Smith & Hawken book flourishing

Since February 1999, when it was sold by bankrupt parent company CML Group, gardening accessories cataloger/retailer Smith & Hawken has played musical chairs in the executive suite and revamped its merchandise mix and circulation strategy. Despite the turmoil, though, the marketer has thrived, with annual sales growing approximately 15%.

The now-defunct CML Group was a multititle cataloger/retailer whose properties included The Nature Co. catalog and its flagship NordicTrack exercise equipment business. But NordicTrack’s flagging performance dragged down the entire company, and CML was forced to sell the Smith & Hawken catalog/retail operation to Wellesley, MA-based investment firm DDJ Capital (the majority owner) and the Madison-based State of Wisconsin Investment Board.

Shortly after the new owners took possession of Smith & Hawken, most of the catalog’s top executives left. Kathy Tierney retired as CEO (though she retained a seat on the cataloger’s board). She was replaced by Karyn Barsa, a former Patagonia executive. Then in September, chief operating officer Craig Womack and chief financial officer Rick Renaldo resigned. David McCreight, who had been with the company seven years, was then promoted from vice president of merchandising to president, and former Williams-Sonoma executive Jerry Dratler was named chief financial officer.

Circulation down, productivity up

The new owners had ordered the company’s management to cut circulation “slightly” while building up the retail chain. The company added 11 stores last year, bringing its total to 44. And despite the circulation cutbacks, catalog sales grew, the amount of which McCreight won’t reveal. “We spent a lot of time improving page productivity,” he notes. “We have greater confidence in doing things, designwise, that aren’t strictly direct mail legacies, such as going with large depictions of single items on a given page.” The company has also phased out clothing as a major offering to “consolidate our brand position strictly within the gardening space,” McCreight says.

Overall sales have grown from $88 million at the time of the sale to more than $100 million for the year ended Jan. 31. “We’re shoring up our core catalog and retail businesses on the P&L side,” McCreight says, “and exploring opportunities for growth” such as the company’s expanding business-to-business book.

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