Cataloger Offers Lesson in Duplicity

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WATERBURY, CT--New auxiliary space, a reconfigured computer system, retrained employees and a new name are among the changes at the operations center that has been home to Bloomingdale's By Mail for more than a decade.


The center, whose name is changing to Federated Logistics Direct to reflect that it now houses both Bloomingdale's By Mail and its newest sibling, Macy's By Mail, opened its doors to 200 attendees of the New England Mail Order Association's fall conference Sept. 18.


Although the two catalog companies share back-end operations, they had vastly different beginnings, said Philip Blanco, president/CEO of Bloomingdale's By Mail, who discussed the company's past and future at a breakfast before a tour of the center in nearby Cheshire, CT.


As the second catalog brand developed by parent company Federated Department Stores, Cincinnati, Macy's By Mail had a carefully researched plan before its launch. By contrast, the Bloomingdale's By Mail catalog, conceived as a store traffic builder, became a stand-alone catalog company almost by accident, after executives saw how many direct sales the catalog generated.


"When it was sent out, a catalog house file started to build up," Blanco said. "They didn't call it that at the time, but it performed better each time it was sent out."


The facility that Bloomingdale's By Mail opened in 1987, is now 270,000 square feet, with a total of close to 400,000 square feet if vertical space is included. As part of the modifications to accommodate both companies, 130,000 square feet of auxiliary warehouse space recently was obtained in a nearby facility to house oversized items.


The center receives 10,000 to 25,000 units a day, ships 12,000 packages a day, with capacity to ship up to 50,000 in an 18-hour shift, and processes 1,200 returns a day. It receives 5,000 to 8,000 calls a day in its call center, increasing to 12,000 to 18,000 in peak season.


Computer systems have been reconfigured to handle orders from both companies simultaneously. Invoice printers contain paper with Macy's By Mail and Bloomingdale's By Mail logos. When computers scan an order identification numbers, they automatically print invoices on the appropriate company's paper. The two companies divide up costs for the center's operations based on how many transactions each of the facility's work units handles for each company.


The center's employees -- 600 during the off season and 900 in peak periods -- have all been trained to accommodate the dual functions of the center, from the packing, receiving, shipping and returns staff, through to the call center employees who now take orders for two companies.


The call center's phones indicate whether an incoming call is coming from a Bloomingdale's By Mail or a Macy's By Mail customer so that call center staff can refer to the appropriate script. A diagram on the wall charts the staff's progress in reaching its up-sell goals for each brand.


While learning how to share its facilities has been Bloomingdale's By Mail's most recent project, its next goal is learning more about its customers. Blanco said the possibility of eventual market saturation, particularly because Bloomingdale's By Mail's upscale products and higher prices limit its appeal to large parts of the population, is one of the company's biggest challenges. Bloomingdale's By Mail is conducting focus groups to assess whether different types of positioning will open new growth opportunities.
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