The Latest Catalog to Close: Mark, Fore & Strike

On Feb. 28, citing disappointing sales, The Mark Group announced it was folding its Mark, Fore & Strike catalog to concentrate on its thriving Boston Proper brand. Although both books sell women’s apparel, Boston Proper caters to a more fashion-forward, younger (ages 35-55) customer and sells primarily private-label clothing.

The Boca Raton, FL-based Mark Group intends to continue operating its 12 Mark, Fore & Strike stores. It will also continue mailing gifts and home decor book Charles Keath. The latter is “a consistent contributor,” says Skip Hartzell, The Mark Group’s executive vice president/chief creative and Internet officer.

During the past year alone, Mark, Fore & Strike’s catalog sales fell 18%, from $38 million in 2000 to $31 million. “It didn’t make sense for us to continue mailing it,” Hartzell says. The last catalog, a summer sale book, will drop in June.

The Mark Group is now turning its attention to expanding Boston Proper, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of the company’s $120 million in annual sales. Hartzell says that board member Cindy Fields, formerly the head of the Victoria’s Secret catalog, is putting together a multichannel growth strategy — one that includes launching a retain chain — for the Boston Proper brand. No time frame has been given for when the first Boston Proper stores may open.

Given the economic climate, now may not be the best time to initiate a retail push, suggests Allen Rosenberg, executive vice president of New York-based catalog consultancy Marke Communications. He would advise that the company open one store first as a test, just as fellow apparel marketer J. Jill opened a store near its Massachusetts headquarters before implementing a full-fledged retail plan. Then again, given that The Mark Group is no stranger to retail, it is most likely well aware of the importance of using the catalog’s house file to determine which regions have the greatest concentration of customers and likely prospects, a tactic that other apparel cataloger/retailers such as The Talbots and Coldwater Creek have used successfully.

In the meantime, this month The Mark Group will unveil a redesigned Boston Proper Website that’s more user-friendly while at the same time deploying “fewer bells and whistles,” Hartzell says. The company’s previous Web provider had gone bankrupt, leaving it with what Hartzell describes as an antiquated Web platform. The revised site will be powered by IBM’s Websphere 5.0.

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