LEE JEANS’ SCIENTIFIC METHOD
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — Lee Jeans is adding science to the art of merchandising.
The $2 billion division of VF Corp. has positioned itself for several years as a brand for the misses’ market rather than the junior customer that its competitors go after. But the challenging denim market and slow sales of the bread-and-butter basics are forcing Lee to reach out to younger and hipper consumers while trying to maintain that loyal woman.
To accomplish this, the company has restructured its design, marketing and sales teams to make sure that each always knows what the others are doing — and can use that information to create a consistent and more effective message.
“It has been two years since we began to reposition Lee,” said Gordon Harton, vice president and general merchandise manager of Lee Jeanswear. “We now have a different message going out to the consumer, and we have developed a new strategy of getting a specific product to a consumer. It’s become a science, how we develop our product.”
Lee is also seeing the results of last year’s premium Lee Riveted introduction. The new line, according to Lana Cain-Krauter, vice president of women’s apparel and intimate apparel at Sears, Roebuck & Co., has hit the mark.
“We carry Lee Riveted in the misses’ and junior size ranges,” said Cain. “We’ve found that the product, because it’s driven by fashion bodies, new washes and color, has been a significant player in the continuing growth of Lee jeans for us. Honestly, this consumer, especially the missy customer, has been screaming for fashion. She’s aware of all the silhouette changes happening in the younger market.
“In addition to the fashion content, the price points are very palatable to our customer base, and the product quality is excellent. In junior, we love the flexibility of different fabrics, whether it be 10-ounce denim or corduroy.”
The April 15 first-quarter report from VF Corp. showed a net gain of 25.5 percent, and strong sales in Lee jeans were credited with about half of the 9 percent sales increase.
“The Lee brand enjoyed its largest quarterly sales gain in over two years, with continued good response to its Lee Riveted casuals program and high visibility marketing initiatives,” said Mackey McDonald, VF’s chief executive officer, at that time.
Still, the company doesn’t want to get caught coasting while competing in a cutthroat market. With consumer research, Lee has created four profiles of its female consumers and labeled each with a prime motivator.
There are the “flattery seekers,” who make up 27 percent of the total jeans market and go for clothes that make them look good. The “see my clothes” segment is 29 percent of the market. She wants the latest cool name. The 29 percent labeled “fashion for less” wants a look but also value, while the remaining 15 percent, whom Lee calls “brand schmands,” goes strictly for price.
With a touch of trendiness and a torrent of marketing, the company decides how to approach each consumer. The see-my-clothes group and the flattery seekers are Lee’s top priorities, said Ellen Rohde, vice president of strategic planning and advertising.
“The other two — fashion-for-less and brand schmand — come with the territory,” said Rohde.
Toni Strutz, director of market trends, and her group then identify one or two trends that will fit with Lee’s overall image, and they create products.
For example, Lee feels the wide-leg trend will be important across several consumer categories, so it’s offering multiple variations on that theme.
“One customer will think she’s really stepping out with the 18-inch leg opening,” said Rohde.
“While another customer will think the 26-inch opening is not enough,” added Strutz.
The wide-leg campaign will be targeted to the flattery seeker segment, while the new dungaree looks, which draw on Lee’s archives as well as current trends for design, is designated for the younger consumer. For fall, Lee is using a variety of fabrics and finishes, from a soft washed wide-wale corduroy to drapey 10-ounce denim for its wide-leg looks.
The marketing reflects a more targeted approach as well. Using media analysis, Rohde is able to quantify the effectiveness of various ad placements. Lee will continue to use the print ads it introduced last year, wholesome-but-sexy illustrations reminiscent of Varga girls with sly ad copy like, “From across the room, he won’t be able to tell you have a great sense of humor.”
For the flattery seeker, Lee is advertising in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, Vogue, In Style, Entertainment Weekly, Us, Self and the new Conde Nast Sports for Women. But for the see-my-clothes consumer, it will be in Rolling Stone, Spin, Vibe, Raygun, Urb, Seventeen and Mademoiselle.
Lee ads are noticeably absent from such publications as Ladies’ Home Journal and Redbook, where the company had traditionally been.
“The consumer that we’re targeting reads these magazines more than the service magazines,” said Rohde.
In September, Lee will run two eight-page advertorial sections. One, featuring wide leg, will be in Vogue, while the other, on dungarees, will be in Mademoiselle and Details simultaneously. The company also has a World Wide Web site and will advertise on related sites as well as at concerts, movie previews and with postcards placed at Tower Records.
The company will continue its strategy of placing TV spots during events such as the Women’s National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball finals, as well as during NBC’s high-rated Thursday night sitcom programming.
Lee spent $35 million on advertising in 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
In another display of its desire to be a sexier brand, this year Lee became the title sponsor of the Elite Model Look, a nationwide model search that had been sponsored by Guess.
Finally, once all the merchandise and marketing have been nailed down, the company will be able to customize its orders for its retail accounts.
That means that even within a chain of stores, individual doors will have distinct orders. If a store is in an area with a lot of young working women, for example, it will get more of the goods targeted to that group. Another store in the same chain might get a larger proportion of junior-oriented designs.
“By 1998,” said Terry Lay, president of Lee Brand, “we’ll be able to change assortment by stores.”