Chico's Plans to Expand Catalog Next Year

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While Chico's only started mailing catalogs seven months ago, the women's apparel and accessories retailer plans to step up the pace in 2001.

"The absolute priority [of the first group of catalogs] was to fuel and bring traffic to our stores," said Jim Frain, vice president of marketing at Chico's FAS Inc., Fort Myers, FL.

The company plans to increase the amount of merchandise contained in its catalogs next year.

"We're increasing both circulation and page count," said Frain. "We have a really complete calendar for next year."

Chico's had been mailing catalog-type direct mail pieces to approximately 1 million customers and prospects on primarily a monthly basis since September 1999.

In late May, due to customers' requests, the company began mailing full-scale print catalogs in the same amount on mostly a monthly basis. It also began accepting orders online and converted its help desk into a full-fledged call center.

"We actually had a lot of e-mails and phone calls [from customers asking], 'Why won't you let us place an order?' " said Frain.

Last month, the company generated approximately $700,000 in sales via its call center and through its Web site,

"I don't know that we did $50,000 in the first month [May]," he said.

The retailer's catalogs, which are designed inhouse, are printed by Quad/Graphics Inc., Pewaukee, WI.

As part of its effort to beef up its catalog arm, the retailer has been tapping into its loyalty program's database. The program, called the Passport Club, offers customers a 5 percent discount once they've purchased at least $500 worth of merchandise.

Since July, the company has increased the Passport Club database from 150,000 to 800,000 active members. Chico's was also able to round out the information it had on the program's existing members.

"Part of those [150,000] were holdovers from an antiquated [loyalty] program," he said. "We didn't have that much information about their transactions."

Millard Group, Peterborough, NH, handles list brokerage for Chico's.

Meanwhile, Frain expects that the company's retail operation will dominate its sales for "years to come," and said that Chico's expects to generate $250 million in sales this year -- compared with $150 million in 1999 -- via its retail arm.

By the end of January, Chico's hopes to have 255 retail stores open.

The company, which handles order fulfillment inhouse, also has been touting its direct selling options with a national advertising campaign in magazines, including Martha Stewart Living, Elle and InStyle.

"We get thousands of calls a week over the phone and over the Web for our catalogs in response to advertisements," Frain said. "The percentage is increasing over the Web," mostly because "a catalog request is a relatively easy thing to do over the Web."

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