Williams-Sonoma Inc. has taken the Pottery Barn brand back to what its shoppers remember it as several years ago in terms of prices and merchandise, and is evaluating the prospects of its most challenged brand, Williams-Sonoma Home, the six-nameplate retailer told analysts today here at the Thomas Weisel Partners Consumer Conference 2009. Patrick Connolly, director, evp, chief marketing officer, said, “In Pottery Barn, we’re back – back to the core Pottery Barn aesthetic, back to the Pottery Barn where our customer wants us to be, back to great value offerings at very attractive prices.” Merchandise-wise, this means Pottery Barn is bringing back the kind of product mix “we carried prior to the economic bubble,” explained Sharon McCollam, evp, coo and cfo. Additionally, the company is reactivating its consumer database to tap shoppers who frequented the retailer “before the economic boom, when we may have priced them out.” For example, Pottery Barn originally offered more attainable price brackets like $599 and $699 for dining room tables, she said, but as the economy shot upward that price level went upwards of $1,000. “So we went line by line to go back” to Pottery Barn’s product and price roots. This effort, Connolly continued, is supported by “strong and relevant marketing messaging conveying quality, value and authority in the home, showing our customers how simple changes can make big differences in their homes.” Early customer response to the new fall/holiday assortments hitting the stores, catalogs and website indicated the strategy is paying off, executives said. It is now being applied similarly to Pottery Barn Kids. “We are pleased with what we are currently seeing at Pottery Barn,” Connolly said. “We think our stores have never looked better, and I would say the same about our catalogs and our new website, which just launched two weeks ago.” The company’s PB Teen nameplate remains the best performing brand in the company on a two-year trend basis. “Innovative new products at a great value continue to be among our best performers, and initial consumer response to our new fall assortment is strong,” Connolly said. Less impressive have been West Elm and, more significantly, Williams-Sonoma Home – brands which are newer to the company’s portfolio. “West Elm has always been about good design and great prices. But its performance has been impacted this year by vendor-related production issues,” Connolly explained. “We are optimistic that we will see a pick-up in top-line performance as these issues are currently being resolved. Otherwise, West Elm’s revenue trends have been consistent with our other home furnishings brands.” Worse news for the company is that the higher-end Williams-Sonoma Home consumer “appears to be the most impacted in this environment,” Connolly warned. “This brand is facing significant top-line challenges and as such we are very focused on profitability over growth. We are continuing to evaluate the long-term prospects as the state of the luxury home furnishings sector becomes clearer.” More general updates regarding the $3 billion multi-channel retail company were offered. While the company has reduced its catalog circulation significantly over the past few years, Williams-Sonoma still circulates more than 20 million catalogs a month – “almost as many as the largest publication in the United States and greater than the combined circulations of the most popular monthly publications,” Connolly claimed. Also, the company is consistently updating its 52 million-name household database to reach former and existing customers and tap new ones. E-marketing has grown significantly, jumping by 50% in spend from two years ago, as Williams-Sonoma looks to more affordably and more succinctly reach shoppers and draw them to its stores and websites. And the product mix at the different nameplates is heavily focused on exclusive offerings. Connolly said 95% of fall and holiday catalog spreads feature merchandise that can be bought only at Williams-Sonoma.
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