Lacking a catalog, Sears to lend its name to others

September 04, 1993|By Galina Vainblat | Galina Vainblat,New York Bureau

NEW YORK — In yesterday's editions, the Sept. 2 New Jersey Pick 6 lotter number was incorrect. The correct number was 15 26 35 36 40 46.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

NEW YORK -- Just months after it broke 97 years of tradition by announcing the closing of its "Big Book" catalog, Sears is planning to re-enter the catalog business.

The retailer is negotiating with its former competitors to form an alliance whereby Sears would lend its name, expertise and 14-million-name customer data base to the other catalogs. Although they would not sell Sears products, catalogs of such companies as Avon and Spiegel would print the Sears logo next to their own in an effort to capture some of Sears' customers.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Besides handing over its name and data base, Sears would do the billing in exchange for about 10 percent of profits from customers who made purchases using their Sears charge cards, according to Greg Rossiter, a Sears spokesman.

The new catalogs will target mainly former buyers of Sears women's apparel. So far, Sears has approached representatives such cataloging giants as Spiegel, Hanover Direct and Roaman's women's large-size catalog, a division of Limited Inc.

None of the deals is final, but company representatives say a deal is likely soon.

Sears decided to adopt the strategy after its legendary "Big Book," the bible of catalog shopping since its inception in 1896, went out of publication in January. The catalog had been used less and less by people in remote areas, its primary targets.

"We are trying to see how to best reap the benefits of our over 14-million-person data base," Mr. Rossiter said. "Sears customers have expressed that they appreciate both our convenience and our loyalty."

Debby Koopman, a spokeswoman for Spiegel, said that her company is interested in Sears' data base but that there were no official negotiations yet.

A problem for Spiegel may be that Sears' name lends too much of a down-market image to its clients, said Steve Enroft, list manager of New Hampton Inc., which publishes the Avon Fashion catalog and was acquired by Spiegel last month. Avon might make a better choice, he said, "since our customers are more in line with Sears'."

According to analysts, cataloging companies like Avon plan to profit from the deal with Sears through syndication and ZIP code analysis.

The plan would be for Sears to endorse the smaller companies' catalogs, to make former Sears customers associate the new catalog with Sears' name and reliability. The companies would take advantage of Sears' ZIP code analysis, which breaks ZIP codes into clusters of homes with similar characteristics to discover new markets.

Analysts are divided on just how wise a move this is for Sears.

Dick Hodgson, a Pennsylvania-based mail-order consultant, said the link-up would help Sears' profitability. The only reason why Sears did not do it sooner, he said, was internal company politics.

Others said they were not so sure.

"This is a low-risk, inexpensive way for Sears to get money from other marketers but offers no advantage in the long run," said Arnold Fishman, president of Marketing Logistics in Highland Park, Ill. "In the long run, it may weaken the customers' attachment to Sears."

The move may also be of questionable value to the cataloging companies because the deal gives Sears 10 percent off the top of every Sears-processed purchase, he said.

"Four years ago, Montgomery Ward tried a similar experiment but wasn't really successful," Mr. Fishman said. "Two years ago, Montgomery Ward was forced to join forces with Fingerhut."

Some industry observers said Sears is evidently trying to keep its name alive. But Mr. Rossiter of Sears said that "with over 800 stores in North America, keeping the name alive is not a primary concern."

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