Two years after it tried and failed to win over women shoppers by selling more fashionable clothes, Mark’s has launched a new effort that includes a collection by Canadian designer Alfred Sung.
The clothing debuted in stores in September and new merchandise will arrive monthly.
“It’s not that the other thing failed. It’s a different approach,” said Rick White, who was appointed chief operating officer of Mark’s in March.
“We have to be careful not to pretend to be something we aren’t. There are always mid-course corrections and this is part of that.”
The collection includes 35 pieces that can be worn casually or to work. The price points are higher than they were at Zeller’s, allowing Sung to use higher quality knit fabrics and washable silks.
The pieces range in price from $15 to $99 for a jacket.
“I’m a firm believer in the classics, but you have to stay current,” said Sung, 66. “I always design clothing to make a woman look attractive.”
Sung said the number of pieces will continue to grow over time to include sleepwear and intimates, but for now the focus is on making Mark’s successful in the women’s apparel category.
The clothing will also be in more stores — Zeller’s carried it in 300 stores across Canada and Mark’s has 380 stores.
The new effort includes branded jeans for men and women, such as Levi’s, Silver and Buffalo. Mark’s is offering more casual branded footwear, including Merrell, Sketchers and Clarks. For the first time, it is carrying Columbia Sportswear.
The supporting ad campaign seems to be working. Store traffic is up and while jean sales are down about 6.4 per cent in North America, they are up at Mark’s.
White was not chief operating officer in 2012, when the retailer dropped the “Work Wearhouse” from the name of the store and began selling $50 caftans.
Although early data seemed to show the more fashion-forward effort was working, the new direction ultimately failed to convert enough female shoppers.
“Retail is pretty tough out there, especially in the women’s sector,” said White, who was previously chief merchandising officer and senior vice-president at FGL Sports and Mark’s.
The key category for Mark’s has always been industrial work wear — men who need steel-toed boots and warm, rugged outerwear. But 70 per cent of purchasing decisions in the stores are made by women, according to White.
“At the end of the day, it is a men-centric business, with the decisions being made with the partner.
“To be positive about it, it wasn’t that it didn’t work, it’s just that the women’s business is not the majority of our business.”