Still naughty… but nicer

Terry Patterson, the first female CEO in lingerie cataloger/retailer Frederick’s of Hollywood’s 50-year history, is bouncing the bimbos, exiling the XXX-rated lingerie, and trashing the trailer park image. After being at the helm of the $148 million firm only nine months, Patterson has de-vamped and revamped Frederick’s.

Immediately after landing the job, Patterson pushed to update the Frederick’s “look”-which has alternately been described by some as “trashy,” “slutty,” or “sleazy.” “Our catalog was outdated in design and merchandise-a sort of 1960s Barbarella image,” Patterson says. “We wanted to keep the sexy but take out the sleaze.”

The company also wanted to attract new and younger customers (its core audience is females around 36 years old). In the past, such customers were tough to find; not many list owners wanted to rent their lists to the racy Frederick’s. “List owners felt the catalog would offend their customers,” says Beth Rush, Frederick’s vice president of marketing.

A two-phase cleanup The Frederick’s catalog’s creative evolution began with the summer edition, which mailed in March. Instead of its usual slim-jim, the company tested an 8-1/2″ x 11″ catalog to see if sales and response would increase with the larger size. But response to the larger size did not offset the higher production costs, so the company returned to the slim-jim format in the fall. Frederick’s will, however, test a 7″ x 10″ format in the spring, Rush says.

As for merchandise, timing prevented Frederick’s from modifying its product mix in the summer book. “Because we had already bought our summer merchandise, the only changes we could really make were in the model presentation,” Rush says. The models were styled with less makeup and posed in more natural lifestyle settings to present a less racy image.

“Models should be portrayed as aspirational to the customer,” says Glenda Shasho Jones, president of New York-based catalog agency Shasho/Jones Direct. “For Frederick’s that should be sexy and somewhat provocative, given its brand image, but still acceptable.”

The second phase of the repositioning occurred with the fall catalog, which mailed in early August. The company modified its merchandise mix to include fewer novelty items, such as feather boas, and more trendy, fashion-forward apparel as well as more color selections and softer lingerie offerings.

“We want to keep up with the fashion trends but still speak to our customer,” Patterson says. “The Frederick’s customer wants affordable clothes that flatter her figure. She wants to walk into a room and get noticed. She wants to feel fun and sexy, yet still demand respect.”

The result? First, because of its new toned-down look, the catalog has gained access to more mainstream mailing lists, Rush says. “We can now mail to lists, such as women’s apparel, that we weren’t able to in the past.” (Indeed, of the 5 million copies of the revamped catalog that were mailed in spring and summer, 25% went to prospects previously unobtainable.) Frederick’s masterfile contains 4 million active buyers and requesters, according to Rush.

Second, response from both old and new customers has, so far, been favorable, Patterson says. “Our core customer loves the new look. We often hear they can now leave the catalog on their coffee table. And our younger prospects respond well to the fashion-forward apparel.” Frederick’s is seeing its customers’ average order size “increase significantly,” she adds.

Still, some observers question whether a new look is the way to spur growth. For the first nine months of fiscal ’97 (just before the formerly public company’s purchase by privately held Knightsbridge Capital Corp.), circulation cuts contributed to a 4% decline in catalog sales, to $53.6 million from $56 million for the first nine months of the previous year. In a worst-case scenario, the repositioning/redesign could alienate Frederick’s core customers without converting a significant number of prospects.

“Even transitional steps can be complicated when dealing with a strong brand name,” Jones says. “Can a new look and positioning really change people’s perceptions?” De-sleazed or no, “in some consumers’ minds, the Frederick’s name has a negative connotation.”

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