Newport Tests Book Aimed at Slightly Higher Incomes

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Newport News gave itself a spring makeover with a 140-page Special Fashion Edition that targets a slightly higher income recipient than its traditional catalogs.

"We're trying not to alienate the core customer while going after customers with different spending capacities," said Geralynn Madonna, president and chief operating officer of Newport News Inc.

"We're going after other shopper groups that are not as credit-dependent. Our core customer is [in a] $45,000 median income household, and we're reaching up to $52,000 to $54,000 with this book."

The Special Fashion Edition was mailed to 2 million people last month, a combination of house file names and prospects with the majority to current customers. Plans for future fashion editions will depend on this effort's results.

Four other annual spring books, each 88 pages, will be mailed through the end of this month, with each going to 4 million to 5 million recipients.

Madonna, who aims to position Newport News as a leading fashion brand, described the new look of the fashion edition as "more editorial." Research revealed that the average customer, a 42-year-old female, "loves getting the Newport News catalog and likes to read it as a magazine." "Even prices" have replaced the 99-cent endings that were in past books.

A "Steals" section is described as having "prices easily within reach from $10," followed by a "Splurges" section with much higher price points and characterized as "our picks for the fashion investments that will elevate your entire wardrobe." Other sections include "Glamour," "asSeen" (described as fashion "creating a buzz") and a fashion Q&A.

"AsSeen was a spread we put together to elevate the positioning of Newport News as a fashion brand," Madonna said.

Mentioned throughout the new book are preseason sale prices good through March 15. The lower prices are printed in red with an asterisk next to the "will be" higher prices that are in black. The average price in the new book is $26, which is 3 percent to 5 percent less than year-ago prices.

"The objective was to keep it flat," she said. "We believe we have to increase the value of the product. That's strongly related to the competition and the economy."

Early results are putting the average order 15 percent higher than the standard 88-page book produces.

In line with the new book's fashion emphasis is the use of improved fabrics and more silks with two-way stretch gabardine and new linen.

A "perfect example of what we're trying to do," Madonna said, is the Crinkled Silk Georgette Skirt with ruffles, beading and embroidery (sale price, $59), which is the new book's No. 1 item in terms of dollars. The top-selling item by units is the $12 Gauze Peasant Top, with "this catalog only" mentioned under the price.

"One is high-ticket and sophisticated, and one is typical Newport News apparel," she said.

Madonna said lower fees were negotiated with the printer to offset the increased page count. The back of the perfect-bound catalog, Newport News' first, contains a tear-off card inviting recipients to send her their "thoughts, opinions and suggestions."

"That's been the highlight of my day for the last three weeks," she said. "[We've received] approximately 2,000, and they have to put their own stamp on them."

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