Swiss Colony has been buying clothing and furniture from suppliers in China for about eight years, “but the volume has grown significantly over the past four years,” says president John Baumann. That’s why the multititle mailer plans to open an office in Shanghai in October.
Baumann says he hopes to have 20 employees working for the company’s SC Global Sourcing unit in Shanghai within two years. “Some of our employees will spend most of their time out in the factories, overseeing the manufacturing process and making sure that quality requirements and deadlines are being met,” he says. “Other employees will be looking to foster new relationships with other factories.”
In addition to its food gifts titles Swiss Colony and The Tender Filet, the $500 million-plus company mails apparel catalogs Monroe & Main and Midnight Velvet Style; home decor books Through the Country Door and Room for Color, general merchandise titles Ginny’s and Seventh Avenue; and Ashro Lifestyles, an apparel and accessories cataloger geared to African-American women.
Shanghai may be a long way from the 81-year-old cataloger’s Monroe, WI-based headquarters. But Baumann believes having a presence in China “will help us work more effectively with Chinese vendors and factories.” For example, he notes, “we believe we will be able to better design and inspect quality in the product. We’ll be able to drive down costs by better leveraging our volumes with select vendors. And just as important, we’ll be able to ensure that the factories we select provide safe working conditions and look out for the financial security of their employees.”
Ideally, Baumann says the Global Sourcing organization in Shanghai will “serve as the eyes and ears for our catalog merchants.” Its buyers will still travel overseas, “but much of the groundwork for their visits will be accomplished before they even get there. This will allow our merchants to spend more time designing product and developing their merchandise lines, versus seeking out factories and vendors and negotiating deals.”
Could this be a harbinger of further expansion in Asian markets for Swiss Colony? “We’ll start by using China as our model,” Baumann says. “If it works, we’ll be open to expansion elsewhere.”