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No Rest for Slipcover Cataloger

BURLINGTON, VT — Amy Tissot spent much of her time yesterday during the New England Mail Order Association's Fall 2003 Conference's “Room to Grow” address discussing Sure Fit Slipcovers' success story.

The direct marketing program director at Sure Fit had plenty of numbers to talk about regarding the company's direct channel, including:

· $55 million in sales last year.

· 450,000 12-month buyers.

· A 7 million-name proprietary database.

· 1.5 million subscribers to an e-mail newsletter.

· An advertising budget of $11 million this year along with a $15 million catalog budget.

· An average order of $150, and 70 percent margins.

But she made it clear that the cataloger is not standing still. New products appearing in the holiday catalog, set to drop the first Monday in October, will include bedding and window offerings.

“We had some really successful fabrications in slipcovers that we thought would carry over well to a bedding and window assortment,” she said.

Also discussed was competition from Pottery Barn and Lands' End.

“Lands' End is offering an expanded assortment, which they hadn't offered in the past, so it's become something that we need to keep an eye on,” she said. “[Pottery Barn has] always been known for their slipcover assortment, but traditionally it's been on their own furniture. But now they're starting to offer their ready-made one piece as well.

“We're choosing not to pay attention to it. We have strengths that we're going to focus on.”

Also identified were growth opportunities, including offering customers more products within the slipcover category as well as outside the category, and partnership with or acquisition of a complementary catalog business.

Maintaining margins “as we expand beyond slipcovers” was also mentioned as a challenge. Within the slipcover category, market research was cited pegging slipcover market potential at $1 billion. Continuing to expand product extensions could encompass sectional covers and size variations for sofa arms, styles and lengths.

“We have this huge list of current inquiries that are not finding exactly what they want from us today,” she said. “Right now we're kind of a one-size-fits-all and it doesn't necessarily fit all, so there's an opportunity to expand the market by expanding product offering by size and style.”

She acknowledged during the Q&A session that the company's idea of looking into offering different styles and sizes comes from a high return rate.

“We do see that as a huge potential opportunity for us,” she said. “It does add SKUs, and it adds complexity to the business, but we do think it's the right avenue to go to.”

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