Banana Republic, round 2

Nov 01, 1998 10:30 PM  By

Ten years after Banana Republic closed its catalog business, the apparel retailer has relaunched the book. In mid-September, the upscale clothing division of $6.5 billion apparel retailer Gap dropped nearly 1 million copies, mostly to its retail customers, of the 100-page catalog.

Banana Republic also enclosed catalogs in an unspecified number of copies of seven newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and in The New Yorker and Chicago magazines. Banana Republic catalog blow-in cards were inserted in the October issues of several magazines, such as GQ and Vogue, as well. In addition, Banana Republic is distributing catalogs at all 280 of the company’s stores nationwide, as well as in select newsstands, hotels, and airport lounges in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Following the September relaunch, Banana Republic mailed a new catalog in mid-October and was scheduled to send out a third catalog edition in mid-November.

Founded in 1978 primarily as a mail order business, Banana Republic shifted its focus to retail, folding its catalog in 1988 just as it was repositioning itself as a purveyor of safari-style clothes to a marketer of more fashion-forward apparel. Now that the repositioning has proved a success, “we’re trying to see if we can move nontraditional catalog purchasers into the catalog business,” says Sarah Gallagher, senior vicepresident of catalog. “Our customers have been asking for a catalog. They are ti me-starved and want access to our brand 24 hours a day.”

“It’s been demonstrated that the best customer is the one who shops from both the store and the catalog,” says David Ricci, research analyst for Chicago investment banking firm William Blair & Co. “These customers are loyal to the brand. I’d expect the catalog on its own can’t be profitable [because of the large investment the company appears to be making in it]. But serving the dual purpose of selling and building store traffic-that makes sense.”-PM

The Great Big Pillow Book sells nothing but pillows-no sheets, no comforters, no featherbeds. But even in the crowded bed and bath market, its parent, The Company Store, believes this spin-off can flourish. The La Crosse, WI-based linens mailer has been testing The Great Big Pillow Book since August and plans to continue mailing it at least through 1999.

The Great Big Pillow Book mails to about 300,000 Company Store customers, says Jeff Potts, president of The Company Store, a division of multititle cataloger Hanover Direct. While increasing the cataloger’s share of the pillow market is one of the spin-off’s goals, The Company Store is also testing a different marketing approach. “We saw this as an opportunity to sell on a category-based level, meaning we are testing not only a product but also our ability to sell the brand based on a single product area, rather than using the brand to sell a variety of products,” says a Company Store spokesperson who requested anonymity. If The Great Big Pillow Book proves successful, Potts says the company will consider similar spin-offs.-PG