Eddie Bauer Goes Back to Basics

For the past five years, Eddie Bauer “has been all over the place,” says senior vice president/chief marketing officer Engle Saez. The Redmond, WA-based apparel and home goods cataloger/retailer has been reinvented several times, only to see each effort perform worse than the previous one.

Even former vice chairman/president/CEO of Bauer parent firm Spiegel Martin Zaepfel admitted earlier this year that Bauer’s late ’90s/early 2000s more tailored selections seemed “merchandise you’d usually buy from Brooks Brothers, not Bauer.”

With Spiegel now under the pressure of the Chapter 11 status of Spiegel, Bauer is again tweaking its image — this time returning to its rugged roots. In early August, the company mailed 5 million copies of a fall “back-to-basics” looking book that likens the 2003 Bauer to the original 1920 rugged outdoor apparel store. To further reinforce the outdoors theme, the book even uses the original store’s Sport Shop logo on the catalog cover.

In the first weeks after the catalog dropped, results were “modestly above our modest projections,” Saez says. Consistent with the new look of the Eddie Bauer stores, Website, and ads, the catalog shows the old store logo, pictures of rugged looking low-profile models, and tries to maintain the level of ease of shopping — all while creating “a much higher degree of differentiation from our competitors,” he says.

The book plays off Bauer’s signature blue jeans, promoting ruggedness, durability, and value. “For us, it goes back to what will make customers prefer or desire the Eddie Bauer brand vs. a J. Crew or a Lands’ End,” Saez says. “And we decided that the differentiator has to be overall quality and brand image, rather than price. So we’re using our catalog for style and distinction that comes through focusing on the heritage of the Eddie Bauer franchise.”

To accomplish its mission, Bauer infuses the catalog with more lifestyle photography, Saez says. Specifically, Bauer is trying to promote a brand started by “a real guy” who has 80-plus years of heritage. “We have to communicate the truth, a sense of reality, and the authenticity in our catalogs.”

At the heart of this “authenticity” is the Sport Shop brand. The company looked into its archives and found that the ruggedness of the original store dovetailed nicely with a Bauer collection of jeans and knit and woven tops that go with denim. “We found a perfect combination, a marketing handle that marries up to our premium quality merchandise that’s put together in the spirit of the Eddie Bauer sporting tradition of rugged casual,” Saez says.

But don’t look for Sport Shop brand jeans in the new catalog. “We couldn’t get to the jeans in time for the catalog,” Saez says. “We had a Sport Shop jean line in the making, but it didn’t make it into production because of the Chapter 11 situation.” The men’s jeans line, however, will come out in the spring. Bauer plans to test the women’s Sport Shop jeans line around that time, and hopes to roll it out next summer.

Stopping a sales slide

Long before Spiegel filed for Chapter 11 this past March, Eddie Bauer has been ripe for a turnaround. The division’s sales have fallen steadily, from $1.79 million in 1999 to $1.422 million in 2002. In a market already resplendent with rugged casualwear, it’s likely going to take more than lifestyle catalog photos and a new line of jeans to win back customers.

Eddie Bauer is “a work in progress,” Saez admits, noting that there’s no quick fix for the company’s woes. “We’ve taken customers on a joyride all over every possible marketing proposition you can imagine,” he says. “We have some work to do to regain the confidence of customers and to really settle in on what’s right for this brand.”

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