L.L. Bean, J.Crew Test Strategies in Japan

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L.L. Bean and J.Crew have broadened their appeal to Japanese consumers by adopting a new multichannel strategy involving stores, catalogs and the Internet. Both firms are, in effect, starting over in Japan.

L.L. Bean last fall formed L.L. Bean International to promote overseas business. It then broke up a joint venture it had with Selyu, Japan's largest supermarket chain, and set up L.L. Bean International Japan.

The new unit closed several stores, which previously had been promoted at the expense of catalog distribution. It now runs nine stores -- seven regular shops and two outlets.

Plans this year call for dropping regular and children's catalogs 10 times and to increase the circulation of each drop. Sources did not supply overall or individual drop numbers.

Finally, a Japanese Web site reflecting products sold in catalogs and stores will debut this fall.

J.Crew's subsidiary, Clifford & Wells, mailed heavily in the Japanese market in the mid-1990s, when it achieved annual sales of about $10 million, but the parent company never did, focusing on stores instead.

Last fall J.Crew created a site aimed at Japanese consumers, and it plans to follow up with a mail campaign, dropping catalogs to selected lists of consumers. No numbers on the planned drops were available.

Analysts do not expect either company to achieve sales akin to those in the mid-1990s. Japan's economy is too weak to allow that, but market potential is still there and waiting to be exploited, they said.


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