BEING HEARD IN A NOISY MARKET

Byline: Arthur Friedman

NEW YORK — At a time when store space and ad space are being dominated by megabrands, small to medium-size ready-to-wear firms are starting to realize they have to make themselves seen and heard.
These firms, many of which are single-division entrepreneurial operations, don’t have the big budgets of mega nichers Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren or powerhouses Levi’s or Nike. But they do have a product to sell, and executives of those firms point out that to keep even a small market share today, a company must think in terms of advertising and marketing its labels just as the national brands do.
Many such firms had previously shunned this route, feeling that since they didn’t have a huge war chest with which to promote their labels, whatever money they did invest would be wasted.
But now, companies like outerwear makers Woolrich and Andrew Marc and dress houses like Dani Max and Donna Morgan have changed their tune, thinking more like Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller Ltd.
“I used to think a little bit of advertising was like shouting in a loud room — nobody could here you above all the noise,” said Konheim. “But now I’ve come to realize that a little bit of advertising can go a long way.”
The new commitment to advertising from these brand builders is augmented by a mix of marketing tools — from mini-catalogs and special mailers to point-of-sale material and frequent-shopper cards — all meant to increase name recognition among consumers and expand the label into new areas.
Adelle Kirk, manager of consumer marketing at Kurt Salmon Associates, said these companies “need to have their voices heard, even though it’s loud out there.”
“Companies that don’t have the big budgets need to plan and allocate wisely,” Kirk said. “They need to be creative with their budgets and very focused in their marketing. It’s more important for companies like this to maintain their brand loyalty than to lure new customers.”
While Nicole Miller is close to a megabrand — it has 20 licenses and a chain of 30 signature stores, and as wholesale volume of $65 million, including royalties — last year was the first time it ran consumer print ads. The campaign, with a budget of $1 million, included print and outdoor advertising. That budget was raised to $1.5 million in 1997, and Konheim said $2.2 million is slated for 1998.
“The big word today is brand credibility,” Konheim said. “We’re specialty-store oriented with a tight target market, but within that world, you can still promote yourself like a nationally advertised brand. The numbers are smaller, but the method is the same.”
Two years ago, Nicole Miller started producing its own bridal catalog, which continues to be a successful tool for selling those special offerings.
Konheim said he used to operate on the premise that a good dress would sell itself. Now, he said, consumers have been trained to buy a brand with which they are familiar, because they want to know there’s a commitment behind the product.
Dress firm Donna Morgan has been sold on the concept that small companies can no longer just have a good product and expect the store to sell it. Morgan, who designs the line, and Kathleen McFeeters, president and ceo, began giving the brand marketing support this year and have begun reaping the benefits.
This spring, looking to push a group of hot-selling black dinner dresses, the partners hit on an idea to produce “The Little Black Dress Book,” a catalog of the company’s merchandise. Last month, Dillard’s mailed 1.1 million copies of the book with its fall fashion catalog. Dillard’s is the firm’s largest account, bringing in about $9 million in sales this year, McFeeters said.
An additional 600,000 catalogs were mailed to customers of Lord & Taylor, Mercantile Stores, Belk Stores and Parisian, and many stores are using visuals from the book for print ads.
Donna Morgan, which will reach $30 million in sales this year, also produces a book for sales associates on how to wardrobe customers in dinner dresses and supplies POS material to stores. This month, it initiated a frequent-shopper card that offers women who buy four dresses $110 off their next purchase. About a year ago, the company started advertising its social occasion line in Brides magazine and Martha Stewart Living.
“We’ve learned that if you make the product important to the consumer, it will be important to the retailer,” McFeeters said. “We’re looking for long-term brand recognition and have made a commitment to getting the consumer and the retailer to understand and believe in what we’re doing.”
That said, after Donna Morgan’s dress book was sent to consumers, the company got 600 calls asking where to buy the dresses.
“The sales have been tremendous,” McFeeters said. “We’re going to do a book for our bridal line, and we’re doing a 24-page spring dress book. We’re also working with department stores to open up Little Black Dress shops.”
Dani Max embarked on its first image ad campaign last spring, after four years of trying to reach only retailers, either with traditional trade advertising or ads on bus shelters in the fashion district.
Developed by David Sirieix Inc., the ads have the tag line, “Take Me to the Moon. One Giant Step for Womankind,” and show model Anna Shillinglaw in a Dani Max dress and bubble helmet, in front of a photo of the moon.
The ads first appeared last February on a billboard in Times Square, then in the March issues of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire and on the side of commuter buses. In addition, Sirieix produced a TV spot that ran nationally on Lifetime. With a $1 million ad budget for the year, a new image for fall is appearing in Marie Claire and on the commuter buses.
“Even the moderate consumer wants a brand that has an image,” said Lois Snyder, designer and a principal in Dani Max. “That’s where the advertising is so important, as is consistency of product.”
Snyder said it’s difficult with image advertising to measure the impact on volume, although the company has seen sales rise to $100 million this year, a 59 percent gain over 1996.
Similarly, Andrew Marc took its advertising to a new level this year with an image campaign called “On the Marc,” which includes a Times Square billboard and ads in Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ and on New York City buses.
“In the past, we were more merchandise-oriented in our advertising,” said Chris Gbur, creative director of the outerwear and sportswear firm. “But we wanted to create an image of a man and a woman together that had lots of personality. It’s part of our goal to become a true luxury brand. The outdoor advertising is new for us and has brought a lot of attention.”
Andrew Marc also supplies accompanying promotional material to its key accounts, said Robert Nelson, corporate vice president. Nelson said the objective of the “multimillion-dollar” ad campaign is to build an image that can be translated into a licensing program and an in-house extension of the brand into new product categories.
Looking to increase its exports, Andrew Marc, with a wholesale volume of about $50 million, is also advertising in Cigar Aficionado because of its international distribution. Nelson said even though Andrew Marc does little exporting, the object is to get some name recognition before trying to sell to markets like Europe and South America. Andrew Marc opened its first freestanding store in East Hampton, N.Y., this spring.
Woolrich initiated the first TV ad campaign in its 167-year history this past summer, spending at least $2 million on 30-second commercials playing on the company’s background and its new focus on functional and spectator apparel. An additional $1 million is being spent in regional markets by key Woolrich accounts, said Al Zindel, vice president of sales and marketing.
Woolrich launched the cable television campaign in August, and has booked 300 spots for fall on The Discovery Channel, CNN Headline News and The Weather Channel. The firm is updating its in-store shop display and is targeting sporting goods and outdoor shops to develop more in-store shops. Zindel said Woolrich, with a volume of about $100 million in women’s, now has 600 shops in its 2,000 accounts, up from about 150 two years ago.
Last month Woolrich hired IMG Licensing to develop its first licensing program. IMG, an international marketing agency based in Los Angeles, will also secure foreign distribution agreements for Woolrich’s core outerwear and active sportswear business. Areas targeted for licensing are footwear, home furnishings, eyewear, watches, gloves, hats, luggage and toiletries.

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