We are a specialty retailer of women's apparel, accessories, jewelry and gift items. Founded in 1984 as a catalog company, today we are a multi-channel specialty retailer generating $1.0 billion in net sales in fiscal 2008. Our proprietary merchandise assortment reflects a sophisticated yet relaxed and casual lifestyle. A commitment to providing superior customer service is manifest in all aspects of our business. We serve our customers through our retail and direct segments. Our merchandise assortment, retail stores, catalogs and e-commerce web site are designed to appeal to women who are 35 years of age and older with average annual household incomes in excess of $75,000. Our mission is to become one of the premier specialty retailers for women 35 years of age and older in the United States by offering our customers a compelling merchandise assortment with superior customer service.
Coldwater Creek Brand
The Coldwater Creek brand is synonymous with a sophisticated yet relaxed and casual lifestyle. To maintain and strengthen this brand image we focus our merchandising efforts on the design and development of unique, colorful items with an emphasis on comfort and quality fabrics that provide easy care. Our merchandise is fashionable but not trendy and includes clothing for each aspect of our customer's lifestyle, including soft career, casual weekend wear and special occasion.
We seek to present a consistent brand image throughout all of our marketing and promotion activities. In recent years, we used a broad based marketing strategy of national magazine advertising and catalog circulation to attract new customers while building overall brand awareness. During fiscal 2008 we shifted to a more point-of-sale, in-store focus by concentrating our efforts on maintaining our best customers through programs such as personal shopper. We also continue to attract new customers through select advertising placement. In addition, we are developing traffic drivers through innovative e-mail campaigns, retail mailers and newspaper ads as well as through our loyalty programs (see "Customer Loyalty Programs" below for further discussion).
As a direct-to-consumer retailer we have been able to create an extensive proprietary database of customer information including customer demographics, purchasing history, and geographic proximity to an existing or planned premium retail store. We believe our ability to effectively design and manage our marketing and promotional programs is enhanced by this rich source of information, allowing us to adjust the frequency, timing and content of each program to maximize its benefits.
Customer service has always been a hallmark of the Coldwater Creek brand. We seek to hire associates who are understanding of our customer's needs and relate well to our brand. To ensure that our customer receives the same level of exceptional customer service, ongoing training is provided for all store and customer contact center personnel. The training is focused on company culture, customer service methods and expectations, and product knowledge. To ensure we are providing the level of service customers have come to expect, we monitor customer shopping survey scores, customer comments, conversion rates and other operational metrics on a daily basis. In addition, our customer service programs are designed to facilitate our multi-channel approach. We accept returns through any channel regardless of the initial point of purchase. We also provide in-store web kiosks and assist customers in ordering items through our web site if the desired merchandise is unavailable at their local premium retail store.
Our Multi-Channel Approach
Since the opening of our first premium retail store in November 1999, we have gradually evolved from a direct marketer to a multi-channel specialty retailer. Our merchandise is offered through two distinct operating segments, retail and direct. Our retail segment includes an expanding base of premium retail stores and outlet stores along with our day spa locations, while the direct segment encompasses our direct-to-consumer business through e-commerce and phone and mail operations. Our catalogs are prominently displayed in each premium retail store to encourage customers to continue shopping with us even after they have left our stores. This multi-channel approach also allows us to cross-promote the brand and provides customers with convenient access to our merchandise, regardless of their preferred shopping method.
Information regarding segment performance is included in "Item 7. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations," of this Annual Report on Form 10-K under the heading "Results of Operations—Segment Results." Additionally, selected financial data for our segments is presented in Note 17 to our consolidated financial statements.
Our retail stores are designed to reflect the brand's focus on a casual, unhurried lifestyle, encouraging customers to relax and enjoy their shopping experience. Our prominent storefront display windows and logo signage provide an inviting atmosphere to our shoppers. Store interiors combine an appealing mix of wood décor, stone accents, and other natural materials and colors. Thoughtfully designed merchandise fixtures, water features and leather chairs also help to create a warm, comfortable environment. We also promote and market our retail stores through the use of our catalogs.
We continue to conduct four key seasonal sales events per year in the premium retail stores. Excess merchandise is cleared primarily through our 35 merchandise clearance outlet stores and our e-commerce channel. Unlike many other retailers that specifically develop and produce items for sale through their outlet locations, we use outlets exclusively to manage overstocked premium merchandise.
The key driver of our growth strategy continues to be the retail expansion. We believe there is an opportunity for us to grow our premium retail store base to between 500 to 550 stores in more than 280 identified markets nationwide. In fiscal 2008, we opened 42 premium retail stores, increasing our total premium store count to 348, covering 201 markets. Approximately 42.5 percent of these stores are located in traditional malls, 52.6 percent in lifestyle centers and 4.9 percent in street locations. In addition to our 348 premium retail stores we also had 35 merchandise clearance outlets in operation at the end of fiscal 2008.
Each new store location is identified, analyzed and presented for approval through a collaborative process between our real estate and business intelligence departments. The real estate department uses its experience and current market knowledge to identify potential locations based upon an overall market plan. The business intelligence department then analyzes each location by extracting data and information from our own extensive customer database and combining it with external demographic information. This comprehensive analysis includes such information as projected sales, average consumer age and income level, buying habits and the retail location of competitors within the same trade area.
Based on current macroeconomic conditions, we determined during the third quarter of fiscal 2008 to significantly decrease our store rollout plans for fiscal 2009, and it is our present intention to open no more than ten retail stores during fiscal 2009, the majority of which are planned for opening in the first half of the year. New premium retail stores will average approximately 6,100 square feet. As of March 27, 2009, one store has been opened in the first quarter of fiscal 2009, for a premium retail total store count of 349.
We also operate our Coldwater Creek ~ The Spa concept in nine locations. These day spas offer a complete menu of spa treatments, including massages, facials, body treatments, manicures and pedicures. In addition to spa treatments, the day spas carry an assortment of relevant apparel as well as lines of personal care products for women. Our day spas are staffed with experienced professionals in all treatment areas.
The direct segment consists of sales generated through our e-commerce web site and from orders taken from customers over the phone or though the mail. The direct segment began with the mailing of our first catalog in 1985 and was expanded in 1999 to include our e-commerce business. Our e-commerce web site and catalogs feature full color photographs, graphics and artwork. Utilizing a proprietary process, we primarily present our apparel "off-figure," leaving the customer to decide if an item of merchandise or ensemble is right for her based upon its inherent style and design. All web site and catalog pages are designed by an in-house team of artists, copywriters and editors to ensure a consistent presentation of the Coldwater Creek brand.
Our Web Site. We use the e-commerce web site, www.coldwatercreek.com, to cost-effectively expand our customer base and provide another convenient shopping alternative for customers. The web site features the entire full-price merchandise offering found in our catalogs. It also serves as an efficient promotional vehicle for the disposition of excess inventory. Customers are driven to the web site primarily by our catalogs, e-mail campaigns and online advertising. In addition, we participate in cost-per-click search and revenue share-based affiliate programs whereby numerous popular Internet search engines and consumer and charitable web sites provide direct access to our web site.
Our Catalogs. During fiscal 2008, our merchandise was offered through two core catalog titles: Northcountry and Coldwater Creek, which differentiate the merchandise assortment offered in each title to cater to the various lifestyles of our core customer. Northcountry represents the broadest product assortment, mixing apparel with jewelry, fashion accessories, gift items and home-related hard goods. The Coldwater Creek catalog is designed to drive traffic to our premium retail stores, primarily featuring merchandise that can be found in these stores. We continue to evaluate our catalogs to ensure that we are reaching the greatest number of customers in the most effective and efficient manner possible. As a result, we began offering our merchandise under a single catalog title during late fiscal 2008 and expect to continue to operate under one catalog title during fiscal 2009.