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Women's apparel catalog J. Jill is taking full advantage of a niche it has all to itself, prospecting hard for new customers and seeing the effort pay off handsomely.

DM Management says revenue for its catalog soared to $165 million last year from $18 million in 1995.

Gordon Cooke, president of DM Management, said he "took advantage of an opening in the marketplace." J. Jill filled a competitive void for women ages 35 to 55.

"There's really nothing for someone who used to shop at Banana Republic," which Mr. Cooke said skews to a younger demographic.

To take advantage of J. Jill's lack of competition and establish its brand, DM Management got aggressive last year in searching for new customers.

"We prospected at higher levels," Mr. Cooke said. "Most people mail 80% of a mailing to their house file and go out and test 15% to 20% [new names] to prospective customers."

J. Jill's rental circulation, the lists the company rents from other direct marketers to prospect for new customers, was 31 million in 1998, up from 2 million in '96; this year, it will be roughly 40 million.

"You can never do that if you're not making money on them," Mr. Cook said. And J. Jill does -- new customers average $165 per order.

Mr. Cooke's retail background, most notably his 17 years at Bloomingdale's and his experience launching Bloomingdale's by Mail in 1979, taught him to think outside the direct marketing box.

"We were a traditional direct marketing company," he said, "and I kept thinking we should be a fashion merchandising company."

Continued aggressive growth is in the cards for J. Jill: By yearend, its e-commerce site will be off the ground, and in March 2000, the cataloger will open its first retail location, with another five to 10 stores slated for the

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