A French catalog connection

How to build an international infrastructure is one of the most daunting-not to mention expensive-considerations for any cataloger contemplating mailing overseas. Some catalogers, such as Viking Office Products and Lands’ End, choose to spend tens of millions to set up localized headquarters, call centers, and warehouses for their international customers; others opt to partner with existing overseas companies to make the difficult transition smoother. And still others hesitate to mail any catalogs overseas at all.

But a group of European investors and real estate developers are addressing this challenge. They’ve developed DM41, an industrial park in Douvaine, France, exclusively for U.S. catalogers and Internet-only retailers exploring direct marketing overseas. Located near the Swiss border directly off highway A41 (hence the name), where several major European highways converge, DM41 provides a centralized location from which to mail catalogs and ship products throughout Europe.

“DM41 resolves most American catalogers’ objections about setting up in Europe,” says John Schulte, chairman of the National Mail Order Association, a catalog trade organization based in Minneapolis.

A questionable locale? Other European direct marketing “hubs” exist, in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. But while they offer a centralized location of back-end suppliers, DM41 houses all manner of direct marketing vendors-catalog printers such as Alp Impression, creative agencies, translation services, transport and fulfillment companies including Danzas and Jet Services, call centers, list brokers, Internet-related service companies, and marketing firms.

Rental prices range from $4.65 per square foot/year for warehouse space to $10 per square foot/year for office space. “U.S. catalogers looking to set up a European base at a reasonable cost may find the industrial park concept attractive,” says Richard Miller, managing partner at North Chatham, MA-based overseas consultancy Market Response International.

But Miller questions the location of the industrial park. “Sure, it’s in the center of intersecting highways, which can be attractive to some companies,” he says, “but it isn’t situated near any railroads or airports like some of the other European hubs.”

Another difficulty the industrial park may face in attracting catalogers is that most stateside companies test European markets one country at a time. In that case, a U.S. mailer whose first foray into Europe consists of mailing exclusively into the U.K., for instance, would likely find it more efficient to set up shop in Britain rather than operating from France.

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