Revisiting Direct-to-Door Catalog Delivery

Jun 01, 2007 9:30 PM  By

The May 14 postal rate hike may inspire some catalogers to consider alternate delivery options. At least that’s what one direct-to-door delivery service provider is hoping.

Jim Schell, president of San Antonio-based ADS Direct Media, says prospecting in a direct-to-door manner could cost about 40% less than it now costs to mail catalogs. The six-year-old company has not yet made catalog delivery a primary objective, but Schell says its clients, which include Fortune 1,000 companies and Hispanic direct marketers, have been please with the results of campaigns in which they hung polybags with pamphlets and product samples on doors.

Much as an outdoor advertising company would select a site for billboards, ADS uses geo-demographic software to home in on the most-appropriate households within a neighborhood. For example, Pepsi has been using ADS’s services to distribute Spanish-language magalogs in communities with a high density of Hispanic consumers. In this case, it would use geo-demographic mapping to find Hispanic neighborhoods in a city such as Corpus Christi, TX, and determine which ones would be the best to deliver to.

Once a target area has been defined, ADS sends a team of delivery people to distribute the polybags and their inserts door to door. The bags, which can be imprinted in four-color, are hung on prospects’ front door.

ADS charges for delivery based on the weight of the material, though the company would not provide specific prices. But there is no price penalty for odd-shape catalogs, as there is under the new USPS standards. Schell says ADS has delivered catalogs ranging from 16 pages to phone-book size.

Will the concept finally deliver?

Because ADS would not disclose the cost of the service, it’s tough to say if this type of service is a viable alternative to the Postal Service. Similar services such as Alternate Postal Delivery and Publisher’s Express were a hot topic following postal rate hikes in the early 1990s, but both failed to take off and folded within a few years.

“People were interested in alternate delivery 10 years ago, but the cost was very high compared to the post office,” says Al Stanton, president of Elmira, NY-based Stanton Direct Marketing. “You’d have to look at it case by case to determine which catalogers would benefit, not just with the postage costs but also with the penalties for not flat-machinables.”

A lack of trackability was another reason for the failure of Alternate Postal Delivery and Publisher’s Express, Stanton adds. In the 1990s, there was no guarantee that the books were actually reaching the desired destination.

But Frank Campney, ADS’s executive vice president/chief distribution officer, says that many of the kinks that gave the tactic a bad name and a low-end perception have since been worked out.

For example, the use of GPS allows a monitor in the office of either ADS or the cataloger to follow a “breadcrumb trail” left by the delivery crew. The monitor can check live online to make sure the delivery people are on the right route and making stops at the correct addresses. The system also alerts the monitor if the delivery crew strays outside the delivery area. And in most cases, ADS will randomly send out a crew to follow the delivery team and make sure the catalog was distributed.