Penney Redesigns Big Book

If you received one of the 14 million spring/summer J.C. Penney catalogs that began mailing in January, you may have noticed a few changes. The $3.8 billion cataloger/retailer has redesigned its “big book” as part of an effort to jump-start its direct business.

The redesign is the first major catalog initiative since Plano, TX-based Penney hired former Spiegel president/CEO John Irvin in February 2001 as senior vice president/president of catalog and Internet. Penney hired another industry veteran, Bernie Feiwus, formerly of Neiman Marcus Direct, as senior vice president/associate director of catalog in March 2001.

“We’ve adapted our business model to focus on the way the customers like to shop,” says spokesperson Stephanie Brown. The product assortment, for instance, has been tweaked to appeal more to Penney’s core customers: women ages 35-49 from dual-income, middle-income households. The overall number of SKUs is down 5%-10%, though Brown says the new book is carrying slightly more apparel.

In terms of creative, Penney switched to a heavier paper stock and added more lifestyle-oriented photographs to make its pages more appealing. The trim size, at 7-15/16″ × 10-3/4″, is about 6% larger than last year’s; with 1,232 pages, the catalog has 140 fewer pages.

Brown says Penney has invested “significant dollars” to improve the look and feel of the catalog. “This is the first step in a two- to five-year process,” Brown says, echoing what chairman/CEO Allen Questrom has said about overhauling Penney companywide. “It’s going to take some time to get that catalog business back on track.” For certain, the division could use a boost: For the nine weeks ended on Dec. 29, catalog sales totaled $760 million. That’s a 25% decline from the comparable period of 2000, due only in part to a cut in circulation.

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