After years of trying on its feminine side, apparel retailer Mark's has decided to inject more testosterone into its efforts.
Borrowing from the toolbox of its parent Canadian Tire Corp., Mark's (previously called Mark's Work Wearhouse) is refocusing on its male-oriented roots to keep core customers from shopping at rival Target Corp. or other expanding foreign players.
Still the top ranked men's clothier in Canada, Calgary-based Mark's is feeling pressure to bolster its men's business after its sales of women's clothing failed to pick up over the past five years.
"It is an intensely competitive market – if we just sit back and say, 'We're No. 1, we're good,' and focus on other things, we will lose that position," said Harry Taylor, chief operating officer at Mark's. "We are in a dogfight with lots of competitors who would like to be in that position."
In the past decade, the chain raced to lure more female customers, who often shop in the stores for men. Mark's widened women's offerings, adding items such as yoga pants, and put more women in its advertising. But since that part of the business has weakened, making up 17 per cent of overall sales from a peak of 19 per cent in 2007, Mark's is now betting more heavily on men.
Its new marketing campaign puts the spotlight on men with images similar to those in its parent chain's advertising. The Mark's ads show a man barbecuing in the rain or playing hockey with his son, with a theme of outfitting men for everyday Canadian life. The approach is summed up in the new Mark's slogan: "Ready for this."
At the same time, the retailer is starting to tweak the styling of its fashions to respond to shifting trends, including some slimmer cuts in men's khakis and lower-rise denims.
It is counting on current shopping patterns that show that men's wear sales are gaining at a faster pace – or declining at a slower rate – than those of women's apparel, as men become more fashion savvy. And it's trying to bank on a clothing market that is less crowded compared with women's wear.
"Men are getting out and shopping more," said Sandy Silva, fashion industry analyst at researcher NPD Group. But men have fewer retail options than women, serving as "a call to action" for Mark's, she said.
While the chain has enjoyed sales gains in work wear, footwear and accessories (such as gloves and underwear,) casual clothing sales have lagged. On the men's side, they fell to 24 per cent of its total $1-billion-plus of 2012 sales from 39 per cent a decade earlier when Canadian Tire acquired it. Mark's women's wear sales grew to 17 per cent of its total sales from 14 per cent over that period, but dipped over the past several years after having peaked at 19 per cent in 2007.
"Mark's would have had a struggle bringing in more of a female shopper, just by its name," said June Doyle-Maclean, a principal at retail specialist FishRecruit. "Men's wear really has been their bread and butter and maybe it's best to go back to what they do best."
Ms. Doyle-Maclean shops for her husband at Mark's and occasionally picks up something for herself.
"If I were going shopping for myself, Mark's wouldn't have come to mind ... But often I would be pleasantly surprised."
Mr. Taylor said Mark's isn't abandoning women, just putting more emphasis on men. It is also trying to attract younger urban men, 35 to 40, beyond its key 50 to 60-year-old rural customers.
His research found that customers, including 30– and 40-something men, wanted a more youthful fit and style. This fall and next year, it is introducing some tweaks to both men's and women's lines, he said.
"It's not dramatic – we're not talking about fashionistas."
It will also shore up on national brands, such as Levis pants and Columbia jackets, to add to its mostly private label offerings. While store brands tend to generate higher profit margins, his research found that customers want some prominent national labels.
"We still have work to do."