TAKE A LOOK around. No matter what mainstream fashion magazines say, every woman is not built like wafer-thin model Kate Moss.
This fact isn’t lost on direct marketers, who are taking advantage of the potential available in the plus-size market. Recently Brylane’s Chadwick’s of Boston unit launched the Jessica London catalog for this segment. Brylane, parent company of plus-size catalogers Roaman’s and Lane Bryant, has another new book in the works for the 17- to-24-year-old market. And Hanover Direct Inc.’s Silhouettes is experimenting with targeting the category online and through image-building television spots.
The interest is understandable. The NPD Group, a market research firm in Port Washington, NY, notes the plus-size category has grown some 20% since 1994, to approximately $23 billion in 1997. Other estimates place the market at $26 billion, or about one-fourth of the total sales in fashion. And the plus-size market reportedly has the potential to increase to a 60% share of sales.
The irony, most catalogers feel, is that the segment is no different from the mainstream women’s clothing market.
“There’s nothing different,” says Stephanie Sobel, senior vice president of merchandise at Diplomat Corp., owner of the Brownstone Studio catalog. “It’s the same woman, just a different size. You don’t see a different demographic.”
But there are statistics to consider. As Lane Bryant senior vice president of marketing and new business development Jules Silbert points out, the demographics of plus-size women are somewhat older, and the fastest growing segment of the population overall is 55 years old and above. (There is also, naturally, a younger segment; 22% of the U.S. teenage population is estimated to be overweight.)
Depending on who you ask, plus-sizes can start as small as 12 or as large as 16. Regardless of a woman’s size, the point is she can’t find the item she wants in manufacturers’ “normal” size range.
AGA Catalog and Marketing Design vice president/creative director Jim Brinkley says Brylane’s Roaman’s and Lane Bryant books target essentially the same market, just with a different focus. “Lane Bryant is older, more conservative,” Brinkley says, adding that its sister book attracts newer and younger customers. “Roaman’s is fashion conscious and savvy.”
Silbert feels plus-sizes tend to skew lower economically. (“It just happens to be the demographics of large sizes. It could be heredity or eating habits.”) A typical Brylane customer, he says, buys three items at a time that usually relate, which total on average between $75 and $80. This isn’t surprising, given that the market appears to prefer seeing complete ensembles modeled in the catalog-a design tactic that encourages multiple-item purchases.
“It’s a given: Putting the outfits together with the hat or pin that completes the look does better, sales-wise,” Brinkley said.
Lane Bryant sends out some 50 editions each year, and Roaman’s 45. Jessica London has mailed four issues annually so far.
Acquiring new names is difficult, Silbert says. Prospects from files such as plus-size magazine Radiance draw well, but because of their low counts they don’t have the impact of general interest publications. Lane Bryant has experimented with and will continue to test DRTV spots on such cable channels as Lifetime, the Food Network and the Fox Family Channel. However, conversions from an online catalog site were low. “Our customer is older,” he says, “so she’s not a pioneer user of the Internet.”
Other catalogers have done well aiming at more upscale demographics with higher income brackets and lower age ranges. Diplomat’s Sobel describes the Brownstone Woman customer in such terms.
“Female, in her early forties, with a moderate to high income,” Sobel says, adding she is “urban, more often than not.”
But, “the strength is in 55 and up,” says Jean Paaswell, who founded Brownstone Woman over a decade ago and sold it to Diplomat in 1996. “It’s an affluent section of mail order. There’s more disposable income, and it shows in the average order.”
Paaswell began by offering larger sizes in her catalog, Brownstone Studio, before spinning off Brownstone Woman. Some customers, she notes, go from one catalog to the other as their weight fluctuates. “Usually, she buys two units,” Paaswell says. A typical order runs $165.
Paaswell agrees with Silbert’s assessment that finding new names is challenging because of the small list universe. She favors other plus-size catalog lists like misses clothier Salon Z to magazine lists.
Radiance editor/publisher Alice Ansfield, however, has no aversion to catalogs. The quarterly magazine for plus-size women acquired 102 subscribers from an insert in some 6,000 fulfilled orders from a cataloger.
The catalog Silhouettes is also looking to alternative ways to find customers, including television and the Web. The site (www.silhouettes.com) was set up last year and is promoted in the catalog and space ads, says Hanover Direct’s Stephen S. Marks, president for women’s apparel for Tweeds and Silhouettes.
Since the middle of July, Silhouettes has been testing what Marks describes as part image, part name acquisition ads on cable networks. At press time it was too early to tabulate inquiries and conversions, but Marks was upbeat on the preliminary results. The catalog is also looking to expand its space-ad reach. While placements in plus-size magazine Mode do well, says Marks, Silhouettes is considering mainstream fashion and general interest books as well.
Silhouettes itself was a spinoff of Hanover’s women’s apparel catalogs. Twenty editions of Silhouettes are mailed annually. The catalog’s data card cites a house file of 230,000 last-12-month buyers; the average order (two to three items at a time) is $125; customers’ average age is 42; and typical household income is $50,000. Some modeling of the Silhouettes database has been done, says Marks. Modeling possibilities include looking at related product areas in general and “non-apparel goods” in particular.
“It’s a consumer-sensitive business,” he claims, adding that Silhouettes tries to build a “one-to-one relationship” with customers.
(It should be noted, however, that the business and its clientele have a sense of humor. Paaswell says that before she launched Brownstone Woman she received a letter from a potential customer. The woman, who wore a plus-size, wrote: “Remember, the larger the woman, the larger the pocketbook.”)
Marks points out that Silhouettes targets specific segments with specific offers; for example, sending dress buyers catalogs with a higher percentage of dress offerings. Inbound callers might also receive special offers depending on what their records reveal when they phone in an order.
But the plus-size market has a downside. Big Beautiful Woman magazine recently ceased publication. And both Appleseed and Spiegel closed their plus-size catalogs (but added plus-sizes to their regular books).
Spiegel still provides a plus-size select from its list-since, as it surely realizes, there’s a strong market for these names. And list broker/manager Mokrynski & Associates Inc. cites the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as a non-size-specific renter of plus-size lists.
Dustin Hoffman gave us our first image of a man raising a child in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” But it was the image of Michael Keaton at home that gave the concept a tag: “Mr. Mom.”
Stay-at-home dads have fascinated the media ever since. In April, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times devoted articles to the phenomenon. But demographic trends are not necessarily markets. And whether Mr. Moms are or can be a market for direct marketers is up for debate.
Peter Baylies, publisher of the At-Home Dad newsletter, obviously feels there’s an audience. Since many Mr. Moms work at home, a SOHO (small office/home office) list might be a way to reach them, he notes.
The Mr. Moms market is a “virgin market,” notes Bob Perlstein, president of Lifestyle Change Communications in Atlanta. He estimates that if the trend continues, one in three households will have male homemakers.
“I believe there are a number of companies in the planning stages of marketing to Mr. Moms,” he says. “The lack of lists is holding them back.”
At-Home Dad’s Baylies claims to have the only Mr. Moms list in existence, a 1,000-name subscriber file. His Web site (www.at homedad.com) receives 2,000 hits each week.
The Mr. Moms market is an example of media hype, counters Dennis Cohen, vice president, circulation, for Gruner + Jahr’s Parents magazine.
“There’s more press about it than there are Mr. Moms out there,” he says. “The numbers are a lot smaller.”
Most estimates suggest there are 2 million Mr. Moms in this country, which is somewhat less than 1% of the total population.
Harte-Hanks vice president/general manager Harriet Heyman notes she hasn’t come across any marketing interest in stay-at-home dads. The niche, she says, might simply not be big enough to generate excitement.
“We believe women make the decision about what’s brought home to the family,” Parents’ Cohen notes. “We’re not sure the man at home is the decision maker.”
But Cohen is open-minded on the topic. If there were a list, he says, “We’d test it.”
The lack of lists can be attributed to how the files are compiled in the first place, says Lifestyle Change Communications’ Perlstein. Surveys targeting parents have asked for the mother’s name, not the father’s, since the man’s name was seen as having little or no value.
“We need to make sure there’s a box or space for the young father’s name as well,” he says, adding that it could take a year to capture the names of 1 million new dads.
For Perlstein, part of the issue is that the role of homemaker is no longer feminine and the role of breadwinner no longer masculine. Copy for catalogs and other direct response vehicles still holds to the old dichotomies.
“The whole adage of what a father was is gone,” he continues. “Dads are no longer looked upon as occasional visitors. Guys who never cared about shopping for toothpaste now shop for the entire family. And they will car pool.”
Baylies, for one, thinks a catalog targeting this audience would be viable, with potential male-appeal products like less fancily decorated diaper bags.
Robert Frank, a stay-at-home dad himself, surveyed Baylies’ readership. Frank found that the typical Mr. Mom is 38 years old and lives in suburbia with a 36-year-old wife and two kids. Mr. Mom became a stay-at-home dad because the wife made more money-average household income is $70,000 a year-and neither wanted to put the children into daycare. About two Mr. Moms out of three admit to feeling somewhat isolated.
The survey included such interesting tidbits as when both parents are in the car, the man still drives. The stay-at-home dad, Frank concludes, is still sticking to traditional gender roles such as driving and doing the handyman work. That might be a good thing, writes Frank. “This way kids see the dad and the mom in both roles, which results in a less stereotypical attitude.”
Jay Massey is another stay-at-home dad with a Web site, www.slowlane.com. The site has a “gift shop” that offers products of interest to Mr. Moms. Such products as books or T-shirts with slogans like “I’m not a babysitter, I’m a father” are available. Transactions don’t take place online; visitors are referred directly to the Mr. Mom offering each product.
Slowlane receives some 7,000 hits a month, 90% of them from the United States. Mr. Moms tend to visit during weekdays, particularly between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-nap time for many children.
Massey rejects the idea that regardless of who stays home with the kids, the woman is the decision maker. Major decisions are shared, and involve more of a discussion.
He acknowledges that men have noticed most family-based products are marketed toward women. Some, Massey maintains, have taken offense.
“Dads have been taken for granted,” he says.