Tailoring Directly to Their Customers: A Chat With Sue & Robert Prenner
SP: In shoes alone we have 16 pages in the catalog, eight spreads. And we have an average of about eight shoes per spread. Eight different styles per spread, and each of those explodes into different colors and sizes. It’s an awful lot of product.
CS: What was your biggest initial challenge?
SP: It’s very challenging having a family business; splitting the responsibilities in a way that’s fair and offers the right level of responsibility, regard within the organization and allows you to manage the staff without conflict. An initial challenge was learning about the catalog industry, because in 1980 we didn’t know anything about that.
BP: We knew that we weren’t getting our product to the ultimate consumer in a way we wanted to. The business had been, prior to our getting involved, pretty much a wholesale business with a few products in the jewelry side of it. So we decided we were going to go catalog. And once we did that we were able to add product to the people and offer it to the same people who were buying the other product, with a little bit of advertising and rental of lists.
CS: What got you here?
SP: We were in the wholesale jewelry business and we found that the items we were selling were just not being promoted in a meaningful way. We tried our hand at marketing them directly, creating point-of-purchase displays that would help the retailers to market them more appropriately. They weren’t participating in that effort, so we decided that we would try to sell directly to the consumer. We really didn’t know anything about the catalog business per se, we did know a little bit how to market. We did a direct marketing campaign in which we rented lists of consumers and it became a mail-order business. At the beginning we sold only jewelry items, which was true for about four years, then we got into neckwear — authentic stripes, all-English silk, all-handmade neckwear. Our niche was really very much focused on people who had a pride and particular affiliation, and who tended to be Anglophiled as well. That’s really changed. It’s now a very sophisticated niche and it builds on that, but its not necessarily Anglophilic, and it’s not necessarily related to affiliations of any particular type. It’s a classic style.