Ben Silver Spins Off Women’s/Children’s Book

In the two years since it introduced women’s clothing in its catalogs and store, upscale men’s apparel marketer Ben Silver has expanded the selection to more than 400 SKUs. To give the women’s line the space it needs, the Charleston, SC-based company opened a second store this spring, and in September it mailed a spin-off catalog that offers not a single item for men. Instead the 48-page book, titled The Ben Silver Collection: Women & Children, sells women’s apparel and accessories, as well as products from its budding children’s clothing and gifts line, which the company launched this past spring.

In comparison to the 1 million circulation of the fall edition of the core catalog, the spin-off mailed to 275,000 recipients. Eighty percent of the names were prospects, mostly upscale female buyers culled from co-op databases, says Ben Silver president/co-owner Sue Prenner. Currently men make up 80% of Ben Silver’s customer file.

In the previous Ben Silver catalog, which mailed in late spring, women’s and children’s products accounted for 20 of the 100 pages. Had Ben Silver continued to include women’s and children’s clothes in the main catalog, those products would have taken up at least 30 pages of the 108-page fall book, which Prenner says would have diverted too much attention from the flagship men’s line. She projects that women’s and children’s products will capture 25% of the $10 million-plus company’s revenue over the next year.

MORE CASUAL CLOTHING

When Ben Silver launched the women’s line, it offered mainly tailored suits and shirts. For the new book, the company has added more casual suits, pants, sweaters, shoes, accessories, skincare products, and eyewear. Women’s merchandise accounts for 38 pages of the book, with the remaining 10 selling conservative children’s attire such as smocked dresses, khakis, ties, and blazers. Prices in the women’s line range from $22 for face cream to $2,880 for a cashmere coat; for the children’s items, prices run from $45 for a teddy bear to $715 for a silver plate set. Because women have been the primary buyers of Ben Silver’s children’s products so far, Prenner says, it didn’t make sense to spin off separate women’s and children’s catalogs.

And by moving the women’s and children’s products out of the menswear book, the cataloger was able to add a greater selection of ties, shirts, and jackets. The catalog has also become less dense. For instance, most left-hand pages now show only a single product, rather than three or four. “The additional space has allowed us to roll out the displays of things in a more esthetic way,” Prenner says, “to give our product displays a more luxurious feel.”

The company plans to mail two editions of the new book next year — in spring and fall — while continuing to produce four editions a year of its core catalog. “It’s going to take awhile for us to figure out if we will need greater frequency,” Prenner says. “We’re giving it at least a year to get the kinks out of the new catalog and store.”

Ben Silver has taken an even more cautious approach to its other spin-off, a book of eyewear products introduced in November 2003. Prenner hopes to mail a second edition next year.

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