Coldwater Creek, a popular women's casual apparel catalog, once saw online shopping as the wave of the future.
"We were one of the first retailers to go online. But we learned if we were ever going to get a lot bigger, we needed stores," said David Gunter, spokesman for the company that changed course after the dot-com bust. "After all, that's where 92 percent of all apparel is sold."
Coldwater Creek distributes 14-million catalogs a year and lays claim to 2 percent of all women's apparel sold on the Internet. But its 65th store - the first one south of Atlanta - opens Nov. 6 at International Plaza in Tampa.
The company, which competes directly with Chico's and Talbots, has 120,000 mail-order customers in the Tampa Bay area. So with 30 to 40 more new stores scheduled to open in 2004, Tampa Bay is not seen as a one-store market.
Befitting any retailer founded in rural Sandpoint, Idaho, Coldwater Creek has a quirky history. Co-founded by a New York ad copywriter and her husband after he left a hectic career as national marketing director for Sony Corp. video products, Coldwater Creek started out as a mail-order business in 1984. Dennis and Ann Pence started their get-back-to-nature brochure with a line of 18 items that included bird calls, binoculars and Native American jewelry. They took orders over the kitchen phone. They used a closet as the warehouse.
After some tasteful nature-themed T-shirts and sweatshirts sold well, the Pences steered the business to their own apparel and accessory lines. Sales in 2002 were $473-million. The average customer is a working women age 30 to 60 with household income of $75,000. "She has more discretionary income than time to spend it," the company said.
The Tampa store is a prototype designed to faster meet a long-term goal of having 500 Coldwater Creek stores. It's half the size of its predecessors, so Coldwater Creek can open twice as many and have room to stock all three of its basic lifestyle groupings. The chain has invited stock analysts who follow the company for an inspection tour of the Tampa store before Christmas.