Don’t expect to see a copy of women’s apparel catalog Allen Allen in your mailbox until late this summer. The $16 million Hawthorne, CA-based manufacturer/marketer has put its catalog on hold for nearly a year while it tweaks its product mix, says president/owner John Carpino. Although the company has not mailed a book since this past fall, it is still taking catalog and phone orders.
Starting with the fall ’99 catalog, “we’ve been changing the mix of our product to be more contemporary,” Carpino says. In the past, most of Allen Allen’s garments were made from easy-care cotton and nylon. But in the quest to update — and make more upscale — the Allen Allen brand, the company began using more delicate fabrics, such as silk, cashmere, and lambswool. Switching fabrics posed several challenges the company didn’t anticipate, however.
For one, working with delicate textiles takes longer than manufacturing with more-durable fabrics. “You need to be working four to six months out from the catalog mailing date,” Carpino says. “But we weren’t giving ourselves enough time to manufacture the new fabrics, and sometimes we were working only two months out,” which was cutting it too close to the mailings.
Fabrics such as cashmere also cost more, so the cataloger had to raise its prices. A typical item from the previous product line was a long-sleeve cotton T-shirt that cost $48; the new line includes such items as a beaded lambswool cardigan that sells for $264. The company’s core 24- to 40-year-old buyers were lukewarm to the higher prices. “Since we changed merchandise, our response has dropped,” Carpino says. On the other hand, Allen Allen’s average order has increased from $150 to $250.
What with the merchandise changes, Allen Allen didn’t drop a holiday 2000 edition. Its most recent edition, a 60-page fall book, dropped this past August. “For Allen Allen not to mail a holiday book — usually your strongest catalog — is definitely not a healthy sign,” says New York-based catalog consultant Glenda Shasho Jones. But Carpino stands by his decision to hold off mailing: “It was more important to get our house in order. Besides, we don’t do as much of a holiday rush as other apparel mailers.”
Rest assured, Carpino says, Allen Allen will be back in the mail this year with the drop of a fall book in late July. And its other channels are still going strong. Founded a decade ago as a cataloger, Allen Allen also owns a Newport Beach, CA, store and a wholesale operation. “We started our wholesale business about six years ago, and it has grown to be about equal to our catalog and retail business,” Carpino says. Allen Allen also plans to open two more stores in the Los Angeles area this year. “But we’re not going too heavily into retail,” he says.