Motherwear Lays Off Nearly Half Its Staff

Northampton, MA-based Motherwear, a cataloger/retailer of apparel and accessories for expecting and nursing mothers, reduced its staff by 40% in September.

The company needed to find a way to scale back its costs, says president Jody Wright. “Our sales have been declining over the past couple of years,” she explains. “It got to the point where we had to make some changes, and staffing is one of the areas you can make changes to easily and reduce the amount of space you’re in.” Motherwear, which leases building space, will now be able cut its workspace by half.

In all, Motherwear laid off 18 out of a total of 40 people. Wright says she will now be handling much more of the company’s marketing and store operations. Also, call center hours will be cut back by two hours a day. Instead of closing at 10 p.m. Eastern time, call center hours will end at 8 p.m. (Opening time remains the same, 9 a.m.)

Wright blames the lackluster economy for Motherwear’s woes. The company’s average order has declined by $20 since two years ago. “It’s much harder to work in a niche like ours with a very short-term customer in this kind of economy,” she says.

In fact, that short-term aspect of the company’s customer base makes prospecting difficult. Lists specific to new mothers become outdated very quickly. And because of continual churn among its audience, “we have to be recruiting new customers all the time,” Wright says. So even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for instance, when many mailers fell back on their house files, Motherwear had little choice but to continue prospecting.

Looking forward

In part because the company’s Website accounts for 60% of sales, Wright plans to focus more on Motherwear’s e-marketing strategies.

Motherwear has already seen a 12% rise in sales among customers who receive monthly e-mails pegged to how far along they are in their pregnancy or how long since they gave birth. (When individuals request a catalog, the company asks for the expected birth date of their child.) E-mails include stories from other mothers at the same point in pregnancy or new motherhood, as well as products that might appeal to the soon-to-be or new mother.

For instance, a typical e-mail sent to customers in their seventh month of pregnancy might feature information about nursing bras, whereas an e-mail sent to women in their sixth month might promote lingerie, and one sent to women in their second month after the birth might include information on breastfeeding in public and the Motherwear clothes that can make it easier.

“Education is an important part of the Motherwear communication process with mothers,” says Wright. “When we share information, and create a sense of community, people respond very positively.”

Wright also intends to begin merchandising more specifically for the Web. She says, for example, that the Website will feature more studio photographs of separate pieces as opposed to the lifestyle shots favored in the print catalog, Motherwear’s online customers are more likely to buy separate items than ensembles. The Website will also continue to see some weaker-selling products that Wright will be eliminating from the print catalog and the Northampton store.

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