Redcats USA chairman /CEO Eric Faintreny is something of a branding expert. In 2000, when Redcats’ Swedish home and apparel brand Ellos was declining, Faintreny took charge, stabilized the brand, and within two years grew Ellos’s income three times over. In 1995 he started La Redoute UK from scratch; three years later the apparel cataloger had annual sales of 100 million euros.
Now, as he transitions the Lane Bryant catalog brand into Woman Within, Faintreny faces another major test: He must set his brand apart from a new competitor — one that will bear the Lane Bryant name. And he must do so while maintaining sales and profit levels at the plus-size women’s apparel catalog, which is Redcats USA’s second largest, behind Chadwick’s.
Slow and steady
Redcats USA — the U.S. division of French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (PPR) — isn’t changing the name of the Lane Bryant catalog on a whim. It’s the result of a trademark issue that dates back to 1982, when retailer The Limited acquired the Lane Bryant catalog but not the stores; three years later it acquired the Lerner women’s apparel catalog but not the stores. The Limited changed the name of the catalog division to Brylane, which retained the right to use the Lerner brand name for the catalog — and later the Website — until 2006 and the Lane Bryant brand name until October 2007. PPR acquired Brylane in 1999 and renamed it Redcats USA in 2004. The division, whose other apparel and home goods catalogs include Roaman’s, La Redoute, and BrylaneHome, had sales of more than $1.39 billion in 2005.
Last year Redcats transformed the Lerner catalog brand into Metrostyle. But the Lane Bryant/Woman Within rebranding effort is more complicated. No one else is using the Lerner brand; the Lerner retail chain was renamed New York & Co. in 2002 (although the LernerCatalog.com URL does direct you to the New York & Co. Website). But Bensalem, PA-based Charming Shoppes, which has owned and operated the Lane Bryant stores since 2001, has made clear its intention to launch its own Lane Bryant catalog in the fall. That was, in fact, one of the reasons it acquired multititle mailer Crosstown Traders in 2005: As Charming Shoppes chairman/CEO/president Dorrit Bern said in a statement, “This is a key step in our preparation for the launch of our own catalog.”
In discussing the transition to Woman Within, Faintreny stresses the importance of clarity. “The main thing is, we have to be very clear and straightforward with the customer,” he says, his French accent still thick after three years in the U.S. “It’s an interesting marketing exercise. That’s why we gave this a year; to learn as much as we could.”
Redcats decided on the name Woman Within in part because it was the name of a plus-size intimates catalog that the company has mailed for 15 years, says Faintreny. The rebranding began in earnest in October, with the hiring of Neil Mulhall as brand manager. Mulhall had been with another multititle mailer, Hanover Direct, where he led competing plus-size catalog Silhouettes and men’s apparel book International Male. Mulhall undertook a different sort of rebranding with Silhouettes several years ago, taking it in a more fashion-forward direction.
The first Lane Bryant catalogs to include the Woman Within logo below that of Lane Bryant mailed in October. Redcats is keeping the Lane Bryant tagline: “We Got It — Comfort, Fit, and Value for Sizes 12W to 44W.” Online, typing in the LaneBryantcatalog.com URL redirects you to WomanWithin.com, where the home page displays the same message about the new name as the print catalog.
According to Faintreny, other than the name, Redcats is altering very little else about the brand. “We changed our name, not our offer and service,” he says. “We’ve also learned that there’s a life after a name change.”
Fasten your seatbelts
Faintreny is professing confidence that the renaming won’t hurt sales. But others aren’t so sure. “They are in line for a bumpy road,” predicts Dennis Bissig, president of Hackensack, NJ-based marketing services firm Mokrynskidirect. He speculates that the house file performance could drop as much as 15%.
“Any changes to merchandising and catalog layouts will be more impactful than what they normally have been,” Bissig adds, “because in effect they’re launching a brand. Even the most successful marketers would have trouble with it.”
Compounding matters: As part of its contractual agreement, Charming Shoppes has access to at least a portion of Lane Bryant’s credit-card file, says Faintreny, although he won’t divulge how large a portion. According to its data card, 42% of the Lane Bryant catalog’s nearly 788,000 three-month buyers — more than 333,000 women — paid via proprietary credit card. Charming Shoppes would not return calls, but it’s safe to say that many of these cardholders can expect to see the “new” Lane Bryant catalog in their mailboxes come fall.
Coy Clement, an East Greenwich, RI-based multichannel consultant, believes that Redcats will really run into trouble then. “It’s a question of how firmly and uniquely Woman Within differentiates itself from Charming Shoppes,” he says. “Are these two businesses going to offer the same point of view? The closer together the two businesses are, the more damaging it’s going to be for Redcats.”
According to its data card, Lane Bryant/Woman Within catalog buyers are married with a household income of $44,000 and an average age of 55. This makes them somewhat older than the Lane Bryant retail customers, who according to the Charming Shoppes Website are primarily 25-45 years old.
Charming Shoppes has been selling Lane Bryant apparel online (at www.LaneBryant.com) since March 2003. It also operates more than 777 stores nationwide. Its Lane Bryant brand had sales of $1.1 billion in 2006 and has a larger footprint than that of Redcats — let alone more of a presence than “Woman Within.”
“This can only hurt Redcats,” Clement says, adding that the company “has a very short period of time to get customers to switch their loyalty [and make them] forget about Lane Bryant.”
The intricacies of multichannel commerce make that difficult. For instance, type “Lane Bryant” into Google and the first page of search results displays two “official” Lane Bryant sites in the sponsored-links section up top: The first site is Redcats’, the second Charming Shoppes’. Underneath, the first natural-search result (at least on one particular day in mid-February) belongs to Charming Shoppes, and the second to Redcats.
“This is a big deal, since many people don’t bookmark sites but use a search engine to find their favorite online sites,” Clement says.
Clement cites several other online issues that could hurt Redcats. When searching “Woman Within” on Google, the first sponsored link is indeed for the Redcats brand. But the first organic-search listing is for the nonprofit group Woman Within International. “It creates confusion,” Clement says. And though Redcats is offering consumers a Woman Within credit card issued by the World Financial Network National Bank, there’s no link online between the issuing bank and the Woman Within home page.
When told of Clement’s remarks, Faintreny responds: “There might be some slight glitches here and there, but it is a big project, and what counts at the end is that our customers find us as usual. I am very pleased with the efforts done by the team, and we will keep moving forward.” He adds that as Redcats nears the midway point of the yearlong transition, “Woman Within is tracking ahead of our expectations.”
|Expert opinion: migration marketing|
The owner of Kansas City, MO-based consultancy Hemisphere Marketing (and a Multichannel Merchant columnist), Gina Valentino offers her take on the keys to a successful brand migration effort.
Customers don’t like change…even if it’s good for them. So when a company buys a new catalog title or needs to change the name of a current catalog, it should expect customers to be apprehensive.
While the company may have had plenty of time to digest the repercussions and understand the opportunities, customers have not. The merchant must begin a purposeful communication strategy sooner rather than later to acclimate customers to the inevitable. Depending upon the goal of the new name or new title, the company must choose consistent and frequent marketing messages. The company may include a bind-in card within the catalog announcing the future changes; copy to reinforce the direction in the president’s letter (or other editorial space); a separate bounce-back announcement in packages; messages on invoices or statements; footnotes on e-mail campaigns. A company should use every avenue to convey the information.
When migrating a customer file to a new title, marketers must view the endeavor as a prospecting effort. Too often they make a fundamental mistake by assuming, “We’re the same company, just a different catalog title,” then wonder at the highly disappointing results. Customers don’t see the situation that way. One prominent catalog apparel company — let’s call it Acme — had success with the slogan “New Title presented by Acme.” Leveraging the Acme brand helped bridge the uncertainty of change. Customers were prepared and, more important, responsive.
If you’re introducing a title to your customers, take a few precautions before mailing the entire database. Isolate customers who have purchased those SKUs, items, or merchandise categories that will be featured in the new title. Have one of the cooperative databases develop a model to overlay onto your customer database. Not only will you have targeted the most likely customers to purchase, but you will have additional insight into how large the audience is within your own database as well as the opportunity within the co-op.
Also keep in mind that customers who use the original brand’s proprietary credit card or belong to its loyalty club will be more discriminating; they are more invested in the original brand. Communicate to them your company’s intentions early and often. You may also want to provide them with an incentive to purchase from the new title. You want to guide these customers, who are most likely your best customers, to the new title without interruption.
Introducing a new title to current customers is just that: new. Treat the entire effort as a prospecting opportunity and you won’t be disappointed…and neither will your customers.
|Expert opinion: the cyber effort|
Web commerce expert Amy Africa of Williston, VT-based consultancy Eight by Eight discusses how she would handle Redcats’ online efforts in transitioning the Lane Bryant catalog to Woman Within.
That the Google search results for “Lane Bryant” have two listings for “Lane Bryant Official Site” with different URLs — LaneBryant.com and LaneBryantcatalog.com — is confusing. One is from Charming Shoppes and its Lane Bryant stores, and the other is the Lane Bryant catalog, which is becoming Woman Within; the buyers of their products would never understand the differences.
Will their pay-per-click search (PPC) rates go up? They could. Looking on the sponsored links on the right-hand side of the Google search results, you can see that they’re letting eBay bid on their brand name, so they don’t really seem to know what they are doing.
If I were Redcats, I would make a concerted effort to cloak a lot of my URLs to make them more understandable and, frankly, less confusing overall. Cloaking means that you don’t have to say “lanebryant.com/catalog” for your URL in PPC. You can take them to that page, but you can list it as “lanebryant.com.” Nobody needs to see “/catalog” in PPC.
I would not allow anyone to bid on brand names I owned without express permission — which I would rarely give.
I would work on my organic-search programs. I would work on making my meta-descriptions much better. You could incorporate the selling value — for example, in its meta-description, Supreme Audio alerts customers that the marketer “is your exclusive fitness audio supplier. Largest selection of complete fitness sound systems and dance sound systems.” I would consider addressing the whole Woman Within rebranding in my descriptions.
|1901||Lane Bryant founded|
|1982||The Limited acquires the Lane Bryant catalog but not the stores|
|1983||Catalog division renamed Brylane|
|1993||Investment firm Freeman Spogli & Co. buys 60% of Brylane from The Limited|
|1998||French cataloger/retailer PPR acquires 47% of Brylane|
|1999||PPR acquires the remaining portion of Brylane it doesn’t yet own|
|2004||PPR changes Brylane name to Redcats USA|