Dress Barn joins catalog ranks

In the wake of Macy’s, Banana Republic, and Nine West, low-end women’s apparel retailer Dress Barn is crossing over into mail order. In September, the company will mail 1.5 million-2 million catalogs in two or three drops to Dress Barn store credit card users and prospects.

Dress Barn vice president/general manager Martin Alpert won’t reveal what percentage of the mailings will go to house file names, but investment analyst Brian Tunick, vice president with New York-based Bear Stearns, says 1.1 million books will go to the retailer’s credit cardholders. And although the $600 million Suffern, NY-based Dress Barn won’t reveal financial goals, its plan to mail 10 million-plus catalogs throughout 2000 demonstrates its intention to be a serious player in mail order. Tunick estimates that its catalog sales will reach $75 million-$100 million within five years.

“We’re trying to leverage the Dress Barn brand to our store customers, to introduce it to other catalog shoppers, and to use the catalog as a store traffic builder,” says Alpert, a former executive at J. Crew and Hanover Direct. The company also plans to distribute catalogs in areas with no Dress Barn stores to help determine potential store sites. Dress Barn has outsourced catalog creative to New York agency Shasho Jones Direct and fulfillment to Hanover Direct’s Keystone Fulfillment.

Starting up the catalog business “gives Dress Barn another key contact with its customers” beyond its 700 stores nationwide, Tunick points out. And that’s important, because the retailer’s same-store sales for the nine-month period ended April 24 were down 6%, as discount chains such as Target have moved into the strip malls that have been Dress Barn’s turf. Establishing the catalog – which targets women aged 35-55 – now in conjunction with the Web catalog rollout next spring “makes sense in the long run, because its career-oriented customers can use the site in their offices and the catalog at home,” Tunick says.

The book will also play a major role in Dress Barn’s attempt to shift from moderate careerwear to casual apparel, reflecting a steady shift in corporate dress to more casual clothes. “In apparel, dresses have been replaced somewhat by khakis,” Tunick says. “Consumers have a formal product in mind when they think of Dress Barn. But to the company’s credit, it has been taking ads out in magazines such as People lately, to show how it’s become much more casual than it was two years ago.” n

With same-store sales down, Dress Barn hopes its new catalog will spark a sales surge.

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