Boden Eases Into U.S. Market

London-based J.P. Boden & Co. is taking a slow and steady approach to expanding into the U.S. Having launched the U.S. version of its Mini Boden children’s clothing catalog in October, the $70 million cataloger still hasn’t determined whether it will test a U.S. edition of its adult apparel book later this year or in 2004.

The debut of Mini Boden in the U.S. is the first time the company has launched a catalog outside the U.K. “We feel very confident that we have a strong product that can be marketed to a wider audience,” says Boden marketing director Mark Binnington. While he acknowledges competition in the form of Gap Kids, Children’s Wear Digest, and Hana Andersson, among others, Binnington says that Mini Boden will succeed simply because “we believe our clothes to be better designed, better quality, and British.”

Al Schmidt, president of Vero Beach, FL-based catalog consultancy Schmidt Group International, thinks Binnington may be overly optimistic. “I don’t see anything special about it,” he says, though he admits that “there is a certain caché to British products.” But to do well here in the States, Schmidt says, Boden will not only have to give the catalog sufficient financial support, but it will also have to fully understand the demographics of the consumers it is trying to sell to. “It has a lot to do with commitment to the U.S. market in dollars, and the use of American creative consultants,” Schmidt says.

The initial, 68-page stateside Mini Boden book mailed to 250,000 rented names. In addition to a list broker, Boden used cooperative databases to find prospects. The second edition, expanded to 84 pages, mailed to another 250,000 prospects, customers, and consumers who had requested the book online. Boden anticipates mailing the book four to eight times a year.

So far, Boden executives are satisfied with results, which Binnington won’t release. “Americans are buying very similarly to the U.K. customers,” he says.

The merchandise and pricing in the U.S. Mini Boden book, which includes items such as $16 topstitched long-sleeve T-shirts and $36 shift dresses, is nearly the same as that offered in the U.K. Certain items with high return rates, such as shoes, were not originally included, though they are being tested in the catalog’s spring edition. The company has also decided to hold off on including nightwear in its U.S. catalog until it better understands the pertinent flammability and safety regulations.

Eventually, however, Boden expects to sell its entire product line here. And that includes its lines of clothing for men and women, which is similar to the casual apparel sold by The Gap. Binnington says the company’s U.S. Website already offers almost the full range of the company’s adult line.

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