail outlets in Georgia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Several are discount outlet stores, which Simone said are viewed as a growth vehicle.

A year and a half ago, Ross-Simons introduced a home party business that is still in the infancy stage.

The Web site is a clearance vehicle, with much of its sales driven by the catalogs, Simone said.

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