Ashro Lifestyles joins The Swiss Colony

Sep 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

For the most part, Monroe, WI-based The Swiss Colony has grown its stable of catalogs organically. In August the company announced its first acquisition in 20 years: Ashro Lifestyles, a Downers Grove, IL-based cataloger of apparel and accessories targeting African-American women. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In addition to its food titles Swiss Colony and The Tender Filet, the $500 million-plus Swiss Colony mails women’s apparel catalogs Monroe & Main and Midnight Velvet; home decor books Through the Country Door and Room for Color, which launched in February; and general merchandise catalogs Ginny’s and Seventh Avenue.

Swiss Colony president John Baumann says his company will be able to lend some of its strengths, such as catalog production, to Ashro Lifestyles, which will help reduce overall costs. Ashro president/CEO Rajiv Khartau will remain in his current position, and the cataloger’s headquarters will stay in Downers Grove. According to its datacard, Ashro has more than 86,000 12-month buyers, who spent an average of $145 an order.

The 80-year-old Swiss Colony had long been renowned for its food offerings, but the company’s growth in nonfood areas in recent years in part led to the Ashro acquisition. The nonfood catalogs now account for nearly 80% of Swiss Colony’s revenue.

“Our desire is to expand our product offerings and overall customer base,” says Baumann. “We’re open to both food and nonfood growth.” Swiss Colony hadn’t seriously looked at acquisitions in recent years until now, he adds, “because we had enough of a challenge just trying to keep up with organic growth.”

For instance, this past February it launched a home-party division, Swiss Colony Occasions. And the company is scheduled to introduce the 60-page Durdy Looks catalog of clothing for young adults this month.

A new demographic

Baumann thinks Ashro Lifestyles will particularly complement Swiss Colony’s Midnight Velvet catalog, which also targets African-American women. “Ashro has more depth than our catalog,” Baumann says. “The style and flair of Midnight Velvet can flow into Ashro, and hopefully Ashro will further strengthen Midnight Velvet.” Midnight Velvet has nearly 339,000 12-month buyers, according to its datacard, and an average order size of $100.

The Ashro acquisition may also help Swiss Colony’s other apparel and accessory catalogs become more sophisticated from an internal sourcing standpoint, Baumann says. And he hopes that the new property will help enable Swiss Colony to eventually launch a catalog targeting Hispanic consumers. “At this point we’re just in the concept stage,” Baumann says. “But we do intend to explore this market seriously.”