Appleseed’s Scores with Older Women

When women’s apparel catalog Appleseed’s broke ground on an 88,000-sq.-ft. expansion of its fulfillment center in April, the move symbolized three successful years during which its sales have grown more than 40%. Appleseed’s credits its leap from a $35 million-$50 million mailer in the late 1990s to a $75 million-$100 million cataloger to a sharper focus on women ages 60-85.

The company’s transformation started in 1998, when president/general merchandise manager Brenda Koskinen relaunched the catalog to target more-mature women, says chairman/CEO Neale Attenborough. Having worked at women’s apparel cataloger/retailers Talbots and J. Jill, Koskinen joined Beverly, MA-based Appleseed’s in the mid-’90s. Attenborough joined the company last year, bringing to the table his background in finance and venture capital.

“Our customer has changed pretty dramatically over the past four to five years based on a redefinition of our corporate strategy,” Attenborough says. “We now have a core group of customers who are women between the ages of 60 and 85, generally affluent, very savvy direct mail buyers, and very value-conscious.”

Previously, Appleseed’s had offered an assortment of kids’ and men’s clothes in addition to its line of apparel for women of all ages. “We ‘grew up’ as a New England general store catalog, catering to everyone,” Attenborough says. “But Brenda thoroughly analyzed our core strengths and it became clear that we had a very strong franchise with our mature female customer. We had the highest response from them.”

Seeking growth alternatives

To better penetrate the mature-women’s market, Appleseed’s increased its circulation more than 40% during the past three years. But during the past year, response from rented names has fallen. So the company is experimenting with predictive algorithms — simply put, finding common characteristics of its best customers and looking for similar buyers in its list rentals and names from co-op databases Z24 and Abacus. Appleseed’s is also considering advertising in magazines and newspapers later this year, though it has not yet determined which publications.

Having homed in on mature buyers, the cataloger realized it needed to retrain its service reps accordingly. “As our customers age, we need to understand their unique sizing, style, and features needs,” Attenborough says. For instance, older women generally prefer more-casual styles and looser fits. “So we do a fair amount of training on those areas, so that they’re sensitive to customers’ needs.”

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