The return of J. Peterman?

It’s been a year since $251 million-plus retailer Paul Harris Stores bought the J. Peterman Co. But Paul Harris has yet to relaunch the apparel catalog, which was perhaps best known for its product illustrations and romantic copy, and for the recurring fictionalized J. Peterman character from the television sitcom Seinfeld.

But Peterman director Buck Roebuck says that in recent months the company has hired several people with catalog and direct marketing backgrounds to plot out a catalog strategy. Meanwhile, Paul Harris continues to operate the 12-store Peterman retail chain – successfully, Roebuck says. (The company doesn’t break out the unit’s sales.) And while the catalog has been dormant, the Peterman Website has continued to operate, complete with online ordering.

In reestablishing the print catalog, Paul Harris is most concerned about issues such as “the high return rates of the old Peterman catalog,” Roebuck says. “We want to understand what made the company so popular and then go bankrupt. Until then, we’re concentrating on the existing stores and the Website.”

Paul Harris has gotten no input from founder John Peterman, who left the company prior to the sale and has had no contact with the new owner. Peterman’s entire Lexington, KY, operation was closed after the sale, and all catalog operations will be run out of Paul Harris’s Indianapolis headquarters.

Roebuck won’t say whether the relaunched catalog would drop Peterman’s signature adventure-story copywriting in favor of more straightforward product descriptions. But he believes that the catalog will thrive based on the high profile of the brand, thanks to Seinfeld’s turning it into a household name. And even though Seinfeld is no longer shown in prime time, “it’s on every day in syndication,” Roebuck says. “I’ll take that kind of advertising any day.”

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