Softspots' Spring Line Is a Late Bloomer

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Spring sprung later than usual for Softspots Comfort Corner as the cataloger delayed the introduction of spring merchandise following customer comments that items were appearing too early.


"In many parts of the country, our customers were not looking to see spring items in January," said Bob Morrison, vice president/general manager at Softspots Comfort Corner, Hudson, NH. "We are finding that each year over the last five years the customer buys closer to the actual season."


Softspots, a cataloger of women's clothing, footwear and accessories, traditionally debuts its spring items in the early spring book. But this year's early spring book, which mailed in early January, was a final version of the winter catalog.


"We decided to keep our winter clothes in there, and we delayed sandals and similar items until the spring catalog, which reached homes in the first week of February," Morrison said. "The early spring catalog trailed behind the spring book since we had a tremendous response to our new merchandise in February. I'm very comfortable it was the right move."


The early spring catalog mailed to a little more than 1 million recipients. The spring catalog dropped Feb. 11 and the late spring book March 18, each to about 1 million recipients. The company mails 10 million catalogs across 10 drops yearly. Morrison described the late spring catalog as a continuation of the spring effort.


Response rates for the early spring, spring and late spring books are on target at 2 percent.


"Last year it was probably 1.95 percent," he said. "Because we didn't grow our circulation, we are living on our house file a little more, and moving merchandise closer to the season has given us a bump as well."


The company's target audience is 95 percent female, 45 and older with an average age of 60.


"We are a niche marketer specializing in hard-to-find sizes," Morrison said. "Over 60 percent of our customer base is purchasing large-size, or large-width, shoes, the kind that are hard to find in department stores. We also sell queen-size hosiery in hard-to-find sizes."


In keeping with the patriotic fervor since Sept. 11, the cover of the spring catalog features one of the company's hottest items -- the Old Glory Sweater.


"It surpassed any expectations we had," he said.


Page counts stayed at last year's 56 in each catalog.


"We did go conservative as this is only the second time we didn't have growth [in circulation]," Morrison said. "In a normal year we would have a 5 percent or 7 percent increase."


Circulation is split evenly between prospects and the house file.


"Five years ago it was two-thirds prospecting, but our house file is a lot larger," he said. "We pull from 20 lists and some of the Abacus databases and Z-24."


The company generates 66 percent of its orders via phone to its call center, 23 percent through mailed-in forms and 10 percent via comfortcorner.com.


The cover of the three books asks consumers to "subscribe" at comfortcorner.com, which entitles them to exclusive Internet savings, comfort tips and updates that arrive via e-mail.


"We are asking people for their e-mail addresses," Morrison said. "We do outbound e-mail campaigns 25 times a year, showing new merchandise and specials. This allows us to be in constant communication with a core group of our customer base. And it also allows us to get rid of excess inventory."


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