At a time when many direct marketers are expanding into retail, Portland, OR-based Norm Thompson Outfitters is backing out of the channel. The multititle mailer plans to close its flagship Portland store by March, when its lease expires. That will leave Norm Thompson with one store in Portland International Airport and three outlets in the surrounding area.
The company, founded in 1949, includes the Norm Thompson, Solutions, and Sahalie catalogs. Why the retreat from retail? For one, only 3% of the company’s $200 million in sales comes from retail; about 32% comes from the Web and the rest via phone and mail.
According to CEO John Emrick, Norm Thompson has “always seen ourselves as direct merchants first.” What’s more, he says, “the brick-and-mortar aspects of our business were always exclusive to Portland.” Even if the company had 15 stores nationally, he says, “it would not be a great economy of scale.”
Norm Thompson began phasing out its retail arm in December 2004 by converting the Portland store from a full-price store to more of an outlet selling primarily overstocks and discontinued items from its three brands. But the company, which intends to keep the airport location as a full-price store, has not shut the door on expanding the channel again one day. “Perhaps we could merge with a larger retailer down the line,” Emrick says.
For now, the company will focus on its direct business. In September Norm Thompson opened a new customer contact center adjacent to its corporate offices. Emrick says that the customer center and the marketing department now work hand in hand; in fact, senior vice president of marketing and merchandising Craig Dewey began overseeing the contact center just before the new facility opened. “We decided that when we built the customer center it would make sense to have those there report directly to the marketing department,” Emrick says.