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Stein Mart Campaign Makes Call to 'Sisterhood'

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Women love to dish about a good deal.

That's the strategy behind Stein Mart's first national TV campaign, which takes the focus off the discount-store chain's merchandise with simple testimonials from female shoppers about value and quality. "We dubbed it the 'sisterhood strategy' because women love to tell their friends when they've found the deal," said Tim Fisher, vp, creative director at longtime Stein Mart agency Fry Hammon Barr.

Eight TV spots launch in mid-October from the Orlando, Fla.-based independent shop. In the work, actual Stein Mart shoppers are seated before a white screen and talk to the camera, with the intention of recreating the intimacy of a friend sharing a well-kept secret.

"When I come home from Stein Mart, I like to show my husband how much I've saved him," says one woman. Another says, "I see it. I buy it. Instant gratification."

The campaign is tagged, "Once you go, you get it."

Previous FHB ads for Stein Mart—which has 265 stores in 28 states, primarily in Sunbelt markets such as Florida, Texas and California—focused on merchandise. Print ads showed models wearing the clothes and shots of products and prices. There was no tagline, but lines such as "Fashion quality, always discount prices," and "Stein Mart, what a pleasant surprise" were used consistently.

Stein Mart, which has grown from 100 stores eight years ago, offers discounts on fashions and home accessories in a department-store environment. The chain intends to fill a niche between discounters such as TJ Maxx and upscale department-store chains like those of Federated.

FHB has handled advertising for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Stein Mart—whose sales have grown 6.7 percent from $1.3 billion for the fiscal year 2001 to $1.4 billion for the fiscal year 2002—since 1991. When the chain decided to do a national campaign, it put the project up for review in March.

After hearing pitches from WestWayne in Tampa, Fla., and Interpublic Group's The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., both larger than FHB's 50-person, $50 million operation, Stein Mart stuck with the incumbent. "They wanted to see a lot of ideas, because they were going national," said Guy Stephens, vp, brand planning at FHB.

Stein Mart, No. 9 in the apparel-chain category—The Gap is No. 1 with 2002 sales of $14.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation's Stores—is dwarfed by The TJX Cos.' TJ Maxx and Marshalls, which had combined sales of $12 billion in 2002 and together spent $60 million on advertising.

Spending is expected to increase from last year's $15 million, but officials declined to say by how much.

"[Stein Mart needs] to make sure the net of this is to make the customer realize how they're different from Macy's, Kohl's or Wal-Mart," said Kelly O'Keefe, chairman at marketing consultancy Emergence Brand Labs in Richmond.