Francie Nguyen: Direct to consumer

by Harry Sheff

MR Magazine‘s Retailer of the Year: Casual Male Retail Group

As DXL superstores roll out around the country, a complementary web component is critical. unites the separate Casual Male, Rochester, Factory Direct, Shoes XL and Living XL sites together on one main site. It launched in September and hopes are high. (At the moment, 20 percent of total sales are generated from internet and catalog business. Of that, 50 to 75 percent are e-commerce). And, according to Francie Nguyen, SVP of CMRG direct business, they’re hoping to take more of that business online. “There will always be a need for the catalog—it’s our number one marketing tool,” says Nguyen. “But we’re a multi-channel business and everything we do from print to e-mail to in-store helps drive the total business.”

Nguyen came to CMRG in April 2011. She recently moved from “The Real City” (New York) to just outside of Boston. Nguyen’s experience includes stints at Hanover Direct, Spiegel, Anthropologie and Delia’s. At CMRG she has an extensive range of responsibilities including international business, merchandising the catalogs and website, running e-commerce, from design to e-mail to online marketing to heading up the call center (the support system for the catalog and the website). “I love that I’m involved in so many different things because every day is different.”

Getting the word out about the new site is easy when you have the various channels of Casual Male to promote it. They’ve been publicizing through in-store signage, e-mail, direct mailers, and utilizing local and online marketing. In terms of social media, Nguyen says they use Facebook and Twitter. “We’re working on a new strategy to engage our customers through these vehicles. We want to be current but social is not the number one driver. It’s still our print media and promoting throughout the stores.”

Direct and in-store businesses work closely together to streamline the customer experience. “Everything we do is for our customer and we strategize around him. Sales associates are trained to offer extended product offerings online so if he’s looking for a shirt in a certain size that we might not have in store or is looking for something to complement an outfit, we’ll direct him to the web. We also ask for e-mail addresses at check out. The online and catalog assortments are the same as what’s in the store with a few more colors and sizes. We’ll do product testing online too. We have a great team in the call centers where our catalog customers can get help with putting outfits together. And we have a virtual representative whom customers can chat with for assistance online.”

They’ve also been testing the flash sale model on the current sites and there will be a version of the flash sale on the DXL site. “We’ll continue to test new ideas going forward because we want to be the best in the business and that involves experimenting with new features. We continue to challenge ourselves to keep the customer engaged and interested. We need to be different from everyone else. I don’t think flash sites will be a separate vehicle but they’ll be a definite part of our business.”

Asked to describe the direct customer, Nguyen says it’s almost impossible. “He can be traditional and value-driven or he might buy a $500 shirt without hesitation. We have a big share of female buyers too, especially for Living XL (the B&T lifestyle catalog). The product is great for our customers because they can’t get it anywhere else. We get letters from customers saying that we’ve changed their lives, and I feel great to be a part of a company that helps people.”