Cataloger Ebbets Field Flannels is back in the game after a three-year retirement with plans to mail 120,000 catalogs by mid-May.
The Seattle-based company was founded in 1987 by baseball card enthusiast Jerry Cohen after he couldn't find authentic replications of vintage baseball apparel.
Apparently he wasn't the only one interested in the 1939 “New York Knights” jersey worn by Robert Redford in “The Natural” and reproductions of team apparel from an earlier era. At its height, Ebbets Field Flannels mailed about 500,000 catalogs annually to sports fans seeking something unique.
Hoping to build the business, Cohen and co-founder Lisa Cooper sold the company's assets to a new partnership in 2001, and Ebbets Field Flannels began operating under the name Stall & Dean. However, it soon became clear that the new partners were more interested in building an urban retail brand, something Cohen said has never been part of his vision.
“The unique nature of our product doesn't really fit in a retail model,” he said. “The catalog was how we educated the consumer and romanced the product.”
At the end of 2004, Cohen, Cooper and a third partner bought the assets back from Stall & Dean. Less than four months later, they've mailed their first catalog, launched a Web site and have a business plan in place. It calls for broadening Ebbets Field Flannels' earlier mission to include a stronger fashion orientation and adding women's clothing to the product selection by the time it mails a catalog for the holidays.
The first new Ebbets Field Flannels catalog went April 22 to 40,000 names, mainly from an in-house list. Another 40,000 catalogs drop the first week of May, and a third batch of 40,000 will go out in mid-May.
The first issue has 24 pages and about 70 SKUs of baseball apparel that range in price from $24 per item to $375. These include vintage baseball jerseys, caps and jackets from obscure teams, the Negro Leagues, the Federal League of 1914-15, former minor leagues and the old Cuban and Latin American leagues.
“To help re-establish the brand, we decided to come out with a baseball catalog,” Cohen said.
However, by the time Ebbets Field Flannels mails its holiday catalog, product selection will have expanded to include old roller derby uniforms, filling station attendant apparel and women's softball shirts.
“We have a different mission for the company now: Fashion is much more important to our plans,” Cohen said.
One reason for the broader mission is the limiting nature of being known as a sports apparel company, he explained.
“If the emphasis is on the clothing, then we feel our potential market is much greater because not everyone wants to be identified with a team graphic,” he said.
However, many styles from sports history can be given a fashion direction.
A Web site, ebbets.com, launched the week of April 18. This is the brand's first foray into e-commerce, as it had no Web site during its earlier chapter. The site features the baseball items and will add more product as it becomes available. Cohen also foresees putting up content about the history of the garments.
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