Bloomie’s takes trends to the market

Bloomingdale’s By Mail (BBM) wants to be first again. In 1991 it was the first major department store catalog to launch independently of its parent store, but as competitors such as Saks and Neiman Marcus entered the direct mail arena, the New York-based catalog began losing its edge.

To hone its edge – or as catalog president Judy Daniel says, “to become more contemporary” – BBM hired a new vice president of merchandising, Kenny Karlstein, to update the product mix, and a new vice president/creative director, Cheryl Lewin, to energize the creative.

Since joining the catalog in 1998, Karlstein has driven BBM to react more quickly to women’s apparel trends – to be the first to introduce fashions to its audience. And while some apparel marketers, most notably Talbots, found that customers balked when offerings became too fashion-forward, Karlstein says the strategy is working for Bloomingdale’s. “Since last September, business has been quite good, and it continues to improve. We’ve reactivated loads of Bloomingdale’s customers who had been taking a siesta,” he says, though he won’t disclose numbers. “To our customers, fashion means current. But most people aren’t current, so most catalogs aren’t truly interested in current fashion, either.”

It’s apparent from just a quick flip through the summer edition of the apparel catalog that BBM is targeting a fashion-conscious audience of women ages 30-50. For instance, the opening spread of the summer book features sequined tank tops and handbags, a fringed skirt, and a peasant-inspired dress. And since fashion-forward apparel tends to favor younger women, the catalog appears to be skewing younger. Even the models are being styled to look younger and somewhat edgier than in the past.

Karlstein describes the atmosphere at BBM as trend-obsessed – a necessity in a competitive environment where retail and Internet sellers can display the latest fashions immediately while catalogs are delayed by the production and mailing processes.

One trend that BBM hopes doesn’t fade soon is the renewed interest in shoes and accessories. Last year the cataloger began testing a shoes and accessories catalog, unofficially titled New Girl in Town. Daniel says that the catalog could be rolled out into a regular title if sales of its second edition, mailed this spring, continue to show strength.

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