DeSantis Returns to Its Upscale Roots

After following the trend of casual attire during the past few years, Boca Raton, FL-based men’s apparel cataloger DeSantis Collection is dressing up again.

The company, founded eight years ago as a seller of men’s custom ties and shirts, decided in January to refocus on more upscale apparel, says Gerard Giordano, president of the Hassler Consortium, DeSantis’s holding company. “What we did was to refine our merchandise to be more specialized so that it’s not in competition with generic merchandise,” says Giordano. “It’s really about fashion in that dress-up area. We’re not interested in rugged, denim, or khaki.”

Starting with the first drop of its fall edition, in July, DeSantis customers found more ties, collared shirts, and leather shoes — and higher price points. Last year, Giordano says, the most expensive tie in the DeSantis book cost about $100; this year ties range from $65 to $195. Whereas last year it was easy to find shirts for less than $100, shirts — ready made and custom — now cost $110-$250. And while the most expensive shoe carried last year cost around $300, this year DeSantis is offering custom-made English and Spanish shoes for $750.

The higher prices haven’t appeared to scare off customers. “We’ve noticed a marked increase in sales,” Giordano says. “We’re exceeding our expectations, and on to plan.”

DeSantis rents lists from high-end publications, such as those focusing on yacht and airplane owners. “We’re still using the same lists but extracting from them differently, focusing on customers interested in custom merchandise,” Giordano says. The cataloger will mail more frequently to customers with a history of purchasing custom-made apparel.

Next year DeSantis may add younger prospects to its circulation mix. “We’re probably perceived as having a 45- to 65-year-old demographic,” Giordano says, “but we’re finding more interest in a younger audience. We’re interested in bridging the gap in the 25- to 45-year-old customer.”

A fancier presentation

In keeping with its higher-end merchandise, the company has upgraded the catalog’s paper stock. The inside pages used to be printed on 45-lb. coated gloss, with 60-lb. coated gloss used for the covers. An upcoming fall catalog will use 80-lb. coated gloss for the cover and 60-lb. for the interior.

The change in paper will cost the company a whopping $2 more per catalog, but using a heavier paper is one way to send a message to customers that the company is changing its style, says production manager Lauren Devine. The heavier paper also shows off the larger photographs, featured in the earlier July catalog, to their advantage. “We’re going back to our roots,” Devine says, “and that July catalog was the first [book] that shows that new direction.”

By early 2005, the catalog will resemble a “magalog,” Giordano says. Articles on lifestyle interests that the company feels will appeal to its target audience of upscale men will share space with sales offerings.

Customer service is also undergoing an overhaul. The company began making more outbound telemarketing calls in January, says Giordano, and the training process for customer service representatives has become more rigorous. For the first time CSRs are being instructed to use customers’ purchasing histories to upsell and cross-sell.

The fall telemarketing campaign focuses on calling the cataloger’s best buyers to convince them to the join The DeSantis Preferred Club, a personal shopper program. These highest-volume spenders would have access to a rep who would offer personalized recommendations and advice, such as which styles would best flatter the caller’s physique.

The company is also considering venturing into retail, looking at such high-rent locales as Beverly Hills, Bar Harbor, and Las Vegas. Giordano says the company “couldn’t give a timeline for retail,” but he knows the kind of place he has in mind: “Wherever the well-heeled man goes.”

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