Liz Lange: multichannel maternity marketer

In less than three years, former fashion editor Liz Lange has created a multichannel maternity wear business encompassing stores, a catalog, and a Website.

Lange says the business was born out of a void in the market for quality maternity clothing. So in October 1997, she designed about eight pieces and began selling them by appointment only from an office in New York. After mentions about the designs appeared in The New York Times and Vogue magazine (where Lange had been an editor), eager shoppers began calling her. “But I had no way to show them my designs,” she says. Deciding that the best way to make her designs available to women outside New York was online, Liz Lange Maternity launched a Website in January 1998. Although customers couldn’t place orders online, they could call to order products to be shipped from her office and, as of February 1999, her store. In fall ’99, Lange created a 28-page print version of the Web catalog, which mailed to phone and online requesters.

Prices for outfits average $185-$200; the most expensive item is a silk evening dress for $425. Liz Lange Maternity is also opening a second store, in Beverly Hills, in late July, with four more stores planned for next year.

The company would not disclose figures, but total sales are estimated to be more than $2 million and less than $10 million. Although 70% of the business comes from the stores, both the print and Web catalogs have become “a tremendous portion of my business,” Lange says, and likely to soon become “a much greater percentage of my sales.”

Keeping up with growth

Web customers still can’t order online but instead must call the New York store to speak to a salesperson, who explains the line and gets a sense of each customer’s needs. “That has really cut down our returns,” Lange says, which can be a problem for online apparel marketers. Catalog and Web orders are fulfilled from a “warehouse” in the basement of the store.

But Lange realizes that her rapid growth will make this fulfillment method unrealistic for the future. By next spring, she says, “the catalogs will include most of my collection and will be completely e-commerce-enabled, with all the appropriate technological backup and interactivity.” The direct marketing division will be treated like a separate store, “with its own warehouse and fulfillment operation.”

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