Sits out upfront: Pier 1 regroups after sales disappointment

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Faced with increased competition and sliding sales, Pier 1 Imports is going back to the drawing board for media strategy and creative.

The housewares retailer has decided to sit out the network upfront marketplace in favor of a new media plan emphasizing local advertising and will overhaul its campaign with spokesman Thom Filica in July following a disappointing start to the fiscal year that began in March.

In a panel discussion at the American Advertising Federation annual conference, Phil Schneider, exec VP-marketing, was honest about some of the retailer's challenges. "We are going through a period of transition where we are starting to look at things that aren't working," he said.

Comparable store sales for last quarter were down 1.8% and, in a conference call with analysts, Chairman-CEO Marvin Girouard said April sales slowed after the Easter weekend-April 10 and 11-and "could not get momentum after that."

Pier 1 used to have the market to itself, said Mr. Schneider, but now retailers such as Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware target higher ends of the market, while Target Stores threatens at the lower end. "They are a great brand and they stand for something," but the competitive space is becoming crowded, said Randy Curtis, marketing strategist at BuenoCurtis Relational Marketing, a retail consultant based in Rogers, Ark.

Pier 1 plans to thin out its assortment to focus more on "unique products" that can't be found in other stores and less on commodities such as dishes and candles, said Mr. Girouard. Those products will be showcased more thoroughly in newspaper inserts starting in August, he said.

`be a better pier 1'

"They are doing exactly what I'd advocate," said Mr. Curtis, a former VP-creative at Wal-Mart Stores. "They need to be a better Pier 1, not compete with the Wal-Marts of the world."

Mr. Girouard said ads featuring designer Thom Filicia, which broke March 11, "were not as effective as they could have been and did not emphasize Thom's strength and credibility." New ads coming in July will show the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" star using Pier 1 products in home environments. The previous ads showed Mr. Filicia interacting with customers in a store. Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., is Pier 1's agency.

Mr. Schneider said Pier 1 has pulled out of the upfront marketplace and will instead buy strategically in the scatter market. With media more fragmented and network TV ever more expensive, Pier 1 wants to replace its traditional national advertising with more locally oriented ads. By pulling out of the upfront, the company has a better opportunity to react in local markets, he said. "We felt a need to have more control to spend when and how we need it," he said.

contributing: ira teinowitz

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