The Ones to Watch

May 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

Every industry has its rising stars, and the multichannel marketplace is no exception. Given the complexities of operating in more than one channel, the skill sets needed to excel today are increasingly sophisticated, yet a solid understanding of direct marketing basics remains key. We asked our industry contacts to help us find those whose command of the necessary skills sets them apart from the masses. You may know some of these people, you may have never heard of others. Either way, we predict you’re going to be hearing about these folks a lot more in the future. You can read about the next generation of movers and shakers beginning on page 18.

The multichannel maven

Who: Brendan Edgerton, director of marketing campaign management for Broomfield, CO-based office products distributor Corporate Express since September 2004

Why: Edgerton’s achievements include developing a “chronic nonresponder” database for prospect improvement and cadence testing, which tests the frequency of contacts and type of media certain customers respond to. He also developed successful reactivation/retention models; improved contact center performance through finder-file implementation and better sourcing measures; improved forecasting by modifying order curve projections and catalog delivery tracking; and created a versioning strategy that resulted in a 10% lift by targeting buyers with specific creative based on their prior purchases.

“His willingness to think outside the box is a clear differentiator,” says Adam Slackman, a client executive at New York-based marketing services provider Experian. Slackman first worked with Edgerton in 2002, when the latter headed direct marketing for the FootSmart catalog. “He has a preternatural ability to analyze data and customer behavior and also holds a deep understanding of the limitations of data management systems, so he is effectively in a position to develop marketing strategies, along with the physical solutions to put his ideas into action.”

How he got here: Edgerton sharpened his direct marketing skills at Herbert Krug and Associates, an Evanston, IL-based consulting firm. “The hook was that they would allow me to use my creative skills among other responsibilities,” he says. “The creative side soon translated into writing five-line space ads for the Crate & Barrel catalog in the back of Gourmet magazine and the like, so I quickly proceeded down more-quantitative routes there. A full-service shop, we did list brokerage, list management, merge/purge, creative and merchandise evaluation, and strategic planning for both b-to-b and b-to-c. It was an ideal place to start in direct marketing.”

He joined Crate & Barrel as a direct marketing manager in 1998. At the Northbrook, IL-based cataloger/retailer, Edgerton developed quantitative methods for evaluating in-store response from catalog mailings and grew the retail and direct programs. “Developing that link between outbound direct mail and in-store response also allowed us to plan and map our areas for new store locations,” he says.

In 2002, Edgerton joined Norcross, GA-based manufacturer/marketer Benchmark Brands, the parent company of FootSmart. “When I was there the FootSmart catalog became the nation’s second-largest healthcare catalog, and we were consistently ranked among the fastest-growing U.S. catalog companies,” he says. “We were quite creative in lowering our marketing cost there and were able to use very deep universes relative to our size for prospecting. Cost reduction was a focus, and when I came on I was able to reduce many areas by double-digit figures — as much as 50% in the areas of merge/purge, postal optimization, comailing, list costs, and paper. That allowed us to leverage a very low breakeven for continued growth and profitability.”

Circulation for FootSmart jumped from 10.9 million in 2001 to 24.5 million in 2003 and a plan of 30.5 million in 2004. Catalog sales rose from $13.4 million in 2001 to $25.4 million in 2003 and a plan for $31.4 million in 2004.

A day in the life: At Corporate Express, Edgerton oversees all outbound marketing campaigns and manages marketing database and vendor relationships. “We’re a large, stable organization with a relatively new focus on integrated marketing, direct marketing, e-mail marketing, data mining, and Website optimization, and that creates space to be entrepreneurial and immediately effective within a mature $4.5 billion organization,” he says.

Edgerton says his department’s campaigns are integrated with the efforts of the sales teams. “In the past 12 months we’ve grown from very little outbound campaigning and prospecting to now being responsible for 20% of the U.S. new-customer acquisition,” he says. “My focus now is on growing our staff, increasing our marketing sophistication, and building up programs that enhance our retention and penetration across all customer segments and lines of business.”

Medio Waldt, vice president of marketing for Corporate Express and Edgerton’s boss, points to Edgerton’s clear understanding of the need to measure results. “He has been on the cutting edge in developing processes to do just that,” says Waldt. “We have an ROI on every campaign we have run since he has come on board.”

Point of pride: “My ability to work with colleagues, strategic partners, and vendors to create new solutions and applications that improve on the fundamentals of direct response,” Edgerton says. “Whether it is enhancing the models a vendor builds for us, negotiating a paper contract with a partner, engaging in a catalog critique with an agency, or building cross-company databases, there are always things you can learn from smart peers and the industry veterans.”

Looking ahead: “My five-year plan would include building up a strong team here to face the challenges we know we will have as we grow and expand our capabilities. Leveraging the experience from these three very different top catalog companies has been a rare opportunity. B-to-b marketing has a lot to learn from the sophistication on the consumer side, and I think that will be a big part of what I continue to bring to this space. My plan is to work to increase our ability to leverage intelligent communication with our customer base.”

Marathon man: Edgerton knows a little something about endurance and setting one’s sights on the long haul, as he has participated in several marathons and triathlons.
Jim Tierney

The diva of data

Who: Michelle Teufel, group product information architect for Premier Farnell, the parent company of Chicago-based Newark InOne

Why: Shortly after being promoted from director of data development for Newark InOne in 2004, Teufel took responsibility for integrating product data across Leeds, U.K.-based Premier Farnell’s global catalog, e-commerce, and sales channels. When Teufel realized that the distributor of electronic and engineering components didn’t have the necessary tools for global product information integration, she went on a self-proclaimed warpath to secure funding for the tools. Teufel says she made enough noise about it that executives recognized the need and granted her the resources.

Top-quality product data are essential to the strategic and competitive proposition of distribution companies, says Susan Fischer, Newark InOne’s senior vice president of marketing/e-commerce, and Teufel has seized and accepted this “small challenge” by leading the implementation of information management technologies.

The data integration took nearly two years to complete. Teufel says 2005 was a true vetting of the system, as the corporate mentality shifted from focusing on an annual print catalog to understanding the equal importance of the Internet as a source of information. “Everyone’s bought into that it works, and they’re feeding into both channels,” Teufel says.

“Part of Michelle’s success is the result of her ability to build consensus at all levels in an organization,” says Phil Myers, data/information architect at J&L Industrial Supply, who worked with Teufel at the Southfield, MI-based metalworking tools distributor from 1999 to 2001. “This requires strong analytical skills, an ability to learn the lingo of different groups, and a willingness to compromise.”

How she got here: Teufel started out seven years ago in content development and delivery when she got involved in aligning print production with information flow to the Web at J&L Industrial. She joined Newark InOne in September 2001 as director of data development working with its product data. Responsibilities included streamlining the procedures for processing data. Today she heads the strategic planning and alignment of information management technologies and processes across multiple business units in support of global multimedia and multichannel information publishing and delivery.

Point of pride: “A real big thing for me is getting the partnership and collaboration going between the EAP [Europe/Asia Pacific] region and U.S.,” Teufel says. “They didn’t really talk together before, and now they do.” As part of the integration, product information was synched so that each Premier Farnell group would treat data the same, ensuring consistency across channels. Two “Centers for Excellence” — one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. — regulate the data. “One of the things we knew would be a challenge for us is keeping the divisions aligned and keeping the same processes in place,” Teufel says.

Teufel is also proud of her efforts to have IT, as well as those working on the catalog, “own” the data system. While the catalog group members are typically Mac users, Teufel says data employees aren’t, and that difference was an initial stumbling block. Now, she says, both groups of people, along with management, have taken ownership of the product data system and consider it one of Premier Farnell’s core systems. Additionally, both the EAP and U.S. groups are taking note of the other’s initiatives and using them to better their own.

There’s no “I” in team: “Michelle is unusually good at building a strong vision and then making it happen,” says Myers. While a project manager at J&L Industrial, Teufel led a similar initiative to centralize the company’s product data and streamline the processes for publishing product data on the Web and in print.

Myers says Teufel excels when faced with the challenge of getting people from different areas to work together and build efficient, cross-functional processes that serve a company’s business goals. “It’s easy to get distracted by internal politics, cool technology, or vendor relationship issues. Michelle somehow maintains a strong focus without developing tunnel vision, and in the end, the right things get done,” he says.

Looking ahead: Teufel plans to continue streamlining the system to improve reporting and data feeds. Currently data for special order products, which are not included in the catalog or continuously stocked but which Newark InOne supplies to customers on request, are processed “behind the scenes.” Integrating these items would improve operations by feeding all orders through the same pipeline with no noticeable difference to the customer.

Premier Farnell also intends to launch a Chinese catalog later this year. Teufel says she will contract with outside help to manage the data from China because no one at the company can read or speak the language.

International relations: During Premier Farnell’s global product data integration, Teufel traveled to the U.K. every few weeks, even renting a flat to stay in while there. Teufel says she initially sensed an attitude among her British colleagues of “here comes another know-it-all American.” Little did they know that she was actually born in Hertford, England, having moved to the States when she was 13 and later becoming a U.S. citizen. After she revealed that tidbit, Teufel says, the dynamic shifted and became more accepting. On the flip side, Teufel’s colleagues back in the U.S. hadn’t known about her British background. The time she spent in the U.K. on the project was a homecoming of sorts, she says.
Heather Retzlaff

The outside insider

Who: Herb Goetschius, president/chief operating officer of Tampa, FL-based McNichols Co., a direct marketer that has been supplying “metal products with holes” — wire mesh for automobile grills, planks for walkways, and the like — primarily to metalworking and welding shops since 1952

Why: Having been with McNichols since 1977, Goetschius became president — and the first nonfamily member to hold the position — in January 2005. Last year sales rose more than 14%, from $120 million in 2004 to $140 million, due in no small part to the company’s expansion into international sales with the opening of an office in Monterrey, Mexico, in May 2005.

Goetschius pushed to move into Mexico because McNichols already had a strong customer following there. “My thinking was that this was a low-risk place to start,” he says.

In addition to the international expansion, Goetschius says that the improving economy boosted the company’s top and bottom lines. But McNichols’s organic growth also resulted from a combination of initiatives, including greater collaboration with its largest vendors; increased value-added services in fabrication, or special orders; more-scientific inventory management; and the use of advanced technology for Website enhancements and internal software development.

“I think my biggest contribution during 2004-2005 was helping establish those collaborative ties with our vendors,” Goetschius says. “I have emphasized a customer-centered track through focus groups and secret shoppers designed to improve customer service at all touchpoints.”

McNichols has offered custom orders or “specials” since the company was founded, but Goetschius says that the art of fabrication has paid the biggest dividends lately. The company offers a wide variety of fabrication options — cutting, welding, custom stair treads and metal finishes — saving customers both time and money. “I did push to emphasize fabrication,” says Goetschius. “We were able to bring in staff who had more experience with specialized fabrication, and that has improved customer retention rates.”

“Herb has what you might call a servant’s heart,” says Gene McNichols, the company’s chairman/CEO, who’d served as president for 30 years before appointing Goetschius to succeed him. “He has a unique responsibility here to link with family members, mentoring both my sons.”

How he got here: Goetschius began his career with McNichols as its general manager, after a five-year stint as a rate and financial analyst for the Toledo Edison Co.

“Coming from a company that was extremely localized, when I started with McNichols I hoped to find a company with aspirations to become more national — where people were appreciated as individuals,” Goetschius says. “It might sound trite, but if your thinking falls along the lines of ‘if internal personel are satisfied, then external customers will be satisfied,’ I think you’re on the right track.”

A day in the life: When Goetschius became president last year, he had to change his focus from running the company’s day-to-day operations to a more strategic point of view — a mission that CEO McNichols says he accomplished nearly overnight with eye-popping results: “Herb negotiated and completed the acquisition of a key competitor [F.P. Smith Wire Cloth Co. in February 2005] while spearheading the opening of our new service center in Monterrey. He also led the development of partnership agreements with several key suppliers and helped us focus heavily on customer retention through customer focus groups and our secret-shopping program.”

Looking ahead: Satisfied with the company’s initial foray into international sales, Goetschius is now looking to expand into China. “Our eyes have been on China primarily on the supply side because of its low labor rates,” he says. “And we are currently developing internal systems within our Mexico operation, which will help us determine where we go next.” McNichols has been contacted by several Chinese companies and has drawn additional interest from companies in India, though it has no immediate plans to expand there.

“We have a goal of someday becoming a $200 million company,” Goetschius says. “Our five-year strategic plan is designed to continuously grow revenue annually by focusing on customer service that promotes loyalty, expansion of sales channels, new products, new markets, and acquisitions and advanced technology.”
John Fischer

The (not very) old hand

Who: Ken Ellingsen, president of Hudson, OH-based Universal Screen Arts, the parent company of the Art & Artifact, Signals, Wireless, and What on Earth gifts catalogs

Why: Hired in September 2005, a year and a half after Universal acquired Signals and Wireless from Target Corp., Ellingsen is expected by some to grow Universal from a below-the-radar merchant to an industry player on a par with his previous company, HSN Catalog Services, where he served as president for four years prior to joining Universal.

“What he brings to Universal Screen Arts is a great sense of merchandising and marketing,” says Steve Bogner, president of list brokerage and management firm NRL Direct. “If you’re smart, you can find the right people, but it also takes a great merchant who knows his way around the world, and that’s what they got in Ken.”

How he got here: Ellingsen entered the direct marketing field in 1982 when he joined Lake Geneva, WA-based technology company Primex, where president Fred Koermer took him under his wing. From there he went to work as marketing manager at tool cataloger Leichtung Workshops in 1989.

“I knew right away he was a very bright and hard-working man,” says East Greenwich, RI-based consultant Coy Clement, who was Leichtung Workshops’ president at the time. “I was incredibly impressed by his seriousness about the job and his high level of integrity.”

When Clement launched the Improvements catalog of household maintenance products in 1992, he took Ellingsen along as marketing manager. “He got the idea right away, and I let him run and manage the business and take it to where it went,” Clement says. “He learned quickly and wanted to prove himself.” Apparently he did, eventually becoming president of the catalog.

Ellingsen remained with Improvements when it was bought by Hanover Direct in 1994 and when home shopping network HSN acquired it in 2001. He became head of HSN Catalog Services, and it was on his watch that HSN acquired the Alsto’s catalog business, a competitor of Improvements and HSN’s other title, Home Focus.

The goal remains the same: Ellingsen’s goal at Universal Screen Arts is the same as his goal has been at his other stops: to develop a solid management team capable of achieving the significant growth outlined in the strategic plan, through both organic growth and acquisitions.

“There’s a challenge to building a team,” Ellingsen says. “I’m working well with the people we have at hand and putting the right processes and procedures in place to ensure we can all do our jobs better and to make their jobs better.” He singles out his colleagues’ solid work ethic and skill sets as providing Universal with an excellent opportunity for continued growth.

“The broader the base, the more you can provide other people,” Ellingsen says. “People [at Universal] have accepted the changes I want to bring because they know I’ve been successful and have learned from the best. They know what we need to do and what I have done in the past to achieve growth.”

No Mr. Know-It-All: “Ken is a good guy, a good merchant, professional, treats venders well,” NRL Direct’s Bogner says. “And I’ve never seen him raise his voice. He doesn’t have all the answers, but he’s willing to listen to others.”

He’s also willing to hone seemingly trivial skills for the sake of business. For instance, prior to his first trip to Asia, with Clement, Ellingsen had never eaten with chopsticks. To make sure he did not insult the people they were visiting, Clement had Ellingsen practice using them on the plane, eating peanuts with chopsticks. “He was quite good at it by the time we got there,” Clement recalls.

“That was a great experience,” Ellingsen says of the travel to Asia. “Getting to the places where the products that you sell are manufactured is critical. You need to see what it takes to develop those products first hand. And if you want to add unique features to those products, you need to be there to see it.”

By the sea: Ellingsen’s father ran a commercial seafood business on both coasts and in Alaska, and Ellingsen spent his summers during junior high and high school, and as an undergraduate at Seattle Pacific University, working for the family business. “My father was an extraordinary entrepreneur, and he taught me to work hard, work smart, and rely on the people around you,” Ellingsen says. “So at an early age I learned the value of hard work and about the chain of command. And I really understood what it meant to earn a dollar, and that it was extremely hard.”
Tim Parry

The brand builder

Who: Paula Presenkowski, director of marketing for the past five years for San Diego-based Home Depot Supply, a business-to-business division of the $73.1 billion Home Depot

Why: Presenkowski was responsible for the 2002 integration of Maintenance Warehouse, which the company had acquired in 1997, into Home Depot Supply. Among her duties was ensuring that all the marketing materials reflected the brand’s new identity. She was also charged with integrating and bridging the gap between Maintenance Warehouse and the Home Depot division’s employees and 20 distribution facilities.

Atlanta-based Home Depot tapped Presenkowski to pore over complex customer analysis prior to its acquisition of Orlando, FL-based Hughes Supply this past March. Presenkowski’s input during Home Depot’s due diligence phase ensured that the acquisition made sense.

Now part of Presenkowski’s division, Hughes Supply has more than doubled the size of Home Depot Supply. The combined organization has more than 20,000 employees in more than 900 locations, with projected 2006 sales approaching $12 billion.

“She thinks through the impact of marketing,” says Gina Valentino, owner of Kansas City, MO-based consultancy Hemisphere Marketing. “It’s a balancing act between the cost to acquire and the cost to reactivate customers and how that translates to the overall growth of the customer file.”

How she got here: In 1990, fresh out of college, Presenkowski was hired as a marketing analyst for Hanover Direct’s International Male and Undergear catalogs. “I was doing the glamorous job of tracking daily sales and page analysis,” she says. After five years she joined Road Runner Sports as a circulation specialist. From there she moved to Disney Direct Marketing as circulation manager before joining Maintenance Warehouse as marketing manager in 1997.

Speed demon: “When we were at Disney, running through a P/L to justify whether we should we do the promotion or not, Paula crunched [the numbers] in a matter of hours,” says Valentino, who was a circulation manager for the cataloger at the time. “We really needed some sort of projection. And I remember thinking, ‘Thank God for Paula.’”

Point of pride: Presenkowski treasures a hard hat given to her by Home Depot in recognition of a job well done. It’s not just any hard hat, mind you. In January she was one of a dozen employees recognized out of the Supply division’s 5,000 workers. Home Depot rewarded the recognized employees with a tour of the new Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, which a Home Depot business had built. “We met with the company’s board of directors and underwent leadership training for a day and a half,” Presenkowski says. “It was nice recognition.”

Whodunit: An avid fan of mystery author John Grisham, Presenkowski sees similarities between Grisham protagonists and what she does at Home Depot. “I love putting the puzzle together and doing the research,” she says. “You have a list of questions at the beginning of a task, and it’s your job to best figure out what the clues are telling you.”
Mark Del Franco

The circulation maestro

Who: Robyn Kubischta, marketing analyst at Medford, OR-based Musician’s Friend, the direct division of retailer Guitar Center

Why: In the two years since Kubischta joined Musician’s Friend, her work with modeling has enabled the music instruments and accessories merchant to reduce circulation 10% while increasing overall catalog sales by 17%. In addition to her work in predictive analytics, Kubischta is involved with focus group and survey research.

Director of marketing Michael Eisenberg, Kubischta’s immediate supervisor, says that she shows a maturity you don’t find in most 29-year-olds. “Robyn is a leader on her team and readily picks up new skills required to understand a growingly complex business,” he says. “Since joining the marketing and analytics team, Robyn has demonstrated a hands-on ability to drive sales and profit through an increasingly thorough understanding of cross-channel direct marketing and modeling techniques.”

On predictive modeling projects for which Kubischta manages and drives multidepartmental undertakings, Eisenberg says she displays the self-confidence and competence of a seasoned pro. And with focus groups, she has the right organizational and communication skills to compile useful and pertinent demographic data. “Robyn has the leadership mentality and confidence that help her drive such projects straight toward the finish line — there hasn’t been a time when she hasn’t met the goals and objectives required of her,” he says.

How she got here: After five years with Medford, OR-based gardening cataloger Jackson & Perkins — two years as an assistant marketing analyst, two years as a marketing analyst, and one as senior marketing analyst — Kubischta felt she’d hit a plateau. She was drawn to Musician’s Friend, “and I wanted to jump in while the company was still very busy discovering new processes and developing new projects.” Those projects included a data warehouse initiative and a new statistical software program, both of which Kubischta became involved with.

“I was also interested in Musician’s Friend because of how fast they were growing,” Kubischta says. That growth has continued since Kubischta signed on. Between 2002 and last year, Musician’s Friend saw sales increase a whopping 46%, to $365 million.

A model job: In addition to developing and deploying performance models, Kubischta plays a key role in Web analytics. Her primary focus, in fact, is on mastering the relationship between catalogs and the Website. “I have focused on the different promotions that go out on each side, watching trends, testing, and the potential synergies of each,” she says. “I’m most interested in finding the best contact strategy and predicting the methods and methodologies customers use when shopping and placing an order.”

Can you hum a few bars?: The answer would be no. Kubischta claims to be tone deaf, and she’s certainly no guitar groupie: “I know nothing about music! That was the one thing that really intimidated me when I first got here.”

The dynamic duo of decor

Who: Andrew and Shannon Newsom, founders of home decor merchant Wisteria

Why: Just five years after mailing its first catalog — a 24-page book that went to 150,000 prospects — the Newsoms own a thriving business. During the first three years, the Dallas-based business’s annual sales grew 70%-100%. For the past two years, Andrew says, yearly growth has been a more modest but still healthy 10%-20%. Wisteria has more than 100 employees and more than 60,000 12-month buyers, who spend an average of $145-$160 per order. The catalog mails six to eight times a year, about 1 million copies a drop, and complements an e-commerce site.

“Both Andrew and Shannon seem genuinely excited about their business,” says Tina Stacy, a sales representative with Sussex, WI-based printer Quad/Graphics. “Their enthusiasm for the adventure of finding merchandise, and the back stories associated with the pieces, is contagious.”

How they got here: “We both had liberal-arts educations and absolutely no desire to be in the world of business after we graduated from college,” says Andrew, 38. “After college I worked in documentary film for several years, was a teaching fellow at Harvard, spent several years trying to get a nonprofit organization off the ground, then went to business school at University of Texas in Austin, was a consultant for a year after getting my MBA, was miserable doing that, and then decided that I wanted to start my own company.”

Andrew didn’t have to search long to find his niche. “I loved gardening and garden decor, so I thought that would be a good route to pursue,” he says. “My mom had experience in the magazine business [Lisa Newsom is editor of Veranda, an upscale shelter magazine], and Shannon’s mom is an interior designer in Houston, so we really relied on the expertise of our moms to help us understand those parts of the business.”

Andrew’s lifelong love of flea markets helped as well. What distinguishes Wisteria from myriad other home furnishing catalogs is its merchandise mix of bona fide antiques (Chinese butcher’s tables for $1,299, French wine jugs for $229), antique-inspired furnishings (wrought-iron plant stands for $189, the Mango Wood Table/Sculpture/Stool for $149), and quirky accessories sourced from around the world.

Andrew and Shannon, 36, spent three years traversing the globe, searching for rare and unique items, before launching Wisteria. “The very first year [we were in business] we went all over the place,” Shannon recalls. “At first we were in Europe, and now we’re mostly abroad in India and Asia.

Andrew’s mother enabled them to run advertising inserts in three issues of Veranda. “Basically they were free,” Andrew says. “It was a sweetheart deal. But I realized that you can’t sell product in an ad in a magazine. You can drive people to a catalog through an ad, but you can’t actually sell the product in an ad.”

The world according to Wisteria: Andrew describes the catalog as three businesses in one: merchandising, which entails traveling around the world looking for products and thinking of new items to design; “producing creativity” — catalog design and copy, with an eye to reinforcing the brand; and operations. “The key is making all three businesses work in a seamless fashion so that when a customer calls, the product is in stock, it looks like the product in the catalog, and the customer receives excellent service,” he says.

Business and pleasure: “The first year, Andrew traveled about 90% of the time,” Shannon says. “We have two young children, so that very first year of the business was really challenging. It was also challenging for us to work day to day together with an office in the house. But you grow from that. A year and a half into it we got a new office and warehouse, so now it’s fun to work together.”

Shannon is a hands-on mother, Andrew says, “so her involvement at this point is certainly less than it was at the very beginning. I get her input a lot on final buying decisions and personnel issues. Someone with fresh eyes is needed on both of these.”

Pride and joy: “We’re most proud of two things,” says Andrew. “One is starting a catalog from scratch with little to no catalog experience. We were silly enough to believe we could do it. We didn’t have any experience in merchandising, catalog production, or catalog operations, and yet we blindly moved forward. The second thing we’re proud of is the team we have assembled.We have brought together a wonderful group of people who work hard and are dedicated to our success. We have an interesting brand that we believe meets a need in the marketplace.”

Looking ahead: During the next five years, Andrew hopes to keep improving the catalog. “We will stay with the home and garden category,” he says. “That is a large universe to work in, but our task is to find more unique products that people need. The question we always have to ask ourselves is, ‘Why does anyone want to buy this?’ You can never focus too much on merchandise. It’s the engine that drives the train.”

The prime prospector

Who: Beth White, an 11-year veteran of New York-based general merchandiser Spiegel, who has served as divisional vice president of marketing for the past two years

Why: Company executives say it was White who spearheaded the drive to replenish the customer file after Spiegel filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2003. The company was bought out by management and San Francisco-based private equity firm Golden Gate Capital in July 2004.

White’s analytical and customer acquisition training came in handy during the subsequent repositioning of Spiegel. “We were able to change the way customers perceived this household name in an amazingly short period of time. We had to get out the word that the Spiegel brand was changing,” White says, referring to the brand’s freshening of its apparel offerings and revamping of its home decor business.

To reach customers and prospects, White used magazine advertising, television ads, and newspaper free-standing inserts as well as the Internet. More than 36 million readers, for instance, saw placements in 31 national magazines and generated a 2.7% catalog request response rate. Targeted e-mail partnerships produced a 4.6% request response rate. All told, the relaunch generated an impressive 1.3 million requests for the Spiegel “big book.” And among Internet-generated requests alone, the conversation rate was an almost unheard-of 15%.

“Beth led the effort to rebuild the customer file and stabilize the business,” says Tony Chivari, senior vice president, marketing and Internet for Spiegel Brands, which includes apparel catalog Newport News. “She was also instrumental in relocating the business from Chicago to New York, which required new business processes and staff to be developed,” he continues. “Her ability to build reliable marketing plans through periods of dramatic change and growth, as well as her tenure with the organization and her connection to our customer, make Beth an invaluable asset to our organization.”

How she got here: When White joined the company 11 years ago as an acquisition analyst she came highly recommended: No less an authority than Ted Spiegel, the direct marketing Hall of Famer who’d started in the family business in 1957, recognized White’s ability during a master’s course he was teaching in integrated direct marketing at Northwestern University, where White was a graduate student.

“There was a requirement to spend a summer at a direct marketing company,” White says. That’s when Professor Spiegel did some prospecting of his own and placed White at the Spiegel compound, then based in Downers Grove, IL.

The jake of all trades

Who: Jake Hall, director of consumer marketing for Milton, MA-based wine merchant Geerlings & Wade since September 2005

Why: Before he joined Geerlings & Wade, Hall worked at orthopedic footwear and daily-living aids cataloger Support Plus. During Hall’s last three years there, as director of Internet and database marketing, Support Plus enjoyed a profitable 35% growth.

Says Bob Gaito, president of Boston-based data management firm I-Centric: “He has a deep background in this industry. Picking orders, accounting, IT, marketing, warehousing, operations — he’s been in every aspect of the business for a number of years.”

Hall not only gets the offline, online, and alternative media but he also understands how to put them into play, says Chris Montana senior vice president of Hackensack, NJ-based marketing services firm Mokrynskidirect. “Hall understands the whole multichannel marketing plan, from planning and conception to execution and analytic, and reacts to what he’s learned.”

How he got here: Hall began working at Support Plus while he was 16; by the time he graduated from high school, he was Support Plus’s IT director. He continued working at the company part time while attending Cornell University and ended up leaving Cornell after three years to work for Support Plus full-time.

What’s new: In just seven months at Geerlings & Wade, Hall has expanded the catalog from 16 to 32 pages, added list hygiene and merge/purge processing to mailings, changed printers, and implemented direct-entry trucking to obtain postage savings. The company is also implementing systems that will enable it to better manage inventory, customer service, and marketing programs.

I’d like to thank: Ed Janos, cofounder of Support Plus, “an amazing entrepreneur,” Hall says. “He had a drive for us to explore outside our boundaries and do more with the company, which is rare with a family business.”

The special ops commander

Who: Ben Dreyer, operations director and board member at Boden, a Leicester, U.K.-based apparel cataloger that launched in the U.S. in October 2002. He’s been responsible for the company’s distribution and call centers and customer service for eight years

Why: He was in charge of the back-end issues concerning Boden’s expansion into the U.S., which contributed about $35 million to Boden’s more than $170 million in revenue last year. U.S. sales are projected to grow to about $55 million this year. And the growth comes despite the lack of a U.S. distribution center — all orders are shipped from Boden’s facility in Leicester. (The company does have a contact center in Miami, where calls are transferred after 5 p.m. Eastern time, in addition to one in London that handles U.S. calls during East Coast business hours.)

“Boden has so much going on, and Ben has so many challenges that we can’t even begin to imagine,” says Bill Kuipers, partner at Bala Cynwyd, PA-based operations consultancy Spaide, Kuipers and Co., who has worked with Dreyer on international expansion issues such as finding a stateside fulfillment center and assessing its contact and distribution centers.

Not lost in translation: Dreyer says the U.S. expansion has gone smoothly despite hiccups that all merchants face when growing internationally. Nonetheless, Dreyer admits that one of his greatest challenges has been dealing with IT issues such as replacing a legacy catalog management software system that wasn’t even written for the U.K. to begin with. Rather, the BSA Prophit system was one of the early market-leading catalog management systems in the U.S. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a version created for U.K. clients.

Dreyer considers Boden “quite lucky” when it comes to shipping, because the U.K.’s national mail carrier, Royal Mail, has close links with the U.S. Postal Service, enabling most orders of in-stock merchandise to get to U.S. customers in three to five days. Dreyer’s irritation at the moment is that he can’t offer U.S. customers 48-hour shipping, but he says that will change when Boden opens its U.S. fulfillment center in the next 12-18 months. A location for the facility hasn’t been set yet, but Dreyer says he is interested in the Northeast, where Boden’s customer base is strongest.

Point of pride: Dreyer’s most proud of the fact that Boden has maintained an emphasis on customer service despite its significant growth. “We’ve grown massively,” he says. “When I joined, for instance, I had a 20-seat call center, and now we have a 200- to 250-seat call center. We still have a great service ethic both in the warehouse and throughout the company, and we’ve maintained some of those great approaches one has with customer service on the phone or dealing with problems with clothes despite the fact that we’re now 600 people.”

For example, Boden encourages its customer service advisers to interact with callers with very little scripting. Also, Boden founder Johnnie Boden and Dreyer see many of the letters sent in by customers. If a customer identifies something that needs solving, Boden or Dreyer works through the problem with the relevant people at all levels of the organization. This attention to detail, Dreyer says, has led to such a strong customer loyalty that a database analyst once said, “Boden is almost as addictive as cigarettes.”

Dreyer’s own approach to his staff no doubt helps. Kevin Shooter, Boden’s head of U.K. operations, says Dreyer is known to hit the warehouse for a day of picking and chatting with employees. He also has a top-notch sense of humor, Shooter says, and “can take the mickey” (joke around, in Yank speak).

Looking ahead: Dreyer says that Boden hopes to maintain 50% growth in the U.S. for at least the next three years, bringing sales here to more than $150 million.

But the company will remain a catalog/Web merchant, with no plans to expand into retail. Just as important as growth, Dreyer says, is the company’s culture of continuous improvement. “We’re not whipping ourselves,” he says, but he adds that employees from the top to the bottom are self-critical. “You make mistakes, but you anticipate most of them, and when you make them you’re open about it and say, ‘Right. Let’s make this better.’”