Flourishing fashion

The operators at J. Marco Catalog are happy to take your order. But don’t ask to speak to Mr. Marco unless you want to make president Cory Smith laugh.

The Seville-based company was started in 1979 by Smith’s mother, a single mom who named the company after her three children — a daughter with the middle name Jo and sons Mark and Cory — all of whom serve on J. Marco’s executive team.

“Sometimes salesmen will call in and say, ‘I talked to Mr. J. Marco just a week ago, and I’m returning his call.’ And we’re like, ‘OK, sure, hold a minute, will ya? We’ll get right back to you,'” Smith says.

Since 1979, J. Marco, a seller of women’s clothing, accessories and jewelry, has evolved into a national mail-order catalog company and Web retailer. It created 14 jobs with the addition of its Seville facility, bringing the number of employees to 65, and has increased sales by more than $5 million over the past five years for total sales of about $20 million. With ideas in the works for a personalized Internet experience for customers, company-manufactured goods and full-price retail stores, J. Marco is eyeing future growth.

Smart Business spoke with Smith about innovation and managing growth.

How do you juggle the strategy of the print catalog and online store?

We really try to keep them synergistic as well as we can — the catalog promotes the Web site and the Web site promotes the catalog. We have many instances in our catalog that point to the Web site to find products we may have on sale, to look for upcoming products that are not yet in the catalog, weekly sales and specials. We’ll send out a preview e-mail as to what’s going to be arriving soon so they get first dibs on products in upcoming catalogs.

Although they’re different modes of taking an order or advertising our products, we rely on them both heavily for our continued growth and success. You really just can’t have one without the other, especially in today’s market.

How do you manage the company’s growth?

Our total facility is about 2,300 square feet, but that’s three times the size we had two years ago. We’re at the point where we probably need to expand in the next year. It’s a good problem to have. Our corporate goal is to maintain 20 percent growth per year. We’ve been hitting that.

You have to be careful with that level of growth that you’ve got everything else covered. You want to make sure your customers don’t see any lapses in service from such strong growth, where you may have longer hold times because you don’t have enough employees in place to deal with the surge.

You really need your infrastructure set up to maintain those levels of growth. Everyone’s got to be on board, from ordering enough product to having the people in place to fulfill the orders. But you don’t want to grow too fast, where you’re overpurchasing or you’ve got too many people on staff and your expenses run way overboard.

Our company is small enough where we can make changes quickly when we see that things aren’t going the way we predict them to be. We print eight to nine different catalogs a year, depending on the year, so they’re coming out every six weeks or so.

So as a catalog hits, we can really predict (within the first two weeks) how that catalog’s going to perform and make changes on the next catalog. That’s what has allowed us to stabilize at that 20 percent. In our infancy, our growth was far higher than 20 percent a year, but when you’re small, to double one sale is easy. When you’re doubling 200,000 sales, it gets to be more difficult.

We can almost predict growth based on our circulation size of our catalog. We can add an extra 20 percent circulation, and that will almost correlate into sales. We’ve got enough data over the past 12 years (when the catalog started) to know when we add X amount of catalogs to our circulation run what that’s going to mean when it comes to call volume and sales.

(That formula) is beautiful for what we’re doing because we can be prepared for those spikes because we generate them.

How do you adapt to changing consumer demands?

After every catalog run, we look at product categories, price points, styles, color palettes, and we compare them season to season, year to year, and try to get a feel for what our customers are buying. Our products adapt to those customer purchases.

In this world of marketing, everyone’s data is floating around. There are database companies that will interview different populaces of people. If you’ve ever filled out a warranty card, it accounts for your interests, age bracket or if you’re male or female.

All that data goes into a central database. Not everyone allows it to be out there, but (with) those who do, you can match back the people who purchase from you … and try to match your products to those consumers.

We can analyze that on a per-catalog basis internally. We don’t know who’s buying it but we know what they’re buying, and that is probably the most important way that we determine the products we carry in our catalogs.

How do you communicate your vision to your employees?

We try to sit down twice a year and set goals for ourselves. It really trickles down to each individual person — all the way down to the person taking calls and the person packing boxes.

But it starts at the top with what we think our corporate vision should be, where we want to be with sales and what we want to accomplish in our Internet and Web department, as well as product styling and down the line. … Our executive team does the larger corporate goals, and then each individual person sets goals within each department to reach those corporate goals.

Sometimes, someone might say, ‘We can’t do this but we can do something else,’ and we make modifications to those corporate goals based on what each departmental team comes up with. The goals kind of flow down but they also flow back up, depending on what we can and cannot do.

Some ideas that other people have may be better than what our executive committee comes up with. You just have to be (open to employee suggestions.) Anybody can have an idea that can literally change the company; it won’t happen overnight but it can spark off a set of ideas and make a lot of change.

The person who thinks he or she is too good to listen to someone else’s advice — no matter who it is — isn’t going to last very long.

HOW TO REACH: J. Marco Catalog, (800) 948-3100 or www.jmarco.com