End of the Road for Avenue Catalog

Less than three years after launching its Avenue catalog of apparel for plus-size women, United Retail Group has closed down the title. The last Avenue books mailed in March.

The decision marks the end of the Rochelle Park, NJ-based retailer’s foray into cataloging. Its first print catalog, shoe title Cloudwalkers, launched in 1999 and folded in 2001, though United Retail still sells footwear via the Cloudwalkers Website.

“The market place for apparel catalogs has a difficult outlook,” Raphael Benaroya, United Retail’s chairman/president/CEO, said in a statement. “Under these conditions, it’s appropriate for us to suspend catalog operations for the foreseeable future. Our Website will function as an extension of the retail stores, offering the same merchandise assortment and fulfilling orders through our national distribution center.” The Avenue chain has 553 stores throughout the country.

In a conference call with investors, the company said it expects to save $4 million by closing the catalog. On an annual basis the Avenue Website will cost the marketer about $1.5 million to operate.

Avenue also said in the call that it will eliminate some basic products, such as T-shirts, from the Avenue merchandise assortment. “Many players have entered the space and will be price-competitive on the most basic items.” Benaroya said. Mainstream clothing catalogers such as Eddie Bauer and Lands’ End now offer standard items in plus sizes.

But Washington-based catalog consultant Glenda Shasho Jones believes that plus-size mailers such as Avenue have an advantage over mass-market catalogers. “Any company can market chinos in a size 3XX, but do they really understand the fit and the fashion of the clothing items?” she asks. Jones also questions how Avenue will support its Website without mailing the catalog.

For the year ended Feb. 1, United Retail Group’s net sales were $432.0 million, up slightly from $427.0 million last year. Comparable store sales decreased 1%. The net loss for the year was $23.1 million, compared with net income gain of $400,000 last year.

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