Talbots Ramps Up Its Efforts for Fall

The one-two punch of Talbot’s Fall Style ’99 catalog mailings and the integrated advertising campaign that launched last week via Arnold Communications, Boston, may be just what it takes to maintain the clothing marketer’s upward swing during the competitive fall selling season.

The push includes everything from multiple catalog mailings to wrapped buses in Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco to TV commercials to direct response print advertisements.

The Fall Style ’99 catalog, designed and executed inhouse in conjunction with Marke Communications, New York, shipped the week of Sept. 6 to 1.5 million customers and prospects, an increase over the same mailing last year.

“We ramped up this year a little bit,” said Bruce Prescott, senior vice president of direct marketing at Talbots, Hingham, MA. “We felt it was a good opportunity to prospect.”

Although it has struggled in recent years, business at Talbots for both catalog and retail is strong. First-half 1999 catalog sales reported in August were up 16 percent to $90.4 million over the same six-month period in 1998.

In addition to the Fall Preview ’99 teaser catalog that preceded the current mailing by about a month, two more mailings of the Fall Style ’99 book will follow, one in October to about 500,000 consumers and one in early November to another 200,000. Separately, two other highly targeted mailings this year – a holiday mailing and a gift book – will ship to 2.3 million and 3.9 million of its customers, respectively.

The mail-order catalog repeatedly reinforces the “It’s a Classic” tagline touted in current ads. The tagline was originally created for Talbots by Arnold in fall 1997.

The direct response print advertisements touting its toll-free number ran in newspapers last week, including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and USA Today and will appear in fall issues of consumer magazines, including Gourmet, House Beautiful, InStyle, Martha Stewart Living, Travel & Leisure and Vogue.

“We are one company. No matter what you see or where you buy it, we’re backed by the same level of service and merchandise guarantees,” said Bruce Prescott, senior vice president of direct marketing at Talbot’s.

The clothing marketer reaps the benefits from the combination of its consistent brand positioning, as well as the ephemeral tides of fashion that currently work in its favor. The classic positioning dovetails with the recent fashion trend toward classic styling with an updated spin.

“Many of the items selling today that are considered fashionable are classic,” said Prescott. “What really is the driving force is that our merchandise is the right offering. Our sales to date have been consistently strong in both stores and catalog, and it indicates that our merchandise is on track.”

One example is that a prescient decision to capitalize on the increasing popularity of sweaters by expanding offerings in this area seems to be paying off.

“We really own the novelty sweater niche, and it’s something we’ve emphasized for the fall season,” said Prescott, adding that Capri pants, cargo pants and three-quarter length sleeves are offered as “trend-right” classics, styled in a way that is appropriate for the Talbot’s customer.

Talbot’s also mails a much smaller catalog – 48 pages – to 1.1 million charge card customers, in addition to its specialty catalogs such as Talbots Kids, Talbots Accessories and Shoes, Talbots Classics that Work, Talbots Woman and Escape.

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