Retailer's all-PR approach brings lifestyle brands to new customers while retaining value positioning
If someone spent any time walking around a major US city like New York, Detroit, or Chicago three years ago, he or she would have seen a large number of teens wearing clothes purchased from Steve & Barry's. Today, a sizeable percentage of urban dwellers are still wearing Steve & Barry's, but it's not just high-school and college kids anymore, as the clothing chain has successfully managed to expand the demographics of its customers.
The company, founded in 1985 by college seniors Steve Shore and Barry Prevor, started out selling college-branded merchandise. Howard Schacter, chief partnership officer at Steve & Barry's, says that while being known as "the college place" is part of the company's heritage, the product offerings have grown to include khakis, jeans, jackets, polo shirts, button downs, capris, sweaters, swimwear, and footwear.
The targets have also evolved from college-age men and women to older men and kids. The retailer is now making a hard play for the female consumer with its launch this month of the Bitten clothing line by actress Sarah Jessica Parker. And it's doing it the way it's always done things - with all PR and minimal to no advertising.
"Based on the company's philosophy and the reality of our margins, we think that nontraditional marketing - and PR in particular, if executed strategically with the right resources in place and with the right story to tell - can generate the awareness and frequency of message you need, at pennies on the dollar," Schacter says.
Bitten is the retailer's second sub-branded lifestyle brand and features jeans, jackets, lingerie, shoes, T-shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags, and cocktail dresses. Its first was the Starbury Collection, including a $14.98 sneaker branded by the New York Knicks' Stephon Marbury.
Promotion for Bitten got under way in May with a viral documentary-type video detailing why Parker launched the brand.
"We put some of those segments on YouTube and let women discover the clips for themselves," Schacter says. "We also did some product [seeding] to taste makers like celebrities, stylists, and politicians."
A print profile in this month's Glamour features Parker and the brand. An eight-page spread is set for July's O, The Oprah Magazine, and Parker and Marbury were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in May. "The show was dedicated to affordable high-fashion products," Schacter notes. "They understood the social underpinning of what we're doing and wanted to support it."
He adds that national coverage is important, but it's the local coverage that drives sales and has the most impact over time.
"While we have needed a halo of national coverage, it was really important that we added a local market execution to our launch strategy," Schacter explains. "So we initiated the 'First In Line' program."
As part of the program, Parker spoke on the phone with people who got on line early at Steve & Barry's locations in 10 cities the day of Bitten's launch. The company's PR team was on hand to facilitate the calls.
"This helps make the story local," Schacter says. "We whispered in the ear of the media that this was going to happen, so suddenly we found ourselves with mini press conferences all over the country because when the phone was handed back to our staffer, the lights go on [for interviews]."
Schacter says the PR effort for Bitten helped generate significant sales in locations throughout the country.
Andy Todd, Steve & Barry's president, says PR works so effectively because it's authentic. "When you advertise, you're talking about yourself," Todd says. "But through PR, other people are giving their opinion, so it's subjective, and that makes it authentic."
Schacter says PR will continue to be the primary weapon for expansion going forward. He underscores that point when discussing the growth of the team internally.
"A year ago, we had four people on staff, and we now have 13," Schacter notes. "We are looking to double that number to 20 to 25 people by the end of the year."
He adds that the company is looking to increase its footprint rapidly. It has 200 US stores, with plans to reach 280 by year's end.
Schacter believes PR is well suited to help Steve & Barry's achieve its goal of becoming "a private label lifestyle-driven department store, where every room in our store is devoted to a very niche lifestyle that a wide range of shoppers aspire to."
The company doesn't work with agencies on general PR efforts, but it does tap outside help for product launches. Tracy Paul & Co. is the AOR for Bitten, and The Mastermind Group worked on the Starbury launch.
AT A GLANCE
Company: Steve & Barry's
Co-CEOs: Steve Shore and Barry Prevor
Headquarters: Port Washington, NY
Revenues and latest earnings: Undisclosed
Competitors: Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch
Key trade titles: Women's Wear Daily, Apparel News, Footwear News
PR budget: Undisclosed
Howard Schacter, chief partnership officer
Martin Higgins, director, product PR
Rachel Brenner, senior manager, brand PR
Owen Bochner, analytics manager
MARKETING SERVICES AGENCIES:
PR agencies: The Mastermind Group, Kraftworks, Tracy Paul & Co., Winek