Mark Group to Close Charles Keath Catalog

Wanting to focus on accelerated growth of its Boston Proper women’s apparel title, The Mark Group plans to shut its Charles Keath catalog early next year. The gifts and apparel title represents about 20% of the $157 million Mark Group’s sales.

Charles Keath “just seemed to be a steady Eddie—it just kept doing its thing, and we couldn’t see how we could grow it past its present size,” says executive vice president/chief creative and Internet officer Skip Hartzell. The catalog’s sales ebbed with circulation, which peaked at 21 million in 1999 and fell to 13 million this year, according to executive vice president/chief financial officer Ken Fischer. A couple of Charles Keath liquidation catalogs will mail prior before the title is folded.

Mark Group had the Charles Keath catalog on the block for the past 18 months, Hartzell says, but the company didn’t receive any “serious” offers. “Most offers we received weren’t purely cash,” he says, “so we didn’t want to get into a financial situation.”

As a result of the closing, Mark Group’s short-term sales will be down, but profits will increase, Hartzell says. “Sometimes you have to take a step back,” he says. “We had to lower our expenses, simplify, and streamline.” With the anticipating closing of the book, Mark Group has laid off five employees in its merchandising group so far and will likely lay off an undetermined number of others as the business winds down.

The closing of Charles Keath is only the latest step in Mark Group’s simplification strategy. Last year the company closed its Mark, Fore & Strike women’s apparel catalog, which targeted an older buyer than Boston Proper. Earlier this year it sold a majority share of the brand’s retail chain to a group led by its own senior vice president of merchandising, Larry Autrey.

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