HAROLD’S EYES THE MAINSTREAM
A NEW MARKETING STRATEGY IS PART OF A PLAN TO SHED THE ELITIST IMAGE OF HAROLD’S STORES.

Byline: Rusty Williamson

As part of a new strategy to become a national, and more mainstream, retail brand, Harold’s Stores Inc. has hired a top Dallas advertising agency to help it create new marketing and ad campaigns.
The $136 million women’s and men’s specialty chain has tapped The Richards Group, Dallas, to help design and implement a comprehensive image program to reposition the chain to a more mainstream fashion audience.
It’s part of Harold’s initiative announced in December to shed its elitist image, update its private label apparel to be less preppy and strengthen its national brand appeal.
“We’ve reached the point where we want to develop ourselves as a brand. It’s a natural step as we open stores across the U.S.,” said Rebecca Casey, chairman, chief creative officer and interim chief executive officer at the Norman, Okla.-based chain.
Last December, Casey added the chief creative title, but said she’d resign the ceo slot she’d held since 1998 to devote more time to developing a stronger merchandising vision for Harold’s based on private label. At press time, the ceo search was still in progress.
“The Richards Group is an expert at helping companies with the branding process. They are an addition and an embellishment to our in-house marketing team,” added Casey.
Richards, with $475 million in annual billings, is one of the largest independent ad agencies in the world. It has a mantle full of Clio advertising awards and is known for its pragmatic and humorous ad campaigns. It has a diverse range of clients, from EyeMasters and 7-Eleven to the Motel 6, Home Depot and Chick-fil-A chains.
For Harold’s, the agency plans to conduct consumer fashion research, including focus groups; help fine-tune Harold’s fledgling Internet e-commerce site; reshape the chain’s logos and advertising campaigns, and forge a public relations campaign.
Test-market planning is set for this fall.
“We look forward to helping Harold’s take a hard look at its customer, competition and most meaningful point of difference,” said Rod Underhill, principal at The Richards Group. “Then, we’ll build a consistent communication at all points of contact with the customer. The Harold’s brand will be stronger than ever.”
Harold’s Casey expects the brand-building campaign to pay off on the bottom line.
“We’re making these kinds of investments with the full intent that we see nice comparable-store increases and a better national presence in the right direction,” she added.
Harold’s was founded by Casey’s father, Harold Powell, in 1948. He remains chairman emeritus.
Though it hasn’t permanently filled the ceo position, Harold’s has recently filled other executive posts.
Last fall, Sheri Bennett was named vice president and general merchandise manager for Harold’s women’s division. She previously was senior strategic planning manager at Nordstrom.
And earlier this year, Kendra Ovesen was named vice president and director of women’s merchandising at Harold’s New York’s manufacturing division. She previously worked in various executive posts at J. Crew, the Gap and Banana Republic.
Recently, Harold’s reported that net sales for the fourth quarter, ended Jan. 29, hit $38.4 million, an overall increase of 7.4 percent. Comp-store sales, however, declined 5.8 percent for the period compared with the same quarter a year ago.
Net sales for the fiscal year ended Jan. 29 were $136.3 million, as compared with $129.2 for the prior fiscal year, an overall increase of 5.5 percent. Comp-store sales for the year slid 3.1 percent.
Casey attributed the comp-store declines to snow and ice conditions suffered in late January, which closed 24 Harold’s stores at varying times during the latter part of the month.

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