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INTERIORS : Catalogues' Upscale, Glamorous Image Is Made to Mail Order

January 29, 1994|From Associated Press

The role of the catalogue is changing. Easy shopping used to be the selling point of mail-order merchandising, but now catalogues are taking on some of the glamour of magazines, offering fancy photos and how-tos along with home furnishings.

JC Penney, for example, is launching a high-end bed and bath book in March. On the drawing boards are a furniture catalogue and a gift registry service.

"We've identified a need for better and best merchandise," said Jim Feit, a Penney executive. With the new catalogues, he said, the goal is for consumers "to like the layout so well that they'll buy everything that they see."

Not all of the fancy new wish books are mail order. Expressions, a 60-store chain based in Metairie, La., recently mailed out its first catalogue. Rather than order forms, the address and telephone number for each store is listed and readers are encouraged to visit the one nearest them.

"The line is blurring between magazines and catalogues," said Ronna Greist, Expressions president. "For example, a recent newsstand decorating magazine had three manufacturers' sale catalogues bound into its pages."

The Expressions catalogue layout looks more like a decorating magazine than an advertisement. The furniture is featured in room settings, photographed mostly in real homes.

"The vehicle we chose to exemplify what it would be like to walk into an Expressions store is a catalogue," Greist said. "I see us going past the catalogue and into our own magazine with information and guidance on how to put a room together and why you want this kind of cushion versus another kind."

Greist said other likely topics are what does and doesn't work and what Expressions customers think of the pieces they bought.

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More editorial matter is finding its way into catalogues, according to Kathleen Joyce, executive editor of Catalog Age magazine, published by Cowles Business Press in Stamford, Conn.

"More and more are featuring entire decorating schemes," Joyce said. "This can range from showing how to set up an entire kitchen to showing how to set up a home office."

Other features range from interviews with artisans in Robert Redford's Sundance catalogue to how to choose and use electronic products in a Spiegel catalogue.

"People read catalogues for fun, not only when they are ordering merchandise," said Betty Rosenberg, director of home fashions for Spiegel in Downers Grove, Ill.

Spiegel's home furnishings pages take what Rosenberg describes as an "info-sales" approach.

A feature called "For the Look Shown" explains how to get the effects pictured. And in a recent catalogue, the section on home electronics included words as well as photos.

"(The writer's) job was to anticipate readers' likely questions and respond to them," Rosenberg said.

Some catalogues fit a very specific niche. Levenger's of Delray Beach, Fla., for example, caters to the book lover, offering furniture and accessories--everything for the bibliophile except books.

"They have grown about 800% in the last three years," Joyce said of the company.

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High-end merchandise and custom services such as monogramming, not usually associated with mail-order shopping, are now common in home furnishings catalogues, the Catalog Age editor said. In addition, a number of catalogues offer overnight delivery, liberal guarantees and return policies and advice on assembly or the offer of assembly.

Penney's new "Fine Furnishings" bedding and bath catalogue will feature 210-count Egyptian cotton sheets and services such as monogramming and will show coordinated bedding and bath products in an upscale environment.

Feit said the furniture book will offer delivery and set-up in the home by appointment. For the computerized gift registry, orders will be placed via a toll-free telephone number, gift-wrapped and delivered based on selections from a catalogue. Start-up cities are Chicago, Dallas, Detroit and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

With the line blurring between magazine and catalogue, how do you tell the difference?

"If it has an ordering device, it's a catalogue," Joyce said.

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