MARK, FORE & STRIKE: THE TARGETED APPROACH

Byline: GEORGIA LEE

BOCA RATON, Fla.--Mark, Fore & Strike, the resort-oriented, casual clothing retail and catalog firm, is exploring new selling formats, in a plan to double sales in five years, according to Michael Tiernan, president.
"We're positioning ourselves for significant growth as a multichannel retailer, with stores, catalogs, outlets and possibly interactive television," said Tiernan. "But rather than pioneers, we're simply responding to our customers. Whatever they demand, we'll be there."
Currently, the company operates full-price stores, outlets and catalogs. The catalog business is up 28 percent for the year to date, while store sales increased 11 percent, according to the firm.
Most of the 4,000-square-foot stores are being remodeled, with new fixtures such as French doors and nautical-inspired decor that contributes to a homey ambience. Point-of-sale information systems are also being updated for better in-stock levels and quick response.
"The stores are the foundation of the company and reinforce its image," said Tiernan. "They provide exposure and lend credibility to catalog sales." Blow-ups of catalog photographs serve as backdrops in stores, and store promotions are advertised in catalog as well.
The company, which is about 40 years old, began as a seasonal, resort store selling sports equipment and resort merchandise.
Over the years, equipment was dropped in favor of casual clothing and gift items for affluent men and women over 40. Currently, 14 stores operate in resort areas of Florida and New England. There are also three outlets, two in Florida, one in Princeton, N.J.
In 1976, the catalog business was launched. About 18 million catalogs are distributed annually, and sales reached $29 million in 1993. Store sales were $9.6 million.
In 1985, production, marketing and advertising were brought in-house.
"We started romancing the product," said Skip Hartzell, vice president, creative director. "In food advertising, you try to make people hungry, and in catalog photos, you have to make people long to look like that." The Mark, Fore & Strike catalog features relaxed, colorful casual sportswear, about 60 percent from vendors such as Marisa Christina, David Brooks, Regina Porter and Bleyle, while private label makes up 40 percent. Prices range from $36 for a knit top to $300 for a winter coat.
Thea Iglehart, vice president, merchandising, says the company shoots for women who "want to look pretty, not fashion-forward."
"We try to get merchandise that is timeless and universal, that hits all the cogs of the customer wheel, whether she is fat, thin, young, old, blond or brunette," Iglehart said.
For example, a private label acrylic cardigan with gold buttons sold one million units in the 17 years it has been offered. It's featured in the same photograph that's also been shown in the catalog for 17 years.
In January 1992, the company bought Boston Proper, a clothing, housewares and gifts catalog, for $150,000. The target audience is younger and more contemporary than Mark, Fore & Strike. It's a customer looking for "a designer attitude without the price," said Hartzell.
Boston Proper features fashion-forward looks by vendors such as Karen Kane, Cynthia Rowley, Vittadini Sport and Tapemeasure. In 1993, its first complete year, the book brought in $7 million.
"We resurrected the book from the dead and built it from scratch," said Tiernan, whose father was one of the original founders of Mark, Fore & Strike. "It's gratifying because it took the entire company 10 years to reach $7 million in sales."
Depending on the season, over 50 percent of product crosses over between Mark, Fore & Strike stores and catalogs. "They have the same basic vendor structure," said Iglehart. "But catalog merchandise has to be more visual, and fabrications have to be explained, whereas store product can be more subtle things that the customer can touch and feel."
The sheer volume of catalog sales provides more buying power for stores, and stores can serve as a test market before making a large commitment with catalog orders.
Outlets are also key to the equation. "Keeping in-stock inventory up without overstocking is crucial," said Tiernan. "Outlets take up the slack at the end of season."
In addition to the existing three, 10 more are planned over the next five years, including the company's first Boston Proper outlet, to open in Palm Beach County, Fla., in October. "We're testing that, with the idea of opening a full-price Boston Proper store within the next two years," said Tiernan.
As a family-owned operation, Mark, Fore & Strike has always emphasized customer service. A photograph of Michael Tiernan's father, William Tiernan, that hangs in all stores illustrates the company commitment. In it, Tiernan is stepping off a plane from Delray Beach, Fla., to personally deliver a package to a Naples, Fla., customer who needed it for a party that night.
"We have the picture in all stores to remind us that service is more than an attitude: It's something that requires action," said Tiernan.

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