The Other Shoe -- and Catalog -- Drops for Professional Uniforms

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The other shoe has dropped for direct marketer Professional Uniforms Inc., which mailed its first fashion shoe, handbag and accessory catalog May 17 called Soleas.


Professional Uniforms, Grand Rapids, MI, owned by the Fotis family, has sold uniforms to workers in the medical, dental and hospitality industries for 40 years. Its catalog titles include Lydia's Uniforms, Mad About Mouths and Uniform Warehouse.


Seeing an opportunity in the fashion accessory market, the company launched soleas.com in February. The e-commerce site showcases men's and women's shoes and other accessories that offer "style and comfort at affordable prices," said James Maioho, Professional Uniforms vice president of business development. In June, prices ranged from $15.99 to $169.95 for a pair of shoes.


"The market for shoes and handbags, especially via the Internet, is growing by leaps and bounds," Maioho said.


The Soleas catalog aims to drive sales to the Web and be a source of phone orders, he said.


The first issue has 32 pages with about 275 items. It features a selection of the products available on the Web site, including items from Kenneth Cole, Birkenstock, Somethin' Else and Aerosoles.


The selection includes "a lot of unique choices that you won't find in other catalogs," Maioho said, noting that there are certain styles from specific vendors that are not widely available elsewhere.


The company plans to add more brands this fall, focusing on the unique.


"The niche we're going for is a combination of the more unique with what you know," he said.


The company guarantees that customers won't find any of its items at a lower price in other catalogs or on other Web sites. If a customer does find the same shoe at a lower price, Soleas will refund 110 percent of the difference between the two prices. Soleas also offers free shipping on ground delivery for all orders.


More than 200,000 copies of the premiere issue mailed to prospects and Soleas' house file. Since the company has been in direct marketing for 40 years, it has a house file of people who bought from its other catalogs as well as consumers who purchased from the Soleas site since February, Maioho said.


One way the Web site has helped build the house file is with a monthly contest for a shopping spree worth $150 in merchandise. Anyone who signs up and provides basic information, including their address, is eligible.


For prospecting, Soleas targets "fashion-conscious women and men who want something unique and are looking for style and comfort at affordable prices," Maioho said.


The company expects to mail the Soleas catalog six more times through the fall and holiday season for a total first-year circulation around 1.5 million, he said.


The company's Internet marketing includes an e-mail newsletter called Sole Mail, which promises to provide the latest news in shoe fashion and alerts about new products and exclusive sales. Offline, the company recently formed Sole Samaritan, a charity that collects donations and gently worn shoes for the needy.


Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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