APPAREL: market leaders – J. JILL

The former DM Management grew rapidly throughout the late 1990s. Its two catalogs, J. Jill and Nicole Summers, reached $218.7 million in sales in 1998. But the company, which changed its name to J. Jill Group last year, hit a wall in 1999. First, it tried repositioning Nicole Summers, skewing it somewhat younger before finally deciding to close it. Then it overmailed its core – and now only – title, contributing to a dismal fall 1999. Another factor: emulation by other catalogers. J. Jill’s relaxed, “Zen” look is now available from other mailers, including Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.

Having posted a loss for its fourth quarter, the company has seen its stock plunge from 26-5/8 last May to 3-1/8 at the end of 1999. To get back on track, J. Jill plans to focus more closely on its core 35- to 55-year-old customer by using models and backdrops “that better represent the brand,” president/CEO Gordon Cooke recently told Catalog Age. It also plans to rein in circulation, while continuing to develop its Website and expand its retail chain, both of which launched in the second half of 1999.