Norm Thompson Reaches Back to Move Forward

With the fall issue of its catalog, Norm Thompson hopes to return to its roots by offering a wider selection of unique and exclusive items.

“Escape from the ordinary” has been Norm Thompson's tagline since its inception in 1949 as a resource for items from around the world. But in recent years the Portland, OR-based company chose to include more value-priced items in the catalog to try to raise response rates.

Instead, “we saw our average order size decline and started to see an erosion in response rates,” said Craig Dewey, senior vice president of brands and marketing at Norm Thompson Inc.

Adding insult to injury was customer research by the company a year ago that indicated shoppers saw Norm Thompson as a value brand that wasn't distinctive in the marketplace. Respondents also said the catalog offered the same merchandise available at its competitors or in department stores.

“We didn't want to be compared to mainline department stores,” Dewey said.

Another factor pushing Norm Thompson in a new direction was that one of the company's other catalogs, Sahalie, had been developing private-label products and generating positive results. Sahalie's “customer file has been growing steadily for two years,” Dewey said.

As a result, “we have recommitted ourselves to being leaders and to having product you can't find in other catalogs or Web sites,” he said of the Norm Thompson catalog.

The spring and summer 2005 issues of Norm Thompson started to reflect the change in the women's apparel category. However, for the fall issue, which arrives in mailboxes Aug. 29, about 65 percent of the merchandise will be new compared with last year, Dewey said. This is when the strategy will be applied to the men's category as well.

Norm Thompson offers items in women's and men's apparel, footwear, travel, gifts and home as well as food and floral. To offer unique merchandise, Norm Thompson is encouraging its buyers not only to attend trade shows worldwide but also to get out and shop the stores in the smaller villages.

For example, a buyer who was shopping at a flea market in Paris found a “really cool sweater that was vintage,” Dewey said. Norm Thompson had a supplier recreate it and put it in its catalog.

“That's an example of what we're encouraging our buyers to do — to go look in places where our competitors will not look,” he said.

As a result of the new strategy, price points in the catalog have inched up this year, Dewey said. Though he didn't say by how much, he noted the company has “seen increases in average order size of 20 percent.”

For fall, some new items will be higher-priced leather products and an exclusive line for men designed by National Geographic that is based on the magazine's heritage in photojournalism.

The new strategy will be applied to Norm Thompson's holiday issues as well, which have focused on gift and food items.

“We will probably move our distinctive apparel deeply into the holiday season,” Dewey said.

To ensure shoppers know of the changes at Norm Thompson, the brand plans to launch a revamped Web site this summer. The company also will introduce a new Sahalie site this summer.

Once the new sites are operating, the company will embark on a more aggressive Internet marketing strategy, including search, affiliate and e-mail blasts, Dewey said. Norm Thompson also will spend more this fall on advertising and public relations than in the recent past.

“The message will be about product leadership, that we're back and we're going to live up to our promise: 'Escape from the ordinary,' ” he said.

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

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