Blair to Cease Envelope Mailings

In the press release announcing its first-quarter results, Warren, PA-based Blair Corp. attributed its 4.5% decline in sales to “continuing softness in response rates to the traditional letter mailings channel of Blair’s direct marketing programs.” To combat that decline, the apparel and home decor merchant plans to cease its envelope mailings–collections of single-sheet solo mailers that traditionally appealed to the senior citizens who made up a significant portion of the Blair audience.

In lieu of the envelope mailings, Blair will introduce another women’s apparel catalog during the third quarter of the year.

Jeff Parnell, vice president of marketing for Blair, says the phasing out the mailings in favor of a catalog “is a logical decision for us to make.” While he won’t reveal the size of the catalog or its circulation, it will certainly be a “representative-size catalog,” he says.

“We think it will be more relevant and synergize nicely with our attempts to drive more business online,” Parnell continues. “Frankly, it’s a more attractive format, we believe. We’ve been having discussions for a while. This wasn’t an impulsive decision.”

Blair’s e-commerce channel generated $26.5 million in net sales for the first quarter of 2006, compared with $23.4 million for the first quarter of last year. Total first-quarter sales for the three months ended March 31 were $102.7 million.

Given recent results, Parnell says driving more business online is an obvious choice for the company. “We think we have a pretty exciting Web strategy,” he says. “We’re a well-kept secret on the Web. We started our Web business five years ago and now we’re at $100 million. It’s quite a story.”

As Web sales have grown, sales from the envelope mailings have declined. The mailings, which Blair has used as a sales medium since its founding in 1910, now account for just 20% of total revenue.

Parnell wouldn’t disclose how the new apparel catalog would differ from the Blair Women’s title nor from its now-defunct Crossing Pointe women’s clothing catalog. Launched in 2000 to attract younger consumers, Crossing Pointe was folded in early 2005. Blair’s other catalogs include Blair Men’s and Irvine Park. Although Irvine Park originally sold only menswear, in March 2004 the product line was expanded to include careerwear for women. apparel accounts for 87% of Blair’s sales.

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