Banana Republic Welcomes Spring Early With Catalog

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A redesigned Banana Republic catalog, which launches its first book for spring this week with a generous splash of color, reinforces the company's latest initiative of closely marrying its retail, catalog and Web site channels of business.

Like so many other marketers, the company recently started to focus on giving customers what they want, when they want it and how they want to get it.

The first of two spring catalogs will begin arriving in homes next week to about a million consumers. Banana Republic mails between 1 million and 1.6 million catalogs per mailing, 12 to 14 times a year. The idea is to afford the customer every convenience in a business where shipping, returns and inventory control are critical elements to survival.

"It all works seamlessly together and ties into what's going on on the Web as well," said Diana Darling, director of print production for the Banana Republic catalog at Gap Inc. Direct, a division of Gap Inc.

The Gap's other businesses, Old Navy and The Gap, also have Web sites, but only Banana Republic adds a catalog to the mix. There are no immediate plans to introduce a Gap or Old Navy catalog.

Banana Republic has a distinct advantage over other catalog-only marketers because of its extensive retail network.

"Merchandise in the catalog is also in the store. We don't have any catalog-only items, and you can return [catalog] items to the store," Darling said. "We set up the catalog business with all of that in mind because it's easy to integrate those things."

The clothing marketer's roots were firmly planted in the mail-order catalog business long before the retail channel took off, but that business fell off over time and a catalog wasn't been produced for several years. A distribution center was built in Grove City, OH, and the catalog was reintroduced in August 1998.

Designed, copywritten and produced inhouse with the use of freelance stylists, photographers and hair and makeup artists, the catalog is targeted to Banana Republic's growing database of credit card customers and its retail store file. "We [also] do a lot of prospecting," Darling said.

The second spring book, dubbed Spring 2, will mail in February to 1 million customers. Quebecor World, Jonesboro, AR, and R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Lancaster, PA, handle printing for the company.

Another new element for 2000 is testing how the absence of order envelopes might affect the company's response rates. Most customers use the Internet or fax it in or call, Darling said. The order envelope is "a luxury that's been out there," she said. "It's a waste of money and resources." Banana Republic also regularly employs such promotional elements as free shipping on orders over a certain amount, free alterations and weekend service.

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