September 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Narrow Target

(Page 2 of 3)

Beyond manufacturing its own line and choosing its own fabrics, Junonia is also looking to the Internet to allow it to improve its sales. As an example, the company began a new offering within its liquidation section that allows customers to shop by size. Because liquidated items are not available in every size, Junonia wanted to avoid situations where customers find items they like and then find out the items are not available in their size.

"We do all our liquidation business online because it allows us to target the merchandise to the customer and reduce disappointment for customers of merchandise not being available," Kelly says.

Enhanced web site content is also important to Junonia and again that content can be tailored to the narrow niche that Junonia serves. It is able to give a lot of fashion and exercise tips geared toward larger women.

The real picture

And it doesn`t use a lot of pictures showing skinny models exercising. While even other plus-size stores often use models who are more average size or on the very low end of the plus-size clothing sizes, Junonia requires its models, both those in the catalog and on the Internet, be at least a size 18. Junonia`s clothing line starts at a size 14. In the general fashion industry, models typically are a size 6 or smaller.

By using the larger women as models, Junonia wants customers to get a good idea of how the clothing will actually look on a larger woman. "We get more letters on that topic than any other," Kelly says. "Our customers write us and say `you depict me the way that I am.`"

Also as part of its content, Junonia isn`t afraid to use Kelly herself as an example. She is pictured and quoted prominently throughout the web page and Junonia`s regulars have come to feel they know her. She has her own column where she talks about sports or active hobbies. In a recent column, for example, she talked about frolicking with your dog as well as swimming.

"Anne is seen on our home page and customers regularly send her e-mails where they comment on our clothes or service. They often e-mail her questions about fashion or ask her advice on how to find a particular item or what would look good on them," says Lindmeier.

Additionally, Kelly says she benefits from the e-mails she receives. "Sometimes, I`ll get several e-mails from customers asking for items that we don`t have and it will provide a good opportunity to develop a product," she explains. Additionally, letters that might be considered testimonials--where customers e-mail Kelly expressing pleasure with the product and service--are often featured on the web site.

More rich media

Junonia is continuing to look at new web tools and features that will enhance the sale of its product. "We want to do more with zoom-in photos and color swatching," Kelly says.

But not all tools have the same appeal. "We tried a beta test of a sizing system where customers could put in their measurements and they could see how the item would look on them, but the test was not successful. It was expensive to conduct and we did not see a high conversion rate," Kelly says. "Our customers didn`t` seem interested in it--they know how our sizes fit and they know what they want."

In terms of marketing online, Junonia is using many of the same techniques used by most online retailers. It pays for search placement when potential customers type in such words as plus-size clothing and plus-size active wear, but pays the most for searches that use the most specific language.

It also has an active affiliate marketing program. And because it is specializing in active wear, it is not afraid to affiliate with other plus-size clothing retailers who are selling online--especially those that do not carry a large active wear line.

"While we have paid for searches and gotten good results, our affiliate program has been the most productive for us," Lindmeier says. "We`ve affiliated with some couponing sites with strict controls over how these coupons can be used, but the best sites for us belong to other retailers that have related content."

For example, one of Junonia`s best affiliate partners is SydneysCloset.com, which features plus-size special occasion wear, such as prom dresses and wedding wear. The two sites are similar in that they appeal to customers of the same sizes, but they sell apparel for different occasions, so there is almost no direct competition for sales.

For the near future, Junonia expects to see stronger sales growth in the next year than in the past year, as the economy continues to improve. While she declines to reveal specific numbers, Kelly says last year`s growth was modest. "We`re seeing a stronger economy this year, plus we`ve made some web site improvements that have worked well for us. I think we`ll see a much better year this year," she adds.

The endless quest

In terms of changes, the list of things Kelly wants to do on the site is "endless," she says. "We could work 24 hours a day and still not do everything we want, so we`ll just have to take it one step at a time."

For now, Kelly`s top priorities include beefing up the web content so Junonia.com will show up more prominently in organic search results at Google and Yahoo and reworking the site`s navigational tools to make it even easier for customers to find the exact outfits they are looking for.

But the company isn`t expecting the new tools to be out of the ordinary. Rather, Kelly and Lindmeier are looking for innovation in how they`re used. For instance, Junonia allows customers to reduce the number of e-mails they receive without opting out all together. As another example, while most clothing retailers allow online customers to shop by product category, Junonia allows them to shop by activity category. Rather than requesting to see shorts, shoes, tops or undergarments, as is common with other online clothing retailers, Junonia customers can ask to see clothing for bicycling, jogging or horseback riding. "Our technology is not unique," Lindmeier says. "But how we use it is."

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