Bigger Better for Chiasso

Five years after buying upscale gifts cataloger/retailer Chiasso, Dave Marshall has grown the business from $1.4 million to $21 million by rolling out more stores, redesigning its catalog, and expanding its merchandise mix.

One of the first things Marshall did after buying the Chicago-based company from founder Keven Wilder was to close most of the seven existing stores, many of which paid high rent, and replace them with 15 stores in upscale malls around the country. Then in 1999, Marshall hired consultancy Muldoon & Baer to help redesign the catalog. The catalog grew from 7″ × 7″ to 9″ × 9-1/2″, gaining not only more photography but also an expanded selection of merchandise. Like the stores, the catalog began carrying more dishes, flatware, and home furnishings for “greater selling longevity,” Marshall says.

The expanded catalog mailed to an expanded circulation 750,000 prospects and buyers with household income of at least $75 million-plus. Previously, the catalog had mailed to just 50,000 buyers.

Chiasso’s catalog sales are expected to reach $5.5 million. Sales from its Website, launched in 1999, will be about $1.8 million for 2001. Last year, combined catalog/Web sales were $3.7 million. The company will drop a total of 3.6 million books this year, after mailing just 1 million books last year.

Despite its impressive growth, profitability has eluded Chiasso during the past five years. Marshall blames the company’s “ridiculously high overhead” in salaries, rent, and travel expenses for its merchandise buyers. But thanks to steady cost-cutting, he adds, the company should be profitable next year.

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