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

You might not have thought 'haute couture' the last time you saw your postman, but that's about to change. The Postal Service is promising all-weather gear embedded with military tech.

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

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“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.”

Retail expert Doug Fleener sees the clothing line as a relatively risk-free move for the Postal Service that dovetails with its image.

“What I thought was smart, what I like about it, is it’s all-weather gear,” says Mr. Fleener, president and managing partner of Dynamic Experiences Group, a retail and customer experience consulting firm in Lexington, Mass. “If I think about battling the elements, there’s probably no other company or organization that stands out more than the post office. To some degree, that’s kind of smart of them.”

“The Postal Service gets so much criticism. Their hands are tied and they don’t have a lot of options,” adds Fleener. “I give them credit – they found a way to drive risk-free revenue.”

Both Ms. Prabhakar and Fleener say the move is a form of brand extension not uncommon in the market for struggling labels.

“I think whenever you have a struggling brand – whether it’s the USPS or a designer that was once really luminary and has since lost its luster – I think brands [reinvent themselves] by starting alternate clothing lines,” says Prabhakar. “It’s brand extension in the form of clothes.”

As such, says Fleener, the Postal Service is “following the lead of a lot of brands out there that do licensing deals.”

Will the Postal Service’s latest venture reap rewards?

In fact, licensing has revived some companies, like Sharper Image, which went out of business and came back due to licensing deals, says Fleener.

Still, he doesn’t expect the agency’s new clothing line will rake in huge profits.

“It’s not going to generate a lot of revenue,” he says, “It will give them some nice publicity around an area of strength for the Postal Service.”

His advice for the agency as it tests the fickle waters of fashion? Stick to what it does best.

“Don’t try to overextend,” he says. “I’m not sure I want to wear Postal Service swim trunks.”

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