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NEIMAN MARCUS IS LOOKING FAR EAST;CHRISTMAS CATALOG BRINGS RETAILER'S STYLISH, TEXAN CACHET TO JAPANESE

By Published on .

Each fall, close to 3 million U.S. shoppers await the arrival of the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog nearly as eagerly as the holiday season itself. The retailer/direct marketer is about to find out whether brand-conscious Japanese consumers will get in the same spirit.

On Sept. 18, Neiman Marcus Co. will launch its first overseas marketing effort, mailing the 1996 Christmas catalog to as many as 100,000 Japanese buyers.

INTERNATIONAL OPPORTUNITY

"Japan offers an opportunity to expand internationally after good success and growth in the U.S.," said Bernard D. Feiwus, president-CEO of Neiman Marcus Direct, who is eyeing international markets that are growing faster than the company's mature $250 million U.S. catalog business. "We believe Japan offers us our biggest opportunity because consumers are upscale, the mail delivery systems are good and the population is large."

More Japanese-particularly younger people-celebrate Christmas by exchanging gifts even though Buddhism remains the predominant religion.

The 140-page catalog, filled with exotic and pricey items, is bound to attract attention.

Take the $75,000 customized Jaguar convertible, the $1.6 million diamond-embedded rosewood stereo cabinet or the $195,000 professionally decorated Airstream trailer in the '96 catalog. Or the well-known brands like Chanel, Gucci, Lalique and Steuben.

Neiman Marcus isn't veering from its U.S. roots; the Japanese version of the catalog will be almost identical to the original. There are a few exceptions, such as food items that might have spoiled during overseas shipments. In their place are two high-profile items that have proved popular in previous U.S. catalogs: a mechanical riding bull and a $1,400, five-day trip to a Texas ranch.

COWBOY CULTURE

"The Japanese are enchanted with the American past, which includes the cowboy," said Jo Marie Lilly, senior VP-advertising and public relations at Neiman Marcus Direct. "Because we are a Texas company, we wanted to bring some of this culture to our official entry into the Japanese market."

According to the Direct Marketing Association, the U.S. catalog business in Japan has grown rapidly to $750 million in sales. Whether an unfamiliar U.S. name like Neiman Marcus can succeed in image-conscious Japan, though, remains to be seen.

But Mr. Feiwus said he believes he has found a unique formula for the catalog's debut. Instead of buying mailing lists for direct marketing of the catalog, Neiman Marcus has been building awareness since April 1996 by placing Japanese-language ads in upscale magazines, large circulation newspapers and mail-order publications.

The campaign also includes promotional inserts in credit card mailings. Handled by the Tokyo office of J. Walter Thompson Co., ads offer subscriptions to the Japanese catalog for $13.50, more than double the $6.50 U.S. price tag for the Christmas catalog.

GOAL: 100,000 CATALOGS

"The response for subscriptions has been very encouraging," Mr. Feiwus said. "No doubt we will reach our objective of 100,000 catalogs."

One incentive for Japanese shoppers is prices equal to those offered in the U.S. version, though many U.S. catalogers raise their prices for Japan. Shipping charges will be at least double the amounts for U.S. orders, however.

Mr. Feiwus decided to test the Asian market after promising results from yearlong Japanese tests of two other Neiman Marcus-owned catalogs, Horchow and Trifles.

"Judging from the business potential we saw there, we think that we can build a direct marketing business for Neiman Marcus in Japan," he said. "We're at the infancy stage now."

Contributing: Jane Hodges.

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