RETAIL CHAINS SUIT UP FOR BATTLE: SPECIALTY COMPETITORS SPUR AGENCY SEARCH FOR EXPRESS; I.N.C.'S 1ST TV

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The Limited Inc. is hiring an ad agency to help reposition its Express division, while Federated Department Stores aims to shore up its I.N.C. private-label line with its first-ever TV campaign.

These are the latest moves the retailers are making to keep pace with high-stepping sales and revenue gains posted by specialty retail rivals with strong private-label products such as The Gap.

For the month of February, Gap's sales far outpaced those of both The Limited and Federated. Gap's sales jumped 32%, to $548 million compared with a 5% rise for The Limited to $634 million. Federated's sales inched up less than 1% during the period, to $1.1 billion.

WEBCAST SUCCESS SPURS OPTIMISM

Once cautious about spending on advertising but now flush with the success of its Victoria's Secret lingerie Webcast for Valentine's Day, The Limited is in the process of negotiating a contract with an undisclosed East Coast advertising agency for Express, its first.

The chain, targeted to women in their 20s, has been experiencing lackluster sales and is undergoing a repositioning that will incorporate the concept of expressing delivery of international fashions to its stores in record time.

Ed Razek, president-chief marketing officer for The Limited, was unavailable for comment on the agency selection. But a spokeswoman confirmed the review had been conducted.

At a recent meeting with analysts, The Limited also indicated it would consider closing its core Limited store chain if its performance cannot be improved.

Federated, meanwhile, trying to compete with retailers such as The Limited, which control all aspects of product selection from manufacture to store display, has begun its first broadcast effort for its I.N.C. (International Concepts) brand.

'GET NOTICED'

In the spot by DeVito/Verdi, New York, supermodel Heidi Klum walks down the street with a sexy swagger. When she passes a dog tied to a parking meter, the dog tries to follow her, eventually pulling the meter out of the concrete.

The spot broke in Los Angeles last week and is slated for rollout this spring into all Federated's markets. It's tagged "Get noticed." DeVito/Verdi declined comment.

Joe Feczko, recently named to the new post of exec VP-Federated marketing services, was unavailable for comment on the spot or his plans for future ad campaigns for Federated's private-label brands, which have sales in the range of $1.6 billion annually. But he said in an interview with Advertising Age a year ago that he was looking for agencies to help him make those products as well-known among consumers as other Federated brands, such as Charter Club and Tools

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