Draper’s & Damon’s Gets a Facelift

Most baby boomers about to cross the half-century mark will proudly tell you, “50 is the new 40,” if not the new 30. For marketers that target consumers ages 50 and older, though, the baby-boom generation’s aversion to aging could be a problem. That’s why 77-year-old women’s apparel cataloger/retailer Draper’s & Damon’s has been quietly undergoing an overhaul.

The marketer in July launched a branding campaign that promises to shake up its stodgy image. Draper’s and Damon’s, which has estimated annual sales of $130 million, has updated its fashions, spruced up its catalog and Website, and redesigned its 42 retail stores. A woman in her 50s today has a much younger mindset than a woman 10 years ago at that same age, says copresident Brent Bostwick. What’s more, he adds, “a baby boomer shops more frequently and spends more money” than the previous generation had at the same age.

But figuring exactly what baby boomers want to spend their money on when it comes to women’s apparel is more challenging. Draper’s & Damon’s had a pretty good idea of what it didn’t want: the bland Golden Girls garb that had characterized the venerable marketer. The brand is now hedging its bets on more-fashionable fare, such as microsuedes and casual separates. If the company has achieved its objective, you’ll realize this is not your mother’s Draper’s & Damon’s.

A family affair

Founded by Virginia Draper — copresident Bostwick’s great aunt — as a store in 1927, Draper’s & Damon’s is now run by Bostwick and his cousins Jeff and Brad Farmer. Bostwick handles marketing while Brad Farmer heads all operations, including retail, fulfillment and the call center, and Jeff Farmer oversees merchandising.

In 1993 the cousins put together a package to buy out the founding family members. Later that year came the first Draper’s catalog. The catalog has since become an integral part of the Irvine, CA-based business, accounting for 60% of its revenue. Draper’s mails 38 million catalogs a year; it has nearly 358,000 12-month buyers, and the average order size is $175. According to its datacard, the typical Draper’s customer is 50-plus with an annual income of $65,000.

To keep up with today’s woman, Draper’s & Damon’s realized it had to shed its “old lady store” image into that of a sleeker, chicer multichannel marketer, Bostwick says. Although sales were on plan, “the feeling was — and research confirmed this — that it was time to position the brand in front of [our customer], not where she had been.” So Draper’s enlisted Redwood City, CA-based consultancy Cheskin Research to perform quantitative research studies in November 2002.

Cheskin used “ethnography” studies to find out how current customers and “emerging,” or potential, ones perceived the Draper’s & Damon’s brand. The ethnographies Cheskin conducted were one-on-one interviews within the customer’s home that lasted three hours; two hours of questioning — including a detailed look into her closet — and an hour of shopping on the Internet, with the catalog, or in the stores.

Draper’s and who?

The interviews revealed that many of the emerging customers were a long way from emerging: “They didn’t know who we were,” says Jim LeCourt, the cataloger’s vice president of marketing. The research also uncovered that the traditional Draper’s & Damon’s customers were less active than the baby boomers that the company sought to attract.

The research captured qualitative data that Draper’s used to “identify what the key emotional drivers are for a successful and satisfying shopping experience through the lens of our customer,” LeCourt explains. “We now understand her ‘shopping psychology’ and have overlaid the findings onto more-traditional demographic and purchasing statistics.”

Draper’s supplemented Cheskin’s research with Abacus Market Insight Reports from cooperative database provider Abacus Direct. The reports helped the cataloger benchmark its share, growth rate, and average order size against the competition’s. They also indicated customers’ loyalty levels and identified growth opportunities.

Even before conducting the research, Draper’s & Damon’s had started its transformation by creating its own fashion lines in 2001. Three years ago, about 10% of its offering was private-label merchandise; today the marketer is exclusively private-label.

But Draper’s & Damon’s venture into private-labeling at times brought more pain than gain. “We had an incredible team of merchants; we just needed to think differently,” Bostwick says. For instance, Draper’s incorrectly forecast its fall 2003 careerwear colors. “We were too serious,” he says. “We had a very dark color palette. In actuality, the trend was more casual, lighter and brighter in color.”

After that mishap, Draper’s began spending money on trend consultants. “When you buy from a manufacturer, that’s done for you,” Bostwick says. The company quickly recruited manufacturing, sourcing, and design talent from a manufacturer to help with its private-label transformation.

Other challenges involving merchandise were determining the quantity minimums and appropriate manufacturing lead times for the catalog and stores. About 60% of the company’s merchandise, which ranges in size from small to 3X, is made in Taiwan, China, and Thailand; the rest is sourced in the U.S. “We learned a lot and have made tremendous strides in achieving our goals,” Bostwick says.

Cleaning up the catalog

With merchandising under control, Draper’s & Damon’s enlisted the help of San Francisco-based catalog agency Haggin Marketing this past January. Haggin Marketing was charged with refining the catalog creative so that it demonstrates what LeCurt describes as “the brand personality traits of being feminine, timeless, confident, joyful, and American.”

The agency revamped the catalog with more-sophisticated styling and more-vibrant color palettes, says Mike Wychocki, Haggin executive vice president/partner. Haggin also included more action photography of women in lifestyle settings. “Every shot shouldn’t be a single model but rather have her depicted with kids or other women in the background,” Wychocki says. Draper’s will use the repositioning efforts to test new lists and lists that “semiperformed in the past, as well as to mail deeper to the house file for reactivation,” he adds.

The enhancements extend to retail as well. Working with branding and design company Fitch: San Francisco, Draper’s unveiled its first redesigned store, in Carlsbad, CA, this past March. Using that store as a model, the company opened two 3,500-sq.-ft. stores this year, in Peoria, IL, in March and in Omaha, NE, in May. Two more stores are under construction and three more in lease negotiations for the balance of 2004. “All of the stores have exceeded our expectations to date, and retail expansion is a key strategic initiative for the company.” Bostwick says.

Kiosks in the new stores link to Draper’s four-year-old Website. “Our Internet business has been fantastic,” Bostwick says. Although the Draper’s & Damon’s customer was initially slow to adopt the Internet, LeCourt adds, “that is no longer the case.”

Though Bostwick declines to give specific dollar amounts, he says that Draper’s spent “in the seven figures” on the rebranding initiatives. And the tinkering most likely isn’t over. As Draper’s waits for initial results from the 88-page fall catalog, which dropped July 12 — about the same time its revamped Website went live — Bostwick promises to make more changes if needed.

But Bostwick & Co. are betting that Draper’s & Damon’s has strengthened its handle on the boomer market. Already, it seems to be better speaking the market’s language. A year ago, Draper’s & Damon’s tagline read “Ladies Fashions Since 1927.” The new catalog’s tagline boldly proclaims “New Look. New Attitude. Exclusive designs you’ll love wherever life takes you.”

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