Byline: Kelley Buttrick

Teens in search of the hottest prom looks don’t need to restrict their hunt to the glossy pages of the spring issues of teen magazines.
The Cool Book, a “magalog” created by a pair of specialty store owners, features just as many must-have looks for that enchanted evening.
The publication, sent out each January to a select group of high school girls in certain markets, is short on copy and loaded with photographs of prom dresses from approximately 20 manufacturers.
The Cool Book was launched six years ago by Kari Smith — owner of Schaffer’s in Des Moines, Iowa — and Meg Walters — owner of Henri’s Cloud Nine in Minerva, Ohio.
When it was first launched, The Cool Book was a 36-page 8-by-10-inch publication mailed to customers in those two markets. Today, it is a 68-page, 10-by-12 inch book mailed by 27 participating retailers in 27 states with a distribution of 500,000 copies. The upcoming issue features 30 dresses exclusive to the book’s affiliated retailers.
Twenty retailers met during the August show at AmericasMart to offer suggestions for the upcoming publication. Smith chooses dresses based on popular styles and the quality of the manufacturer’s photos.
“We make sure each season’s style and silhouettes are represented, and the photo quality must be there,” said Smith. “If the quality isn’t there in the shot, the consumer reaction will be poor. We examine everything from the model and hair to art direction.” While The Cool Book’s content is the same for every store, the front and back covers are customized with photos and store information for each store.
“During my 20 years in business, I have found The Cool Book to be the most effective piece of marketing available,” said Gail Malecot, owner of CC’s Boutique in St. Petersburg, Fla. “You can tell when the book arrives because the phone starts ringing off the hook.”
Malecot said when The Cool Book comes out she hires a receptionist to handle the volume of calls generated by its release. The receptionist takes note of which dresses receives the most inquiries, and Malecot stocks the store with those styles.
Knoxville, Tenn.’s Bella Boutique will for the first time this January participate in The Cool Book.
“It will have the biggest impact of any marketing I do,” said store owner Tom Buchanan, who places advertisements in school papers and runs fashion shows at 20 high schools. “To use the name of the book itself, it’s just cool. The photos are so vivid and the copy, while short, is very hip. There is a momentum to the book, and you can’t wait to look at the next page.”
Buchanan said he joined The Cool Book group because of the quality of the book and the potential of increased sales.
Marketing areas are exclusive to participating retailers. Some regions, including several in the Southeast, are still available.
“All of the stores, despite any differences in volume, are looking to actively and aggressively market,” said Smith. “We all share the same vision.”
Store owners and teens are not the only ones who benefit from The Cool Book. Participating manufacturers are also excited about the impact the unique marketing piece has on sales.
“It’s a great tool for manufacturers,” said designer Ruby Ashraf of Texas-based Precious Formals. “The group is great to work with, and as it gets larger, so will our orders.”
When the group selects a dress, Ashraf gets a 100-dress order, and then several hundred more orders after The Cool Book is distributed.
While the number of orders is fairly small now, Ashraf predicts it will increase dramatically when the number of participating stores hits 50. Currently, she can’t calculate the financial impact of the book, because member stores were Precious Formals’ customers prior to joining The Cool Book.
Several manufacturers design dresses exclusively for members of The Cool Book. For the upcoming prom season, Ashraf designed a ballgown in sunshine yellow and sky blue with youthful flower beadwork on the fitted bodice with a tie back and a full skirt. The Cool Book vendors will also choose existing styles, but will convince manufacturers to produce them in colors available only to affiliated stores.
Both Walters and Smith have witnessed sales at their stores increase 15 to 30 percent each year since creating The Cool Book.
“We are not magazine publishers,”said Smith. “We are retailers looking to find ways to improve our stores and market together.”

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