Feminine touch, made to order by MacCool Marketing: MacCool & Co. has found a niche with upscale goods for women, sold by catalog.

December 23, 1997|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Feminine with no apologies.

That's the marketing slogan of MacCool & Co., a budding high-end mail-order cataloger based in Timonium.

It's also the company's mind-set.

"A lot of times, girls just like stuff because they do," said Pattie MacCool, who runs the company with her husband, Rob. "And it's not something they can find in a regular retail environment, like a mall. Guys don't understand. We [women] find ourselves apologizing for being feminine.

"Why, if women want something soft, if they want something that enhances their lives, if they want something that makes their home more attractive, why should they have to apologize for that? As much as men grumble about this, it's usually something that makes them happy, too."

The cataloger, based at 2011 Greenspring Drive, where it also has opened a small outlet store, is a 4-year-old offshoot of another MacCool enterprise: The successful Ornament House, an original tenant of Harborplace.

MacCool & Co. will gross about $2 million this year and expects to double that next year. The couple would not discuss profits, saying only that the privately held company is about where they expected it to be financially at this point in its young life. However, the MacCools did say their firm has sent out more than 4 million catalogs in 1997. A typical customer: A 38-year-old woman, college-educated, who has children, works and pulls down more than $100,000 a year.

Such women like and can afford nice clothes and furnishings. But they don't have the time or desire to trek from mall to mall looking for that just-right outfit or home accent piece. That lack of time makes them the perfect customer for a catalog such as MacCools', says Eugene Fram, a Rochester Institute of Technology marketing professor who has studied the impact of "time compression" on consumer-buying behavior.

"This is a very vibrant market; it's very smart of them to do this," Fram said. "These women, they have time-compressed lifestyles."

For instance, Fram says his nephew's wife, a mergers-and-acquisition specialist with a big-name consulting firm, has retained a "personal buyer" to do her shopping for her. Catalogs serve the same function -- making shopping more convenient.

The MacCools' decision to focus on upscale merchandise should also work in their favor. While retail sales for some of the nation's mainstream department stores are tepid, high-end wares are moving, Fram said.

"If you're not playing to the 'haves', you're not playing at the right level" of the marketplace right now, he said.

Originally, the MacCools wanted to expand the focus of their ornament store, say, occasionally stocking a Christmas sweater. That would fit in with their store's general theme, they thought.

But they discovered other wares didn't fit in with their lease, which contained "use clause" restrictions stringent enough to limit the Ornament House to trim-a-tree items.

Their female customers, who comprised the bulk of the Ornament House's clientele, had retail needs that really weren't being met anywhere else in the marketplace, Pattie MacCool believed. So with the financial backing of a Baltimore businessman who was Rob MacCool's lacrosse coach at Johns Hopkins, they set up a separate company that would cater to women.

Working together

The MacCools seem to complement each other: He's the number-cruncher, who talks about "data-mining" -- using statistics gleaned from the business to ever sharpen its marketing focus; she quite openly relies on instinct or intuition in choosing just what products to put into the catalog -- she speaks of all her customers by collectively referring to them with the singular pronoun "she."

A mail-order catalog seemed to be the way to go; the couple hired a company to help them find a catalog consultant. After talking with 10 consultants, they hired one that had done work for MTV and Brooks Bros.

The MacCool & Co. catalogs are slickly produced, with about 200 items tucked into about 32 glossy, full-color pages.

Pattie MacCool chooses most of the wares, though she says many of the company's 35 employees aren't afraid to voice their vote -- a practice she encourages.

The items run the gamut: Silk pantsuits ($375), a hand-painted chair and desk suite ($773), a wristwatch with a band made from antique buttons ($120), a bride-and-groom ornament ($20), and a picnic basket outfitted for four -- complete with tablecloth ($178).

Rob MacCool is always in the market for customer lists of people most likely to buy some of these items. The best candidates: Those who have bought from catalogs before.

That fact -- coupled with the high incomes of MacCool & Co. consumers -- is one reason the fledgling cataloger has already seen interest in its own list.

Lessons learned

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