Death of an old catalog

The financial problems that forced Cheyenne Outfitters, a 68-year-old cataloger of western wear, out of business in November can be traced back to 1995, when the company got hammered by rising paper, ink, and postage costs. Around the same time, the Cheyenne, WY-based mailer began adding more mainstream apparel to the book. But revenue fell, and according to former controller Lynn Weberg, the company plunged into the red.

All this, Weberg says, led to the cataloger’s sales skid from its peak of $40 million in ’95 to $15 million last year. Weberg worked at Cheyenne Outfitters from November 1997 until the company was padlocked shut on Nov. 12, 1998, by its primary lender, Santa Monica, CA-based FremontFinancial. When sales from the fall ’98 catalog came in 20% below projections and the holiday book fell as much as 50% short of plan, “that drained the working capital available for future financing,” says Weberg, who has since taken a position with Cheyenne-based Unicover, a direct marketer of collectibles.

Keith Richardson, president of rival Cheyenne-based outdoor apparel cataloger Sierra Trading Post, believes that “Cheyenne got caught with too much inventory. The cycle [of western wear’s popularity often] changes, and it can catch you off guard.”

But an executive at another western apparel catalog believes that Cheyenne diluted its image and its sales when it tried to compensate for the cyclical changes by broadening its offerings. Cheyenne was “no longer a pure western catalog,” says the executive, who insists on anonymity. “You’re either western or you’re not.”

No hope for refunds Fremont’s vice president of credit, Steve Ogus, would not comment, but several outside sources say that the bank will liquidate the merchandise and try to sell the mailing list.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported shortly after the company folded that at least seven creditors had filed suits against the cataloger; Weberg says 12 vendors have sued the cataloger since March. Regardless of the number, “there are insufficient funds to pay off secured and unsecured creditors,” says Larry Atwell, president of the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce. “So there is little or no hope [for customers who had placed orders] to get refunds.”