HOW THEY SELL THEMSELVES
WWD TALKED TO VENDORS AND RETAILERS TO FIND OUT HOW THEIR TOP MARKETING MOVES PAID OFF, AND FOUND THAT STRONG STRATEGIES DON’T ALWAYS REQUIRE BIG DOLLARS.

Byline: Cami Alexander

Mailed to Order
For apparel manufacturers, the name of the game is increasing market share — getting more stores to carry your line and getting your clothes on the backs of more women. But how do manufacturers leverage limited marketing and advertising dollars to entice more stores and shoppers to come after their products? Successful manufacturers seem to agree that it boils down to a few key words: direct mail, Web sites, shows, markets and word of mouth.
Perhaps the most popular direct-mail marketing technique is catalogs.
“After being in business 25 years, we have developed quite a mailing list with types of clients that would buy our product,” said Darria O’Brien, a principal in Irka, a New York sportswear company. “Our main thrust in marketing is our catalog, which we produce twice a year. It gives us our greatest advantage. Our entire line is covered in our spring and our fall issue.”
Their catalog is dispatched to retail stores that are current, as well as potential customers. Stores, in turn, show the catalog to their customers and sometimes use the photos in their own local ad campaigns.
“Stores can use the catalog to add to their sales, which in turn adds to our sales, without putting the actual garments in the store,” O’Brien added. “We put our money in our catalog because it’s something they have with them at all times. It’s a reference. [And that way] you’re always in their face.”
Essendi also produces a catalog four times per year — one per season — that it sends straight to consumers.
“We have an extensive mailing list, and we send 3,000 to 5,000 catalogs each time,” said Judy Ward, vice president and chief financial officer. “We reach current as well as prospective customers this way. Extra catalogs are also given to retailers to pass on to their customers.”
But catalogs are not the only type of direct mail used by manufacturers to reach their customers. “One thing that we find very effective is that we make available to the larger specialty stores enclosure statements that we produce,” explained Bob Salem, corporate vice president of marketing at Leslie Fay.
“If we know that customers have purchased in our price range or our category, we enclose our piece,” added Salem. “It accomplishes two things: It increases our sales, and we have brand registration in all of these households. If a specialty store sends it out to 100,000 consumers, you’ve got 100,000 imprints in their households. That has a tremendous impact for us.
“Normally, [the enclosure] is a 3-by-6-inch slip of paper with a professionally photographed image of a Leslie Fay product. On the back would be the order information, so the consumer could order by mail or come into the store.”
There is a target-marketing advantage to working with specialty stores, noted Salem. “In a specialty store, you pretty much know that this clientele is a legitimate candidate for your product.”
Some manufacturers use their catalogs and other direct mail missives to direct stores and consumers to their Web sites, which are becoming necessary marketing tools.
Irka publicizes its Web address (irka.com) on hangtags. Both retailers and individuals can place orders on the site.
“It’s retail or wholesale-based,” explained O’Brien. “If someone wants to know more about us, they can go to the Web site. We also take credit cards, so we can increase business that way.”
Essendi uses its magazine ads to direct consumers to the company’s Web site, essendi.com. “Here, the consumer can look at what we’re doing; they can call us, they can e-mail us and then we can direct them to retailers in their local area,” said Ward.
Leslie Fay puts the bulk of its marketing dollars directly into stores.
“One of the things we find very effective is our ‘soft shop concept’ for specialty stores,” said Salem. “We don’t go into a specialty store and build wood paneling and a beautiful marble floor, but we make available our Leslie Fay fixturing to them — a 2-way or 4-way fixture that has a Lucite topper with our logo.”
Leslie Fay also conducts special events in some specialty stores that carry the line. “We have people who will go to a store, and we do our version of an event — it could be a Leslie Fay week where one of our sales associates is on hand, or we might conduct an in-store fashion show,” explained Salem. “During that week, we might have a gift-with-purchase or a drawing for a free wardrobe. We don’t do that as extensively as our other programs, because we don’t have enough manpower.”
Many manufacturers also agree that participating in the big wholesale shows — such as New York’s Coterie and Intermezzo and Chicago’s StyleMax — are a must for making an impression on retailers and the media. So is representation in the biggest regional markets — Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles — via constantly-on-the-move salespeople trolling for potential new customers.
Beyond promoting their Web sites in magazine ads, vendors give print advertising mixed reviews. Some vendors stand behind it, others steer away from it. Essendi just recently launched a national magazine advertising campaign to reach retailers and consumers. The company is placing ads in W, Marie Claire, In Style and Ocean Drive.
David Meister, a dress resource, also reaches stores and customers by advertising in WWD and Vogue.
But executives at Irka and Leslie Fay didn’t think they were getting the best results by investing in print ads.
“Over the years, we’ve run ads in a newspaper or a magazine, but if it’s not followed up with a continual advertising program, I don’t feel that it’s really valid,” said O’Brien at Irka. “One time is not really worth the effort and the money.” Leslie Fay’s Salem added, “At one point, we did a fair amount of national advertisement in books we felt targeted the Leslie Fay traditional consumer, such as Good Housekeeping, Glamour, Mademoiselle and Redbook. But we found that we didn’t have enough of a budget to have an impact. In order to be successful, you really have to spend $10 million a year. Otherwise, you’re really wasting your money. We didn’t find that to be effective.”
David Meister’s favorite way of reaching customers is by working with buyers to get their products into major specialty store catalogs.
“I work with the Neiman Marcus buyer and the team that will be picking product for their books,” said Alan Geller, vice president of sales at David Meister.
“The likelihood is that the retailer is looking for a theme, and then the buyer goes out and fills the positions along the lines of those themes.”
And some of the best advertising, manufacturers agree, is word of mouth from retailer to retailer. “Retailers will tell each other what sells, and people will contact us,” said Ward.