Harold’s Back in the Mail

After a two-year hiatus, the Dallas-based Harold’s apparel catalog is mailing once again.

The retailer relaunched the book in August, mailing 200,000 copies of a 32-page catalog to former catalog customers and retail customers. The catalog features approximately 100 items for men and women, ranging in price from $49.50 to $450. The best-selling item so far, says Harold’s CEO Clark Hinkley, is an $88 hooded women’s sweater.

Hinkley says that the new catalog differs significantly from its previous incarnation. For one thing, the page count is down substantially from the former book’s 60 pages. Another change, says Hinkley, is the company’s renewed focus on the 40-something market, from which it had strayed earlier by featuring shorter, tighter-fitting apparel. In fact, it was this deviation from the company’s key demographic — well-educated, affluent men and women in their 40s — that led Harold’s to shut the catalog and scale back its retail division in the wake of weaker profits.

Beginning in 2001, Harold’s reduced its number of stores from 52 to 39. The company closed stores outside of its southeastern target market area, including Phoenix and Tampa, FL, locations. Internally, Hinkley says the company improved its operational efficiency by reducing the number of people involved in merchandise selection from 56 to 34.

These changes have made themselves known for the better in Harold’s profit margin. “We just finished our eighth consecutive month of comparable-store sale increases,” Hinkley says. “For a year to date, the business has been up in the low double digits.” For the first half of the year, the company lost $4.3 million, compared with the $6.9 million loss it posted for the first half of last year. “And if the losses associated with the store closings and an event to liquidate excess merchandise were excluded,” Hinkley adds, “the company loss was approximately $1.5 million for the first half of the year.”

Harold’s been mailing non-transactional traffic drivers during the two years the catalog suspended circulation, and it will continue to send them 10-12 times a year. The new catalog will mail every four weeks. There are no plans to aggressively grow the mailing list with a foray into prospecting, though there is an active sign-up campaign taking place at the company’s stores.

So far, Hinkley says, the catalog is meeting company expectations. And he emphasizes that Harold’s does not see the catalog as a stand-alone segment of the company’s business. One of the downfalls of the old catalog, he explains, was the attempt Harold’s made to transform it into a major division of the company. “Before, it was designed to be a catalog business division of the store, more of a growth catalog vehicle,” Hinkley notes. “This is a store-supported vehicle. It’s part of the total package for the customer.”

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