Marketing in Vancouver: Low-Key DM hikes Please Mum’s sales

Brightly colored fabrics, off-beat styles: Please Mum's children's clothes are not your typical wear-and-tear toddler fashions.They're fun. Even flashy.So you might not expect the company's quiet, unobtrusive direct marketing efforts to help drive up sales 60% this year.After eight years in...

Brightly colored fabrics, off-beat styles: Please Mum’s children’s clothes are not your typical wear-and-tear toddler fashions.

They’re fun. Even flashy.

So you might not expect the company’s quiet, unobtrusive direct marketing efforts to help drive up sales 60% this year.

After eight years in the children’s clothing market, Please Mum’s direct marketing efforts have helped propel a one-store venture into a 25-store cross-country chain with $8 million in sales for the year ending March 31.

Locally designed

Locally designed and made, Please Mum’s children’s clothes are characterized by distinctive styles, bold colors and patterns, and exterior logos that have become a status symbol among the well-dressed newborns-to-nine-year-old set.

The company uses only pure cotton fabrics to make a line of clothes with a distinctly relaxed feel.

This kind of easywear fashion fits the Vancouver lifestyle, which emphasizes nature and health, and has a reputation for having a more laidback approach to life than that of the average big city.

From a one-store start in a Burnaby, b.c. shopping mall in 1986, Please Mum has undergone rapid expansion over the past two years, including moving into a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and a growing number of corporate and franchised stores.

Home-party network

This year, Please Mum developed a home-party network, hiring 150 Canadian representatives to sell Please Mum lines from their homes in the tradition of Tupperware.

Please Mum also began distributing through a Tots store in Kobe, Japan this year, and is stepping into shoe sales in August with its own line of children’s leather sports shoes.

Kevin Jewson, Please Mum’s vice-president of sales, attributes the company’s success in part to a marketing approach that reflects the target market’s preference for low-key, one-on-one communication.

Please Mum customers may like flamboyant colors and styles in children’s clothing, but Jewson says they do not respond to advertising that grabs them by the throat.

Focussed approach

Although Please Mum has dabbled in mass market print advertising, the company’s marketing philosophy today rejects such an approach in favor of focussing on the individual customer.

‘Our customers like more of a personalized approach as opposed to blatant advertising in a paper that applies to everyone,’ Jewson says.

‘They get to know our products and our stores when we address them directly,’ he says.

In addition to the catalogue and to monthly direct mail flyers, Jewson says Please Mum store managers use their in-store database to call customers at home to make them aware of sales and new lines.

‘The databases are 2,500 people on average, so phoning is a lot of work,’ he says. ‘But our service is based on a one-on-one, very honest approach.’

Jewson says a warm, easy approach works with the Vancouver market, but adds it is necessary to develop a sense of community with them.

Every Please Mum store has a ‘radar sheet’ that invites customer feedback.

‘We’ve changed the way we do things in some cases based on the customer’s reactions,’ Jewson says. ‘I think they really feel like they’re part of our decision process.’

More franchises

Steadily increasing sales and a growing number of franchises testify to Please Mum’s success as the company battles The Gap for market share.

The Gap, a San Francisco-based clothing manufacturer markets a line of children’s clothing called Gap Kids in 243 Gap Kids stores in Canada, the u.s. and Britain.

According to Jewson, Please Mum has about 60% of the children’s clothing market in Vancouver and about 40% of the Canadian market.

He says The Gap has more stores and a greater share of the market Canada-wide, but Please Mum is catching up in sales through mail orders and the home-party network.

Catalogue

Whereas The Gap focusses on mass media advertising, Please Mum’s main source of advertising is a catalogue distributed to its database of 35,000 customers.

Only about 15% of sales come through the catalogue, which penetrates 3,000 u.s. homes and accounts for all u.s. sales.

The primary function of the catalogue is to advertise the store and generate word-of-mouth.

Jewson says the effectiveness of this marketing technique can be measured not only in sales, but by the number of franchise applications Please Mum got last year.

‘The best evidence that word-of-mouth is working for us is the 150 people across the world who’ve applied for franchises,’ he says.

‘We’ve never advertised for a franchisee, but they know about us through the catalogue, people talking, and seeing our stores.’

Jewson says Please Mum’s consistent approach to in-store merchandising helps define an identity for the store.

Instead of organizing clothes in categories such as ‘shirts’ and ‘pants,’ Please Mum’s in-house designers gather pieces of clothing made of the same material and arrange one area of the store around this group.

Consistency

‘Please Mum is like the Body Shop in terms of a consistency in in-house marketing, arrangement of stores and products, and creating an atmosphere which makes it easy for the customer to shop,’ Jewson says.

He says attention to customer service is another element of the Please Mum approach that sets it apart from its competitors.

Franchisees enrol in a mandatory Please Mum training course to ensure the consistency in in-store display is matched by level of service.

‘I’ve seen phenomenal service at some of the competition’s stores, but not at others,’ Jewson says.

‘With a smaller chain of stores, we stay on top of this, and we believe it’s an area we’re way ahead in,’ he says.

A lack of high-priced advertising allows Please Mum to keep prices competitive, a key element in the chain’s battle with Gap Kids.

Please Mum is looking ahead to franchises in Manitoba and Saskatchewan next year, as well as possible u.s. locations.

However, expansion will not mean a change in using the catalogue as a primary advertising medium.

‘We have always found it to be a terrific in-house marketing tool,’ Jewson says. ‘More than anything, it encourages people to come into the stores.

‘Yes, when we open stores in areas with high catalogue sales, those sales drop,’ he says.

‘But, that’s okay because we just go into other markets.’