What Makes You So Unique?- Merchandise Haiku

April 1989 – my first day on the job as the new marketing guy for the Brookstone catalogs. I had the usual litany of forms to fill out, obligatory tour of the warehouse, and review of our systems with IT.  Around 3 PM, one of my co-workers said “Oh, by the way, you have a 4 PM meeting in the main conference room. It’s a critique of the Spring catalog, the book that just mailed last week.”

This was new to me. I had come to Brookstone from the Potpourri catalog, which was still family owned, and family controlled. The family may have held critiques of the catalogs that we mailed, but we mere mortals never participated. I never knew what products were going into the catalog until we received samples back from the printer. Further, since the catalogs looked the same issue to issue, year to year, there was little to comment on from a creative perspective.

As I was headed down the hall to my 4 PM meeting, my co-worker yelled out “Oh, and watch out for Frank!” Who was Frank?

Frank turned out to Frank Oliver, who at the time was the merchant/product buyer for the Brookstone Hard-To-Find-Tools catalog.  Frank left Brookstone in the early 1990s to become head of merchandise at Gardener’s Supply, and then head of product development there.

Frank was astounding in that critique meeting, which included the CEO, the VP of Marketing for stores and catalogs (my boss), the catalog art director, and a cast of four or five others. Frank was animated.  Frank was LOUD (and still is). There were no results yet on the book, as it had just mailed, but Frank started to rattle off a list of changes that needed to be made for the next book.  He knew his facts. He was quantifying his opinions and ideas with data! This was back in the era of Lotus 1-2-3, with floppies that held one program each. Where was he getting this stuff?

Over the years, I have come to regard Frank as one of the best merchants I’ve known for one simple reason. He is passionate, yes, passionate about products. (But, then again, have you ever met a merchant of whom you would not say they were passionate about products?)   Yes, he’s great at envisioning fiendishly ingenious new products. Yes, he has some fantastic relationships with product vendors around the world.

But, those reasons are not why I consider him to be one of the best merchants. The simple reason Frank is so good is that he strives to quantify what he is doing. I have met tons of merchants who have no concept of how to quantify their product’s performance, or who don’t consider it part of their job. It’s not that it is “beneath them”, they just don’t know how to do it, or are not very good at it. They strive to excel at finding new products, that correspond with the persona of the catalog’s customer (who is named Colleen), and to discover the right color palate for this coming’s season.

Yes, those merchants do care about how those products perform; after all, their personal compensation depends on it. But they limit their knowledge of that performance to what their IT department can furnish for a “performance report”. These reports are different in every company, but they are rarely designed with the true needs of the merchants in mind.  They are typically designed by someone in IT, and focus on SKU numbers, not sales trends.

Are there merchandise metrics that matter? How does a merchant determine the true performance of their products? Again, everyone wants to see different things, and has different methods of evaluating products. Where do you start?

The Task for March 2017:

I gave Frank a challenge when I asked him to speak at our seminar on March 30.  Frank’s had quite a bit of exposure in the past few years, speaking at our first seminar 5 years ago, and a couple of times for NEMOA. He’s been his usually jovial self. He’s offered some great tips, but I told Frank that this time, I needed him to focus on not what the audience wants to hear, but on what they need to hear. Last summer, he agreed that he could do this.

Around January 1, I checked in to see how he was doing with getting ready for his presentation. Here was his response:

“You have given me a formidable challenge.  One that I am wrestling with, in all honesty.  The outline in the agenda you and I agreed upon has flexibility, so that’s fine. Less entertainment and more serious presentation content.  That’s tough. Takes time…

Working on a serious idea that might work. No laughing matter. Need just a bit more noodling to see if it holds for the complete talk. My flight plan:

I will distill all previous merchandising presentations to a concise, “best of breed” fast overview: merchandising key metrics, data management, and performance reporting (Building the Titanic), Merchandising goals – Marketing goals (Ready-Fire-Aim), Demand Conflicts (Attribution Retribution), Multi-channel Merchandising (Drone Warfare) Surviving World War III…….

Too dramatic?  Perhaps, but not so far off.”

I could tell from his response that Frank was going to exceed my expectations. Here’s why: some people get asked to speak at lots of conferences. They often just dust off last year’s speech, update a few slides with this year’s buzz words (social engagement) to sound relevant, and show up at the appointed hour on the designated day. Frank was wrestling with how to develop something new, something that was going to challenge you to think (which is what I ask both he and Kevin Hillstrom to do this year).

Last week, I asked Frank for a few “tidbits” from his presentation that I could weave into this posting. His response was so good, that instead of editing it, I offer it here in its full and original form. I’m not sure what “device” Frank uses to send me his emails, but because of the short sentences, and lack of paragraphs, this struck me as being a form of merchandise analytics Haiku.

“What makes you so unique?’

When a casual conversation drifts to hometowns, I always say I don’t have one!

‘My hometown is nowhere, and my friends are everywhere.’

‘Your Dad must have been a traveling salesman?’

No, career Military. I was a Brat.

Always moving, changing friends & schools every couple years, a drifter’s life, no roots really.

Makes me pretty unique, right?

I really thought so, until I saw the movie “Brats: The Long Journey Home”.

You see, Brats may physically look different, but our story & character is exactly the same in so many respects.

We are socially comfortable (aka Out-going), fiercely loyal (aka Keep America Strong & Protected), and refuse to give up (aka Excellent Survivor instincts).

Brats will tell a stranger their life story over a beer, but fail to share feelings of sadness or grief with their own family.

Brats are “invisible” and everywhere.  5% of our population are Brats. Millions of us!

Your catalog customers are really like a diverse group of Brats. Like it or not.


So spend less time trying to figure out what your Brats “look like” and more time enhancing their lives with meaningful product they will respond to!

When was the last time you immediately improved a new product based on negative Power Reviews?

When was the last time you surveyed buyers of a long time “best seller” to find out how it really works or how it could be sold effectively for other purposes?

When was the last time you spoke to a real customer about a real product that you sell?

When was the last time you had an “email relationship” with a customer that lead to introducing a great new product?

Merchants need fewer customer profiles and more good product intelligence!

Going to trade shows and asking suppliers “What’s selling” is NOT what should guide your new product strategy.

Merchants need to use their internet web tools to the fullest extent, because their customers are invisible & EVERYWHERE!

New rules apply; we are always moving, changing relationships and forced to survive in a more challenging market.

I would contend, therefore, that Military Brats make excellent merchants, they are personable, loyal, and very used to adapting to constant change!

They also don’t mind traveling…….they have friends everywhere, some they have yet to meet.”


Yes, as Frank stated, new rules apply. We must make changes to survive. If you are trying to determine how to grow by improving not just merchandise performance, but merchandise development, you need to be at the Datamann seminar on March 30th in Concord NH.

There is still time to register, but I recommend that you do it soon. Our registration is running 20% ahead of last year’s numbers.  Our host hotel is full, but there are still plenty of other hotels in the Concord, NH area.

If you have not already registered for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235



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Only $200, What A Deal!

Last fall, I gave you a detailed explanation of what Kevin Hillstrom would be speaking about at the Datamann catalog seminar, which we host for the VT/NH Marketing Group, on March 30th. (Click here if you missed it – “What Is Missing Is Not Metrics, But How We React To Metrics”)

Yesterday, Kevin’s blog gave a description in his own words of what he will be presenting (VT/NH On March 30 – A New Way To Foster Growth).

There are very few seminars or conferences left that focus on catalog and merchandise issues. Our seminar is one of them, and at only $200, you won’t find a more cost effective and affordable option.

If you are debating how to spend your limited Conference T&E budget, and you are looking for the most value ($200, what a steal!) coupled with the best content and great speakers – the choice is easy….

Join Frank Oliver, Kevin Hillstrom and me on Match 30th in Concord, NH for Reacting To Catalog and Ecommerce Metrics to Change Your Business.

Our seminar last year sold out a full month before the event, so please plan on registering early. Seating will again be limited. Our host hotel, The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, is almost sold out. But there are plenty of other hotels in Concord.

To register for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

Our host hotel is almost sold out! The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH is located at 70 Constitution Ave in Concord, NH – just north of the intersection of I-89 and I-93. Special room rates of $119 are available for attendees of the seminar for the night of March 29, if you book your room with the Marriott by March 1, 2017. You must mention your attendance at the seminar to receive the special rates, or reserve your room directly at this special link: http://cwp.marriott.com/mhtcn/vtnhmarketinggroup/

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235







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Registration is Open and Why I Asked Frank

Registration is open for Datamann’s catalog seminar which we are hosting for the VT/NH Marketing Group on March 30, 2017. There is a link at the end of this posting to register.

Datamann clients will be receiving information in the mail next week about registration.

I told you a few weeks ago why I asked Kevin Hillstrom to come back for a third year to speak at our seminar (What Is Missing Is Not Metrics, But How We React To Metrics).   Now let me tell you why I asked Frank Oliver to return as a speaker (he spoke at our first seminar in 2013).

Frank is a merchant’s merchant. He loves finding new products. He loves working with vendors to improve and change existing product to make it better. Frank is always thinking about margin, price, competition, and demand. Does the customer want the product? Does the customer understand how the product is going to change their life?

But, I asked Frank to do something different this year. I did not want him to come and speak again on what metrics a good merchant needs to know. I did not want him to talk about challenges in finding new products. That is pretty standard, boring stuff (to non-merchants).

Instead, I asked him to challenge your thinking about merchandise. To talk to you about merchandise insight.


Frank believes that good merchandise and presentation analysis for merchants (maybe not for marketers or accountants) is about insight, which is typically not part of the robotic decisions made by traditional square inch analysis which so often kills new products before they have a chance to succeed.

According to Frank “merchant insight can only come from good trend and cross campaign analysis, which the discreet product sales or profit numbers found in traditional square inch analysis, simply do not, indeed cannot address.  To a merchant, ‘absolute’ profitability and sales numbers are ‘meaningless’.  Why?  Because they have no direct relation to whether that product is getting stronger or weaker.  Why?  If marketing spend goes up (meaning more circulation), line item profit goes down, with equal sales…… Did the product perform worse?  How do I trend this data when embedded variables not related to presentation strength are included? Cross campaign analysis simply cannot be done.  So what happens? Merchants start focusing on last year, same catalog, ONLY! They ignore what is happening with the product today.”

Frank believes that when merchants manage merchandise by the sales numbers and other standard metrics alone, their catalog ends up with all black pants. The catalog – though efficient – becomes boring, and dies a slow death. Frank is not one of those merchants that believe that if you have enough data, success will ensue, because “trends” are not always reflected in the sales data until it is too late. On the other hand, I have seen and worked with far too many catalogs where the merchants used no analytic tools/reports, simply using their “intuition” to determine which products to keep or omit, and they fared no better in performance.

So, what is the alternative? What is the analysis method that provides merchants that needed “trending insight”? Well, you’ll have to register for our seminar, and come to Concord, NH next March 30th to hear Frank.

But there is another reason I asked Frank to speak again. It’s not just about insight, it’s about inspiration. Frank is tired of seeing dull merchandise, tired of catalog and ecommerce companies failing to show product in a way that excites the consumer. So I asked Frank to debunk the role of Marketing and Creative in cataloging, as only a merchant like Frank can. To Frank, the greatest sin a catalog can commit is to be boring.

And anyone who has ever walked away from one of Frank’s session, has never walked away bored.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to keep providing reasons as to why you need to attend this seminar. Our seminar last year sold out a full month before the event, so please plan on registering early.  Seating will again be limited.

To register for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH is located at 70 Constitution Ave in Concord, NH – just north of the intersection of I-89 and I-93. Special room rates of $119 are available for attendees of the seminar for the night of March 29, if you book your room with the Marriott by March 1, 2017. You must mention your attendance at the seminar to receive the special rates, or reserve your room directly at this special link: http://cwp.marriott.com/mhtcn/vtnhmarketinggroup/

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235




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2016 Holiday Catalog Observations – Part 3

Lots of people predicted the election results incorrectly, and I called the mail volume wrong. I expected there would be a ton of catalogs in-home during the four day stretch after the election, yet I hardly received any catalogs the entire week of the election. Instead, the stack of catalogs below all arrived at our home last Monday and Tuesday (November 14 and 15). Yes, some are client seeds/decoys, but most were addressed to either me or my wife as consumers.


Is this a concern? Well, most mailers I spoke with reported that orders took a dive right after the election, so maybe it was a good idea not to be in home that week. If your response did not bounce back last week, maybe you need to consider that your catalog was received with a ton of others at your customer’s house. Did that offset those co-mail savings?

However, in general, I’ve heard and seen that results this fall season have been soft, as much as 30% off plan for some mailers, primarily on prospecting.  Please let me know what you’re experiencing with your catalog (all comments will be kept confidential).

National Geographic – Another One Bites the Dust

Yes, it’s true. The National Geographic catalog is no more.  A year ago, the National Geographic Society sold its iconic magazine and other “media assets”, including the catalog, to a partnership owned by Fox News.  A few weeks ago, Fox pulled the plug on the NG catalog. This holiday’s book is the last.


I’m sure there were numerous reasons why the action was taken, and I’m not going to guess at what they were. However, I have to say that as a consumer, I’ve always been disappointed by the NG catalog. When you think about it, over the years, they have reported on every country, state and major US city. They have covered everything. So their catalog could be about anything and everything. Their product mix could have been limitless. Instead, they have had a strange interest in selling lots of binoculars, leather jackets, and photographer’s vests – products I imagine were intended to show their “traveling spirit”.


I’m sure that the folks at NG would disagree, but to me, as a consumer, it seemed that the product assortment changed little over time. Case in point is this sweater I’ve had my eyes on for years. It seems to me that it has always been in the catalog. One would hope it was a good seller, and that is why it is repeated year after year. But, the consumer just keeps seeing the same old stuff.

Moreover, if I were going to buy a leather “bomber” jacket, the NG catalog, which has a bunch of them, is the last place I’d buy one. I’d buy it from an apparel catalog, one that appeared to have some “authority” in men’s clothing.

When I worked at Brookstone, we hired a company that “surveyed” customers as they left our stores in the mall (you’ve all encountered this). The surveyor asked what the customer purchased. “Oh, I bought a travel clock. I’m going on a trip, and  always come to Brookstone when I need a gadget like that”. “Do you need a suitcase?” “Yes, but I’d never buy a suitcase at Brookstone.” “Why not?” “Brookstone is good for gadgets, not something like a suitcase”.    Our merchants used that type of customer feedback to design suitcases that had “gadget-type” features, which appealed to our customers. Suitcase sales soared.

My point is that when you expand product categories, (one of the best ways to drive growth) you must make certain that the new products are not only consistent with your brand, but are consistent with your customer’s expectations of you.

Society 6

I told a mailer last week that every so often we encounter a business that is doing things completely opposite of the way other mailers act. When that happens, you always pause and ask yourself  “Have they discovered something that the rest of us missed?” An example was in my mail box this week, a catalog called Society6, which appears to be yet another attempt at a catalog aimed at breaking every conventional catalog rule. (I could not determine for certain from their website how long Society6 has been around – it appears they are somewhat established – but this is the first time I received their catalog.)


Of course, every so often, someone manages to break every rule, not follow convention, and be successful. You can do that when money is in unlimited supply. But when you need to actually make some money, it’s a good idea to do things that have proven successful in the past.



It has all the usual problems of a catalog designed by someone who knows nothing about creating a response. Microscopic mention of the 20% off and free shipping offer, “celebrity” endorsements from the artists represented on the site, products intentionally shown upside down – you get the picture. But, my biggest concern for this catalog is lack of product, and the products shown are too inexpensive to support this catalog. Most products were under $20, and the most expensive I saw was $31. Low price and low product density are not a winning formula for a profitable catalog. Some of the products are cute, and unique. There just are not enough to make this catalog successful.

Here is the strange thing: Society6 is a website for artists to sell their “art”, which might be on a mug or t-shirt. They have plenty of products online. Why weren’t more in the catalog? There was probably some sort of “juried” selection process as to which products were included in the catalog, as well as how the catalog was designed. Yes, I’m a big believer in not showing every product in your assortment in the book, and using the catalog to drive traffic. However, Society6 does a lousy job of communicating that there are other products online, and gives no reason to go to the website to see them. A classic wasted opportunity.

Who knows, maybe this design and lack of conventional format resonates with their core customer. But, making this catalog a profitable and viable prospecting tool will be tough the way they approach acquiring new catalog customers.

From all the staff at Datamann, have a happy Thanksgiving this week.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235



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No One Follows Through

I conducted a merchandise analysis earlier this year for a client on their Holiday 2015 catalogs. Response to their spring and summer books this year was soft. The marketing manager immediately said “We need to do another catalog merchandise analysis.”

My response was, “Why? I already gave you all the tools you need to determine if productivity is up or down. As a matter of fact, I gave you three specific measurements that either you or your merchants can apply to every book to tell if merchandise is getting better. Did you measure those on the Spring and Summer books?”

“Well, no we haven’t.”

My merchandise analyses are very detailed, documenting over 20 key variables at the product and category level (contact me if you would like more information). I try to leave no stone unturned with regards to measuring and interpreting profitability, margin, units sold, new vs repeat products, space allocations, price points, return rates and pure demand.

But the three factors I rely on the most – and which I have written about before in this space – are the following:

Sales/Books/Products (S/B/P). It allows comparison of product performance across titles, and across seasons, regardless of page count and circulation changes. SBP is based on pure demand – does your customer like what you are offering? I use this number to compare performance across clients/mailers.

Here is how it is calculated: if your catalog generates $20,000,000 in sales, and you mailed 4,000,000 catalogs, and had 400 products, then ($20,000,000 / 4,000,000 / 400) = 0.0125.  That number may seem insignificant by itself, but you can use it to compare performance across time, across mailings.  It is one more tool in your arsenal of determining whether you are improving.

The other two factors are Margin/Books/Products and Profit/Books/Products. They work in the same way as the S/B/P factor, measuring margin generated and profit generated as a function of circulation and the number of products.

Once you get used to using these factors at the overall book level, you’ll get hooked. You will want to apply them to product categories as well, and measure how each product category is doing over time.

But here is the main thing to remember. These factors are obviously not hard to calculate. You only need five numbers – total sales, total gross margin, total profits, total circulation and number of products.  What is so hard about that? So why don’t companies routinely track these factors?

Here is what I see with most companies that don’t have “built-in” reporting to generate these factors automatically. First, most companies have a hard time agreeing on what are the total sales for a catalog. There are a hundred variables that go into this. Datamann produces sales reports for clients – all of which tie out to the data the client supplies us, but we often hear that our reports don’t tie out to their internal reports. Why? There are a ton of reasons: we may be reporting on data received through Saturday, and internally they report on sales through Sunday, or they don’t send us POS system data, or they are reporting on more updated returns data, etc.

Second, merchants don’t want to be measured in a quantified manner. So, they never respond when you ask them how many products are in the catalog. Or they include all products “for sale” at the time of the catalog, including all the web products not in the book. Again, there are many variables that go into this number.

But the biggest problem is that no one simply wants to take ownership of the process. The merchants don’t care. “Hey, do you want me to go find 30% new products for the Spring catalog, or spend my time counting SKUs?”  Marketing doesn’t want to do it because it is one more thing they can get blamed for. Since Marketing is usually responsible for measuring the response rate to the catalog – because they know how many catalogs were mailed – when the response rate falls below plan, everyone turns to Marketing and demands an answer as to why. “You measure it, so you must be responsible for it.”

The reason that clients always want to do another full-blown merchandise analysis is because they have not taken the time to follow any of the recommendations from the prior analysis, and they hope that my new recommendations for changes this time around will be easier to implement. It’s like going to the doctor for your physical each year, not doing anything the doctor recommends – and going back the next year hoping the doctor is going to pronounce you in top shape. Come on folks, there is some work involved here.

My advice – Marketing should be the ones responsible for monitoring merchandise performance.  And the data/reporting should be reviewed in a formal post mortem setting, on an on-going basis. No one ever cancels a catalog “product turn –in” meeting, when the next catalog’s new products are initially presented. If it was cancelled, the book would never get done. Conversely, the post mortem should never be canceled and attendance should be mandatory.

This is not that hard folks – it just takes discipline.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235



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Value or Not?

This posting started out being about how to extend the life of a product, but changed in mid-stream, which you will see…

Labor Day is over and as my grandfather would say, time to put the storm windows and snow tires back on. So, let’s take a look at a perennial favorite catalog of mine, the LL Bean Fall catalog.


The photo above is me (on the left, back when I had lots of hair) sometime around 1972, standing on a frozen lake wearing an LL Bean Chamois shirt, dark green. I was in high school at the time, and wore that shirt all through college. If you have ever owned one of these shirts, you know they last a long time.

The current 2016 Fall LL Bean catalog states the chamois shirts have been in the catalog since 1933. According to my copy from 1950, it only came in one color (tan) at that time, and that it was a favorite of Mr. Bean when hunting.


By 1998, LL Bean added a button-down collar version, as well as 10 solid colors (including my dark green) and six plaids.


This year, in the main LL Bean Fall catalog (the “KK” edition, for all you LL Bean alumni) the button-down version is gone, replaced with a “Slim-Fit” version.


Really? Slim-fit, for a chamois Shirt? In Maine? And what about these colors – where is the dark green?  This just didn’t seem to make sense to me. So, I went to the Bean website.

Sure enough, the regular fit version of the chamois shirt is still there, in most of the same colors as were available in 1998 – but the “regular” shirt itself is not in the catalog.

LL Bean is not a Datamann client, so I don’t know how this shirt has been selling. My guess is that it still sells well enough to earn a spot in the main book. If it didn’t, why would LL Bean be investing in developing a slim-fit extension of the shirt?

But, does the regular fit chamois shirt – an iconic product for the company, the preferred shirt of the original Leon Leonwood Bean – need to be in the catalog? Apparently not. If you are a good Bean customer, you know they have this shirt, just like you know Home Depot has 2x4s. From the catalog, you learned that they have a new slim-fit version, for all 12 of the guys in Maine who can wear a slim-fit shirt. Bean is making the assumption that at least for a customer like me, I don’t need to see the regular shirt in their catalog; I’ll instinctively find it on their website.

I’m also betting that Bean does not care about trying to sell the regular version of this shirt to a younger customer, that’s why they introduced the slim-fit version. They have a ton of different shirt styles that would appeal to a younger customer in the catalog – the old-timers like me that still like a boxy, full-cut chamois shirt will find it on their website.

So here is a question – how many of you would have the gumption to take one of your signature products, one that had been in the catalog since 1933, and take it out of your primary Fall catalog, and have it only on the website? Do you still think your customer has to see the product on the page to buy it?  This is the type of action that will ensure some catalogs survive.

The LL Bean chamois shirt has remained remarkably the same over time. It still has the two breast pockets with a button flap. It is still 7.5 oz. (which is thick), and the base price for a regular shirt is $49.95, along with Bean’s always free shipping.   How could you go wrong?

Well, let’s see how you could go wrong. I received two Filson catalogs during the month of August, both printed on incredibly heavy paper, with covers that could stop a bullet. I’m always amused/baffled when an upscale men’s catalog use imagery of working guys, allegedly using the catalog’s products.


Filson’s chamois shirt – which only comes in three colors, earned a full page in the catalog. Now it is 8.5 oz vs the 7.5 oz from LL Bean. But it costs $145, vs Bean’s $49.  Is that extra ounce of material really worth an extra $100? Of course not.


Plus, I live in an area where real logging takes place, with real loggers. You know – guys named Spud and Skeeter. They don’t wear $145 flannel shirts. They go to Wal-Mart and spend $12 for a flannel shirt (although the extra heavy flannel shirt at Wal-Mart is $36). They would spend $145 for the registration for their 4 wheeler, but not a shirt.

I started out this posting by saying I was going to write about how to extend the life of a product. I was going to tell you that LL Bean keeps the chamois shirt alive by introducing new styles (button-down, slim-fit) and new colors.   But, the real reason that this shirt is still in LL Bean’s product assortment after 83 years is value. Over the past 50 years, I have owned several of these LL Bean shirts and they have lasted for years. The buttons never fall off. The material is still soft. And yes, $49 might be a little steep for a logger who can go to Wal-Mart and get a flannel shirt for between $12 to $36, but the quality and value are embedded in the LL Bean shirt. And let’s face it: Spud and Skeeter are Wal-Mart shoppers, not LL Bean customers anyway.

Filson is now owned by a venture capital firm that is selling the illusion of being the place where real working guys buy their stuff. You know and I know that’s not so.  But the illusion is meant to make the Filson customers feel like they too can be rugged, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth men if they buy these shirts. The Filson customer thinks Husqvarna is a Danish beer, and they own an electric chain saw meant for pruning branches along the driveway. I’m sure the margins for Filson on that $145 shirt are great – they’d have to be to justify the cost of a full page on that excessively heavy paper. (If their catalog marketing and circulation planning was anywhere near being on target, I would not have been included in either mailing.)

But when the next recession hits (and I’m not predicting when), the value of the LL Bean chamois shirt will still be there. Not so much for Filson.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235



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