Career Fashions Are Tougher Sell for Barrie Pace

Women's clothing cataloger Barrie Pace is pleased with the performance of the summer 2002 catalog despite a sales drop of 5 percent from last year.

“We're slightly below plan in terms of overall sales,” said Debra K. Deiss, a buyer at Barrie Pace, Chicago. “It's pretty good considering the climate. It's predominantly the economy and the fact that people are still recovering from September.”

The marketer of clothing for women older than 30 is happy with the book's response rate, though Deiss wouldn't quantify the statistic. The average household income is around $75,000, and there is an urban concentration.

“We maintain a focus on career women, but we've also looked outside of the working lifestyle to include occasion dressing and somewhat of a casual venue,” she said. “Our covers project a more relaxed approach, and we know there's a very savvy 55- to 60- [year-old] customer who is capable of wearing these looks, making the catalog ageless.”

She expects sales to rise later in the year as the economy hopefully improves and the target audience turns its attention to work clothes.

“Our customers have always been … career-oriented. The economy is driving the fact that they are looking for items to round out what they have already,” she said. “But a lot of people are going back to dress codes, and with people interviewing and looking for suits and jackets that are higher-ticket items, we expect that some of that will come into play for the fall season.”

The first summer 2002 drop reached homes April 30-May 3, and a second version arrived May 28-31. The drops were identical except for the front and back covers. The second mailing went mostly to best buyers and the house file, while the first targeted a higher percentage of prospects. Two-thirds of the overall circulation went out in the first mailing. Circulation was unchanged from a year ago at just under 2 million.

“We went back and increased our prospecting after pulling back on that a year ago,” she said.

A two-page spread was added this year featuring Lilly Pulitzer apparel as a test of “lifestyle casual dressing.”

“We would have expected a little higher response [on Lilly Pulitzer items] because this customer is very label-conscious and brand-driven,” she said. “Those looks are important. But in all fairness, the casual, relaxed lifestyle has not been an easy classification for us.”

New to the summer book is mention at the cover's bottom right corner of the company's Web site:

“We had a Web site for off-sale merchandise last year,” she said, “but we put the entire full-price book on the Web site, and it's accounting for about 10 percent of the catalog's sales. The percentage is much higher than it was a year ago when it only had clearance items. We had high expectations for Web sales generated by this catalog, and we're pleased with the results.”

The catalog's average prices, which are down slightly because of assortment changes, include $150 for dresses, $228 for jackets and more than $300 for suits. The drop in average prices led to a decline of less than 10 percent in the catalog's average order amount. Deiss placed the current average order at just under $300.

“What is shifting is that the jackets were strong last summer, and this summer is more of an item business,” she said.

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