Orvis Keeps Things Fresh for the Holidays

“Keep it fresh” could be the motto for the Orvis Men's Traditions holiday catalogs.

That's because the target audience of high-end consumers has discriminating tastes and is unlikely to respond to just the same old offerings, said Tom Rosenbauer, vice president, catalog director at The Orvis Co. Inc., Manchester, VT. Though sales are running just below plan, the approach has resulted in a double-digit increase this year.

“We think it's something that must be done,” Rosenbauer said of turning over the product line. “Otherwise it's not fresh enough, and our customers are extremely selective. We look at items in groups or categories and try to build on our successes. We develop almost all of the merchandise, but we're not 'fashiony.' We are as likely to get an inspiration from an old military uniform or an old piece of tweed lying around a box in Scotland as we are a fashion show in Paris.”

Less than 5 percent of the book contains non-Orvis products. Non-performers not returning this year include the Red River Blanket Crewneck, Boiled Wool Sweater, Shepherds Camel Hair Cardigan, Gamebird Pullover, Hampton Bridge Fleece Robe and Zambezi Fleece Shirt, plus certain items of luggage. New to this year's book are the Lochbrora Hand-Knit Sweater ($125), Highway Patrol Pants ($198), Cashmere Hillary Step Vest ($250) and the Cody Shearling Range Coat ($995).

Items that Rosenbauer said were producing good preliminary results include the Ultimate Moleskin Shirt ($79) and the Fleece Lined Bozeman Corduroy Pants ($125).

“Most of the growth has been in the safari look,” he said. “Much of our clothing, as well as our shoes, is very conservative. We're also seeing growth in adventure travel clothing.”

Rosenbauer described the book's typical customers as older, affluent and conservative, with average incomes in the six-figure range. The average price of items this year is $105. The highest-priced item is the $1,650 World's Finest Shearling Coat.

Combined circulation for the four holiday drops is just over 1 million, roughly the same as last year when three books were produced. Each drop has a different cover shot this year.

“It was a test to see if we could support one more drop,” Rosenbauer said, adding that it is too early to tell if it was successful.

The book also features different items on the four back covers.

“We have two philosophies. Either we put in a new product where we want to catch people's attention or we put in a winning product from the past,” he said. “You would not want to put a product there that needs help because if it needs help, it would never make it and is probably gone.”

Two of the items featured are past winners, he said, and two are new products that “we felt good about and wanted to give more exposure. It's a way of getting somebody inside the book.”

Orvis produced two different-sized books: 114 and 78 pages. The larger book targets the house file and features a greater selection of new products while the smaller book targets primarily prospects and lower-performing segments of the house file.

“We're targeting slightly more prospects this year, and they have been doing quite well,” he said. “Nearly all of the prospects go in the first drop, which is split about 50-50 between the house file and prospects. The other three drops have a very low percentage of prospects. About one-third of the total circulation targets prospects.”

The first drop went out in the first week of October, while the second was to be in-home Oct. 25. The third was set for the second week of November, and the final drop was to reach homes the first week of December.

“We were looking for a 15 [percent] to 20 percent increase in sales during the holidays this year,” Rosenbauer said. “We're seeing an increase, but we're not on plan. We're about 2 percent under plan on sales, but we're very happy with that considering the state of the economy. Our average order amount is on plan, and the response rate so far is below plan by only single digits.”

Increases in postal expenses were offset by a reduction in the cost of paper this year, Rosenbauer said.

“Typically, we ride out recessions pretty well,” he said. “I've been here 25 years, and our bad years usually result from something that we're not doing right. This is the first year we've ever seen external factors put a damper on the business.”

Web sales have skyrocketed since last year and account for 18 percent of sales.

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