Montgomery Ward plans to re-enter catalog market


CHICAGO -- Montgomery Ward & Co., which ran the nation's first mail-order business, said yesterday that it plans a cautious re-entry into the catalog market it abandoned as unprofitable six years ago.

This time around, Ward's catalog offerings will be far more specialized, sophisticated, lower-cost and probably smaller in scale than the $1.2 billion business it closed in 1985, according to Bernard Brennan, chairman and chief executive officer.

"This business should not be confused with the old, traditional general catalog," he said. He was careful to draw a distinction between Ward's former big-book-style catalog, which offered just about anything from Ward's stores, and the new plan to send small specialty books to carefully targeted customers.

With its new strategy, the company hopes to carve itself a niche in the large population of aggressive specialty mail-order marketers, a business that is expected to grow much more slowly this year than in the last few years but still faster than business at most general retailers.

And in a striking difference from its former mail-order business, which dated to the company's founding in 1872, Montgomery Ward will not operate the catalog business by itself, Mr. Brennan said.

Instead, it will rely on partnerships with about 20 existing specialty catalog firms, whose publications will be mailed to selected customers among Ward's 10 million active credit-card holders.

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