This spring, the team at Frances Valentine decided to try out something that many would consider a relic of the past. They launched a catalog.
Frances Valentine is an apparel and accessories brand co-founded by the late Kate Spade, her husband Andy Spade, and her friend and longtime business partner, Elyce Arons.
Arons, who is now the brand’s CEO, told Business Insider that the brand had been considering a catalog since the end of 2019. They shot the campaign for its first catalog in Palm Beach, Florida, in March, the week before most of the country shut down in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We felt really, really fortunate to have gotten it all in the can before all this started,” Arons said.
The catalog went out at the beginning of June, after being delayed a few weeks due to pandemic-induced production issues. The catalog was enough of a success that the company decided to shoot and print another one for the brand’s Fall 2020 collection.
The decision to get into print may come as a surprise to those plugged into the rise of e-commerce. The time of print catalogs dominating advertising has been declared over for years, with businesses mailing out 9.4 million catalogs in 2017 — compared to a peak of 19.6 million in 2007 — according to the Data & Marketing Association.
But there is evidence that print catalogs are still effective marketing tools, especially as a way to drive customers to brands’ websites, the DMA says.
And for Frances Valentine, the catalog represented an opportunity to show off its brand in creative, eye-catching photography. Like other businesses deemed “nonessential” during lockdowns, the company had been forced to close its two stores for much of the spring. The catalog could be a way to drum up its e-commerce business and reconnect with loyal customers.
Plus, with much of the country still under stay-at-home orders when the catalogs were mailed, the company theorized that people would have more time to actually look at the catalog’s pages. Many of the brand’s core customers likely grew up thumbing through catalogs, Arons said.
“We actually felt like it was fortuitous that we had it planned because of quarantines and people were at home,” Arons said.
The catalog effort seems to have paid off. Arons said that Frances Valentine’s sales so far this year were more than 280% higher than projected and that average order volume was about 40% higher than expected. Its return on ad spend, which includes spending on printed materials like catalogs, was up about 44% over the same period the previous year, while its conversion rate was up 46%. The brand has additionally seen its repeat purchase rate grow.
Like Kate Spade, Frances Valentine is known for its colorful, vintage-inspired prints, handbags, and shoes.
“I think our products really speak to people — the quality and craftsmanship and attractive prices,” Arons said. “It’s almost like accessing joy with a tangible product. And I think people really needed it this spring.”
The brand’s second catalog, which was shot in New York City will come out on September 14, and another is in the works for the holidays.
When it comes to its physical retail strategy, the brand has stayed flexible with its plans.
In the spring and summer, Frances Valentine trunk shows became Instagram Live events and cocktail parties due to the pandemic. It has an outdoor event coming up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and it’s still exploring the possibility of opening additional brick-and-mortar locations, particularly in Texas.
“We have a lot of ideas about how our customers are going to shop in the future, and I think it’s a convergence of digital and in-person experience that will help that to happen,” Arons said.
SEE ALSO: Kate Spade’s business partner reveals how she’s honoring the late designer’s ‘timeless’ and ‘joyful’ style — and growing Frances Valentine’s sales fivefold in the process
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