Long live the fashion catalog.
For some retailers, in a move to grab more e-commerce market share, that bygone piece of marketing is about as relevant as a rotary phone. But the glossy fashion book, filled with pretty models, men and women, and pristine settings, from beaches to bayou homes, is integral to the marketing strategy at New York retailer J. McLaughlin.
And the company’s March catalog is not only a 50-page marketing tool, but an ode to Sarasota, where it has a store, on Main Street and North Lemon Avenue downtown. The dozens of pictures in the catalog were shot on location in and around Sarasota, from the John Ringling Bridge to Lido Beach. Specific locations include the Cocoon House, recently restored by Sarasota Architectural Foundation; the Revere Quality House on Siesta Key; and the Umbrella House on Lido. The company mailed the catalog to 750,000 people and also plays up the shoot, and backdrops, in multiple social media posts.
“If fashion is a form of art, we’re decidedly modernists. After all, modernism — an insatiable enthusiasm for new and authentic forms of expression — is an apt description of our passion for streamlined silhouettes, geometric patterns and innovative fabrics,” states the introduction of the catalog. “And, what better place to indulge our obsession than Sarasota, the epicenter of East Coast modernism and a town on the move.”
J. McLaughlin co-founder and creative director Kevin McLaughlin says Florida, and specifically Sarasota, represents a key demographic for the retailer, which blends Ivy League casual with American classic in most of its lines. McLaughlin has family in Naples, has spent time in Boca Grande and says Sarasota is his favorite place in the state. “It’s a special town, with a lot of the big-city amenities but a smaller scale that’s appealing,” McLaughlin tells Coffee Talk. “We want our customers to experience the delight of all that J. McLaughlin has to offer, and do it with this beautiful backdrop.”
More than the region or its beaches, McLaughlin says Sarasota represents customers, who, while they might buy some things online, are people who want a sense-of-place retail experience. “The talk of everything going online is a bit overblown,” McLaughlin says. “If you do retail right, if you have high-touch customer service, you can do really well.”
J. McLaughlin is executing on that brick and mortar strategy, even while competitors and peers, from J. Crew to Ann Taylor to Fort Myers-based Chico’s FAS, shrink store footprints. Founded in 1977 by McLaughlin and his brother Jay, the company opened 14 stores in 2017, followed by 12 in 2018, and now has more than 140 locations nationwide. J. McLaughlin CEO Mary Ellen Coyne says another 10 stores are scheduled to open in 2019. “The heart of our model,” says Coyne, “is brick and mortar.”
(This story was updated to reflect the correct amount of J. McLaughlin stores.)