May's Acquisition of Marshall Field's Leaves Out Catalog Details

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The impact on the direct marketing operations of Marshall Field's remained unclear a day after Target Corp. said it would sell the chain to May Department Stores Co. for $3.24 billion.


The deal includes 62 stores, three distribution centers and $600 million of Marshall Field's credit card receivables, as well as nine Minneapolis-area Mervyn's stores.


But plans for the direct marketing portion of the business may be unresolved for some time.


"We are just beginning the transition with Marshall Field's, and we're in the process of reviewing all the areas of operation," was the only comment yesterday by Sharon Bateman, vice president of corporate communications at May.


In late January, Target said it was closing five catalogs, including three from Marshall Field's as well as Signals and I Love a Deal, and phasing out its catalog business. A month later, the company said it had retained Goldman Sachs to sell Marshall Field's and Mervyn's.


The last Marshall Field's Direct catalog mailed in March, and fulfillment was to continue through this month, with the catalogs' most popular items remaining available on the company's Web site.


Marshall Field's generated $2.58 billion in sales last year and is expected to bring in $2.7 billion this year.


May is no stranger to direct marketing as its Lord & Taylor division produces a catalog.


Donald R. Libey, managing director of Libey-Concordia, Philadelphia, an investment banking firm to the catalog industry, said he sees a chance for growth of the Marshall Field's brand through the return of the catalog.


"It gives them the opportunity to expand it into a national brand," he said. "Marshall Field's was never leveraged out of the Midwest, [and] May is national in scope. Field's was always a Chicago company. The Marshall Field's brand doesn't resonate in California, Texas or Connecticut.


"Lord & Taylor is really upscale as is Marshall Field's, so [May has] been able to acquire an upscale brand to go with Lord & Taylor and take Marshall Field's national. That's a great strategy. You've got the low-end world heading toward Wal-Mart and Kohl's and the upper-end world heading for luxury, such as Nordstrom, Marshall Field's and Lord & Taylor."


In April, Universal Screen Arts Inc., a multi-title catalog and Internet marketer of the What on Earth and Art & Artifact brands, bought Signals and Wireless from Target.


If giving advice, Libey said his plan to create a national catalog for the Marshall Field's brand would include database, list and catalog professionals and merchandisers who are not store-driven, but catalog-driven.


"Many of the multichannel catalogers try to keep the retail and catalog merchandising and database [operations] separate since they are different disciplines," he said. "They can be eclectic, which would [include categories such as] tabletop, dining, furniture [and] home decor, or they could go the route of Nordstrom or Coldwater Creek and be about clothing. If they choose apparel, stay with it. Don't be all things to all people until the brand is established. Then you can bring in the dining, kitchenware [and] tabletop -- one step at a time."


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