Penney redesigns its big book

When the spring/summer J.C. Penney catalogs arrives in your mailbox this week, you might notice a few changes. That’s because the $3.8 billion cataloger/retailer has redesigned its “big book” as part of an effort to jump-start its direct business. The division could use a boost: For the nine weeks ended on Dec. 29, catalog sales totaled $760 million, a 25% decline from the comparable period of 2000.

The redesign is the first major catalog initiative since Plano, TX-based Penney hired former Spiegel president/CEO John Irvin last February 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 last March.

“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 focused to appeal more to Penney’s core customers: women ages 35-49 from dual-income, middle-income households. The overall number of of SKUs is down 5%-10%, though Brown says the new book is carrying slightly more apparel.

Penney has also tweaked the creative, going to a heavier paper stock, with photographs being more lifestyle-oriented–rather than product oriented–in an effort to make its pages more appealing. The trim size, at 7-15/16″ x 10-3/4″, is about 6% larger than last year’s. What’s more, at 1,232 pages, the catalog has 140 fewer pages.

The circulation for the spring/summer book is 14 million, down a slightly from last year. As for the cost of the redesign, Brown will say only that Penney has invested “significant dollars” to improve the look and feel of the catalog.

“This is the first step in 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.”

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