Live from NEMOA: Blair “quietly proactive” about acquisitions

Cambridge, MA–During his session at the New England Mail Order Association (NEMOA) Spring Conference on March 22, Blair Corp. president/CEO John Zawacki said that the cataloger’s goal is to reach $1 billion in sales by the end of the decade.

But with annual sales currently at less than $700 million, Zawacki noted that “organic growth alone may not get us to our our $1 billion goal in the time frame established.” And so Warren, PA-based Blair has been “quietly proactive” regarding acquisitions for the past four years.

Although Blair has yet to acquire another catalog company, Zawacki said that now is a great time for buying opportunities. What with the ever-increasing postal costs and the competitive marketplace, stand-alone catalogs need annual sales of at least $10 million–and more likely $20 million–to survive.

In his session, appropriately titled “Becoming a Billion-Dollar Company,” Zawacki covered the evolution of Blair from a purveyor of black raincoats for morticians in 1910 to a multichannel, multititle marketer of more than 7,500 products today. He also discussed problems that Blair ran into during the 1990s, when the World War II generation–“the heart and soul of our business,” according to Zawacki–“began aging and hit the wall.” At that point the company, which relied on “product slips” and circulars for sales, entered the catalog arena.

The shift in marketing medium brought down the average customer age 10 years, Zawacki said, to 65. The launch of the Blair e-commerce Website in 2000 further reduced the average customer age. The site’s 3,000 affiliate partners have helped introduce younger, more affluent customers to the company. Forty percent of Blair’s online customers are new to the company, Zawacki said, and they are 15 years younger on average than the Blair mail customer.

Blair’s Crossing Pointe spin-off, which sells more fashion-forward women’s apparel, has also introduced younger customers to the company’s house file. The title is exceeding sales expectations, Zawacki said. He noted that Blair is still considering a spin-off title targeting younger professional men, titled Irvine Park.

Zawacki addressed NEMOA attendees on the final day of the three-day conference. The conference was held at the Royal Sonesta Hotel here March 20-22.

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