January 27 2004 12:00 AM ET
Pier 1 has a new queer eye
Pier 1 Imports' new marketing campaign pairs a popular television niche, home decorating, with one of the genre's stars: Thom Filicia of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. With the success of shows like Trading Spaces and Queer Eye, it was time for Pier 1 to capitalize on the home decorating trend, said Phil Schneider, executive vice president for Pier 1 marketing. "We wanted somebody that was renowned as a decorator-expert, and Thom certainly has been well-connected in his career," said Marvin J. Girouard, chairman and chief executive officer of the Fort Worth, Tex.-based chain. "He's done some things that we think will really play well into the type of merchandising and advertising that we're going to."
The Bravo channel's Queer Eye makeover show features five gay men helping straight men transform their style from slovenly to chic in five categories: fashion, food and wine, interior design, grooming, and culture. Filicia is the "design doctor." Starting in March, Filicia will appear in Pier 1 Imports commercials that show him helping customers find decorative furnishings that reflect their personal style. He replaces actress Kirstie Alley, who for three years was the company's celebrity spokesperson for a "Get in Touch With Your Senses" campaign. Filicia's sexuality will likely be a nonissue with most Pier 1 customers, one analyst said. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has been pretty successful, so that takes the pressure off Pier 1," said Thomas Cline, associate professor of marketing at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
Filicia also will help Pier 1 distinguish itself from competitors, such as Bed Bath & Beyond or Crate and Barrel, another analyst said. "I think they've probably done a pretty good job in picking this guy out," said Bill Baldwin, an analyst at Baldwin Anthony Securities. Filicia was named one of America's top designers by House Beautiful and owns the New York design company Thom Filicia Inc. He said he uses Pier 1 items in his designs, so he had no problem signing up as a pitchman for a year. "There's so much personality in their pieces," Filicia said. "This is a store where you can really express yourself."
Pier 1 started in 1962 as a single store in California. The company moved to Fort Worth in 1966 and now boasts more than $1.7 billion in sales and more than 1,200 stores in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In the late 1980s the company evolved from "a funky import company," Girouard said, carrying items such as beanbags and beaded curtains, to a retailer carrying affordable home furnishings and decorating accessories. "We've established our brand," Girouard said. "It's unique. It's a good value. And I think to go the next step--to really establish that Pier 1 is a place you ought to consider if you're buying home furnishings and accessories--we need some credibility relative to a designer saying this is a great place."
"Is there risk involved in big change? Absolutely," Girouard said. "But there's much more risk involved in not changing things." Choosing Filicia to anchor a marketing campaign is one of those changes. "Thom Filicia is a bold move, but one that makes sense given his credibility as a designer and the popularity of the show he is on now," said Laura Richardson, an analyst in equity research at Adams, Harkness, and Hill.