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Postal Service plans all-weather clothing line: Smart move or desperation?

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In other words, the kind of hip athletic/tech/all-season apparel that might appeal to say, a computer-programmer-tech-enthusiast who enjoys listening to Linkin Park on his iPod while snowboarding with his buddies – in a Postal Service-emblazoned jacket, of course.

Besides jackets, the line will include headgear, footwear, and clothing that incorporates smart technology, says Mr. Betts.

“It’s incorporating technology that originated in the military ... and is now available commercially,” he says. “Being able to put wiring in fabric and other material that will allow you to monitor, respond, listen, and connect to your devices.”

(Interestingly, this isn’t the first time the Postal Service introduced a retail line. It rolled out a line of T-shirts, mugs, and neckties in the 1980s, which were sold in post offices until Congress complained that it was competing with private businesses.)

This time, perhaps recognizing its place in the natural order of things, the Postal Service is staying out of the actual designing of the clothing. Wahconah Group will design, manufacture, and place clothing in retail locations, including department and specialty stores, while the Postal Service will simply license its name, and hopefully, collect royalty fees.

The move, says Betts, is as much about re-envisioning the Postal Service’s brand as bringing in revenue.

“It’s brand reputation with revenue generation,” he says. “The Postal Service is facing challenges, and we are looking to be more innovative and responsive to the marketplace.”

In recent years the Postal Service has faced more than rough weather and choleric canines. The beleaguered agency reported losses nearing $16 billion last year and is scrambling to close a $20 billion budget gap in 2013. As part of that plan the Postal Service recently announced it will end Saturday mail delivery this summer, a move that will cut 22,000 jobs and save $2 billion.

The Rain Heat & Snow clothing line looks to be part of the agency’s effort to plug its yawning budget gap – and revamp its listing reputation – but retail analysts are divided on the venture’s potential for success.

“The Postal Service is not going to be successful with this whatsoever,” says Hitha Prabhakar, an author and retail analyst. “The USPS is not a sexy brand … and has been losing its brand gravitas for so long, I don’t know who would want to wear a US Postal Service shirt or pair of shorts.”

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