Staying True to Product

by Bill LaPierre on October 26, 2014

Several weeks ago, I wrote that many of the older catalogs headquartered in New England that were still in existence, have survived as long as they have because they have stayed true to their merchandise direction, while always keeping an eye on making sure they were staying “current” without trying to be “contemporary”. A reader asked “what is wrong with being contemporary?”

There is nothing inherently wrong with it, if that is what your customer wants/expects in your merchandise. But for many of you, going the “contemporary” route is akin to following a short-lived fad.  That’s when you lose your merchandise direction and the trust of your customer.

Some of you adapt products every day, without losing the trust of your customers. But some of you struggle with the concept because you constantly walk that line between having enough new products, while maintaining enough existing “winners” so that the book still resonates with your existing customer base. But carrying over “existing” product always carries the risk of making the customer say “there’s nothing new here”. You are so focused on bringing in new products, you fail to examine your existing assortment for products that can be modified/adapted, allowing you to squeeze out several more seasons of sales from those products.

Your customers love new product. For some of you, your customers and prospects also love tried and true “heritage” products, those items that stand the test of time, and become a staple in your catalog. Your skill as a merchant reaches its highest level when you can adapt those heritage products to changing times.

Let me give you a specific example.


This is a picture of my mother in 1948 wearing an LL Bean Maine Guide Shirt that my grandfather bought her directly from LL Bean. It was red and black, and 100% wool. (Sadly, my mother deleted this shirt from her wardrobe sometime in the mid-1970s).

The Maine Guide Shirt, much like the iconic Maine Hunting Boot, is one of those signature products of Bean’s. But it has changed over time. The presentation below from the Fall 1968 catalog, (which was printed in black and white) listed three color options for the shirt.


Here is the same item today. It still has many of the same details as 70 years ago – a button flap over the pockets, long tails in back, and a no-itch collar. It still comes in the classic red and black, but the blue and black was added many years ago (my version from the 1980s is in blue).


But Bean has made changes to the shirt. It is now 85% wool/15% nylon. There is an optional a liner of primaloft insulation. Several years ago, they briefly offered a machine-washable version, which I thought was great – the current one still requires dry cleaning. And in a nod to the American diet, it now also comes in Tall and XXL.

Also, LL Bean acknowledges this shirt is not for everyone. It is obviously on their website, but I have not seen it in their main catalog in years. It has been relegated to the Hunting catalog, where it still resonates with hunters and outdoors enthusiasts.

One of the things that I know is annoying to many of you is when a consultant uses an example from a catalog like LL Bean (and in this case, is an example with which I can personally identify) which has absolutely no relation to your business. And if that is how you feel right now, look deeper at your merchandise assortment. There are always products which you can revive, refresh and adapt to changing styles and tastes. You have a huge sunk cost in finding products in the first place – it is always in your best interest to examine ways to get a few more years out of a product. You may never end up with one that has a 70+ year lifespan, but keep trying.

One last point: when you make minor changes to an existing product, such as adding a new zipper, or pocket, or adding a new color/style, don’t fall into the trap of calling this a “new” product. Your merchants will want to, usually because their salary is based on the amount of new products they introduce. But it isn’t a new product – and calling it so misrepresents the performance of “truly new” products.  If you want help in reviewing your merchandise mix and assortment for productivity changes with Datamann’s merchandise analytics, contact me.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

The WOW Factor

by Bill LaPierre on October 19, 2014

When I critique a client’s catalog design, I don’t discuss with them color palettes, branding or eye flow. I talk about what drives response. We can all be subjective about what we do and don’t like creatively in a catalog, but it is tough to argue about what drives response.

If the cataloger is eager to make changes and improve, I review with the client my list of “Bill’s 21 Indisputable Creative and Merchandise Rules”. But when there is a significant problem, and the catalog’s creative is causing response to stagnate, I distill those 21 rules down to the Crucial Six.

One of the Crucial Six is “Don’t Be Afraid To Sell”. Over and over I see mailers throw a bunch of similar products on a page, with no thought given to helping the customers determine what is best for them. Don’t assume your customer has the same knowledge of, interest in, or love of your products that you do. For consumers that don’t know your brand, you have to create that love with every mailing, and every email. For existing customers, you have to re-kindle that love for your “stuff” with every catalog.

In short – you’ve got to sell them! In creative terms, that means going beyond a simple “hero shot” presentation, and going for the “WOW” presentation.

I wrote earlier this year about how yoga pants have become ubiquitous apparel accessories for most women – to the point of where they have almost become a commodity. Below are three presentations from mainstream catalogs. Which of the three succeeded in creating a “WOW” presentation?


Athleta’s presentation is boring – they are simply selling commodities at this point.


As you would expect from Land’ End, even with this small image above, you can sense they are defining benefits for each product. Lands’ End is good at that. But is still not “Wow”.


In my opinion, only Title Nine achieved the “WOW” presentation. Why? Because they were not afraid to sell. Instead of trying to treat all the pants the same, they picked one pair to highlight /emphasize, and in the process, they raised the level of awareness of the other pairs as well. They also had a more limited, and more targeted assortment.

You are in a competitive environment. You want to believe that your customers love you so much that you don’t need to sell. You believe they love and understand your product as much as you do. THEY DON’T.  They need to be sold – with every catalog, on every product.  Don’t be afraid to sell. Go for the WOW.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


You Are Communicating That You Can’t Compete

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This has nothing to do with NEMOA the organization, but in the early 2000s, there was a four year stretch when just about every keynote speaker at a NEMOA conference was either fired shortly thereafter, or the company filed for bankruptcy. Yes, it was purely coincidental, but several of us joked at the time that […]

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Fall Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 1

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As we start the first full week of October, those of you that rely heavily on the fourth quarter are starting to get anxious about where this fall/holiday season is headed. Let’s take a look at some of the early signs. Sales for most of you were soft in August and September. The range I’m […]

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Africa, Hillstrom and LaPierre

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Who is looking out for your interests? Who can you really trust? I want to invite all the readers of this blog to a special event. Datamann is again sponsoring an all-day seminar for the Vermont / New Hampshire Marketing Group on The Evolving Future of Catalog and Ecommerce Companies on February 19, 2015 at […]

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No One Cares About …

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Still Waiting for the 11th Order

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I thought in honor of Pat Connelly from Williams-Sonoma speaking at NEMOA this week, I’d revisit the last time Pat spoke at NEMOA, 20 years ago in 1994. There are probably only a handful of NEMOA members that remember when Pat Connelly, then Senior VP of Marketing at Williams-Sonoma, spoke at the 1994 Fall NEMOA […]

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Another Way of Looking at the Life of Catalogs

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If you are under the age of 30, this posting will probably mean nothing to you. If you are over 50, and have been in the business for a while, you probably remember some of this. If you are in between – you’ll learn how we got to where we are today. (If you are […]

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B2B’s Inefficient Ride

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Earlier this summer I wrote about how much I like and admire the Ben Meadows catalog, as both a catalog professional, and as a consumer (even though the catalog is primarily a B2B catalog). There are some great B2B catalogs, and I will refer to more of them in the future. But there are also […]

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Organic Firewood

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I’ve always wanted to play a joke on my small home town here in New Hampshire, testing the reaction I would get to an advertisement in the local newspaper for “organic firewood”, selling for twice the rate of a regular cord of wood. Would my “back-to-nature, buy local, grass-fed only” loving neighbors think that organic […]

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