May 01, 2000 9:30 PM  By

Retailer J. Baker was looking for more than growth when it acquired cataloger/retailer Repp Big and Tall last May. The Canton, MA-based company also expected the acquisition to provide access to the direct marketing arena. Now the $665 million company plans to spin off an additional catalog and Website, with the goal of dominating the specialty-size catalog and online apparel marketplace within five years.

The Repp acquisition brought J. Baker’s store count to 584 from 454. But the Repp by Mail catalog, along with its sister title, Essentials, and the Repp by Net Website, represented the most significant elements of the deal, says CEO Alan Weinstein. “When we acquired Repp, it changed our view of what we would be in this market.”

Leveraging the mail order experience of the Repp team and the brand name of its Casual Male retail chain, J. Baker launched the Casual Male Big & Tall catalog in late March. The names for the launch, which total several million, came from the stores’ customer files, the Repp by Mail database, and the company’s acquisition efforts, which included space ads.

The Casual Mail catalog will supplant the Essentials catalog, but it won’t compete with the core Repp by Mail book, explains Repp president Bobby Yarbrough. “We were looking to develop a catalog with more competitive price points. We had developed Essentials as a moderately priced offering, and we decided it fit better with the Casual Male concept.” Repp by Mail will continue to offer what Yarbrough describes as higher-priced, label-driven sportswear lines.

The Casual Male Website, scheduled to launch early this summer, will operate separately from the Repp site. Although the Web operations aren’t yet integrated into the catalog and retail arms, Weinstein vows to make the brand “seamless” to the customer, so that sales and returns can occur in all the channels.

Large share of a narrow niche

The specialty-size men’s apparel market “is a narrow, niche market consisting of 10% of the male population,” says Weinstein, who estimates the total marketplace at $5 billion-$6 billion. “We want them all, whether they want moderately priced or high end merchandise. We want to own 20% of the market in three to five years. So we want to satisfy this customer at every level.”

And while Weinstein expects to nearly double the number of Repp and Casual Male stores it has to 1,000 over the next three to five years, “we see much greater growth potential in direct mail and e-commerce.” According to Weinstein, Repp’s catalog and Website make it the third largest direct marketer of specialty-size menswear, behind Brylane and J.C. Penney. “We want to be the largest cataloger in this niche, and to do that we have to increase direct sales to more than $100 million in the next five years – about three times our current size.” (In addition to Casual Male and Repp, J. Baker includes the Work ‘n Gear business apparel stores.)

To accommodate such growth, the company is building a new call center and distribution center near Atlanta. “The old facility was 69,000 sq. ft. – big enough to allow us to reach $50 million-$60 million in sales. This one will be 135,000-140,000 sq. ft.,” Weinstein says. The company plans to occupy the new facility by June 1.