Ric Della Bernarda: Marketing maven

MR Magazine‘s Retailer of the Year: Casual Male Retail Group

There are few in the industry who know as much about marketing as Ric Della Bernarda. A Fashion Institute of Technology graduate with a strong aptitude for numbers, he’s been with CMRG for the past 18 years, starting out as an ad director when Casual Male was part of J. Baker. “I was lucky: I had a chance to work for various divisions and learn the nuances of the business. I had a plethora of different retail/marketing experiences and was able to advance my career beyond the creative. Most people change jobs every few years to get ahead; I drive to the same place every day and change jobs within the company.”

According to Della Bernarda, DXL is clearly CMRG’s most exciting initiative. “The goal is twofold: to get existing customers into DXL stores where they’ll experience the full assortment and buy more, and to acquire new customers.”

DXL’s media plan involves using broad reach media, something they had moved away from in recent years. “Within each market, we do a three-week blitz of radio, television and print ads. The creative on the TV commercial is stop-motion photography. Our objective is twofold: 1)to show the huge assortment offered at DXL (the TV commercial features more than 100 outfits in 30 seconds, which is pretty cool…), and 2) to show the environment of the store. We’re also doing Facebook and YouTube and radio tie-ins and giveaways that include tech items (iPads, flat screens, GPS devices) and tickets to sporting events (with every $400 purchase, the customer gets tickets to an NBA or NHL game). These are great incentives for customers to come in and shop.”

Della Bernarda reiterates that big and tall customers want to be treated like anyone else in terms of both their apparel choices and how they’re marketed to. “We have the largest big and tall database in the world; we’ve been collecting customer information for 20 years. So we consider ourselves highly customer-centric in our decision making and in providing services. Using an outside partner (CFI), we do research on what our customers want in terms of product and stores. We also have an in-house committee that responds on a monthly basis to that information.”

Asked for CMRG’s key success secret over the past several decades, Della Bernarda is thoughtful. “We have truly evolved by listening to our customers and growing our market. Casual Male started as an off-price men’s apparel store (I admit it: I used to shop there as a kid) that added some big and tall. J. Baker bought them because they were profitable. When I started here we had 185 stores; we saw opportunities, bought Repp, then Rochester to capture the upscale business. Listening to our customers, we created a home/accessories line for plus size men and women about five years ago. We also saw an opportunity to gain share from our lower-priced competition so we developed a factory outlet business. No one else specialized in extended size footwear so we created Shoes XL. It’s about listening to our customers and expanding our market accordingly. And it’s this evolution that’s made us successful. While not a lot of people are opening specialty stores these days, we’ve created a department store concept for a specialty niche market. It’s pretty revolutionary when you think about it…”

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