Byline: Sarah Goldsmith
LOS ANGELES — Last spring, when Mervyn’s introduced its Office Supplies campaign to lure business-casual shoppers, the speciality chain may not have known just what it was on to.
By organizing the men’s, women’s and shoe departments by items that fit under the workday casual umbrella, Mervyn’s made shopping convenient and cashed in on it.
“We want to make shopping fast, fun and friendly,” said Judy Quye, a regional vice president of Mervyn’s.
The California-based chain, which has 300 units in 16 states, including 130 in California, is a division of Dayton Hudson Corp.
“Everybody in and out of the industry seems to think that Mervyn’s is doing much better,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles Economic Corp. of Los Angeles County.
The WWD survey ranked Mervyn’s fourth among the nation’s top-10 chains overall; the chain scored high in consumer satisfaction. The results underscore the fact that despite the troubles Mervyn’s has had in the Nineties and its questionable future, it still commands tremendous shopper loyalty.
According to the WWD survey, Mervyn’s has fans among all age groups, but is especially favored by women under 40, particularly those 30 to 39. The store draws just about all income groups but is less popular among the upper-income sector. Its customers are mostly traditional families who are not interested in being on the cutting edge of fashion and working women, according to the survey. These shoppers are interested in discounts, value and convenient locations, which Mervyn’s has. The store ranked fifth in terms of such key criteria as prices, hours and variety of goods.
With an ambitious marketing campaign and a renewed attempt to please consumers, Mervyn’s appears to be heading out of the woods.
Rebecca Hitchcock, Mervyn’s fashion consultant, said the store is more focused on modern styles and current trends. “In the store now we have a kiwi plaid fitted zipper jacket, velvet Ts and great twinsets, all at competitive prices,” she said.
Average jacket prices are in the $60 range, pants are around $30 and shoes and accessories run from $30 to $50.
Key brands are Levis, Nike, Reebok, Lee, Gloria Vanderbilt, High Sierra, Dockers and Union Bay.
Analyst Kathlyn Swantko, president of Retail Marketing Services, attributes Mervyn’s earlier struggles to a lack of identity. “It’s been difficult because they aren’t a discount store, but they aren’t a department store.”
Although total sales and comp-store sales generally have been down this year, officials point to the bright side. “We have made some changes in our marketing and promotional strategies that have had a short-term negative impact on sales, but have resulted in greater profits,” said one executive who expects the sales numbers to increase in 1997.
“We really focus our attention on what we call a ‘guests-first culture,”‘ Quye said. Mervyn’s associates are trained to refer to customers as guests. Disney Store associates do the same thing.
A stronger focus on customers could help Mervyn’s turn around, but Sears, which is marching strongly into California with new stores, including eight that opened in November on a single day, could stall Mervyn’s progress. Sears is bound to steal market share from Mervyn’s and other chains.