Lists and Prospecting: Norm Thompson Reaps $700,000 in Insert Revenue

Package and catalog inserts have become a growing income stream for multititle mailer Norm Thompson Outfitters. For the fiscal year ended in July, the insert program brought in more than $700,000 in revenue, up from about $50,000 in 2000.

The Hillsboro, OR-based cataloger had been running a small package insert program for years, Norm Thompson’s director of customer acquisition Patty Davis said during a session at the Direct Marketing Association’s Insert Media Day conference in Rye Brook, NY, on Sept. 10. “Then in 2001, I was challenged by upper management to increase my total list revenue by 20% in a time when it was becoming more difficult to get list rental revenue.”

Davis proposed — and management subsequently agreed — that the company allow more inserts in the packages of Norm Thompson’s namesake title, as well as its Solutions and Early Winters catalogs. Whereas the cataloger used to accept no more than two inserts a package, it now accepts up to six. Last year, Norm Thompson agreed to accept blow-ins for its Norm Thompson and Solutions catalogs as well.

Peterborough, NH-based list firm Millard Group manages Norm Thompson’s insert programs. Compared to the Norm Thompson list rental, which starts at $110/M, the package insert program rate card rate is $60/M, and the blow-in program is $20/M.

Norm Thompson accepts package inserts only from companies whose products it deems appropriate for its audience. For instance, the flagship apparel catalog carries inserts for financial, book, stationery, and cosmetics companies, as well as coffee and other continuity club offers. Home goods catalog Solutions contains children’s- and gardening-related insert offers. Outdoor apparel and sporting goods title Early Winters recently inserted a product sample from sporting goods manufacturer Neosport.

Norm Thompson keeps in close touch with its distribution center to make sure inserts aren’t pushing packages’ weights from one rate category to the next one. “That can be an invisible way of eating into your profits,” Davis tells Catalog Age. “So we program our inserts as pick items. This way we know if the weight of an insert pushes a package to the next weight category. If it does, we don’t put the insert in.”

Whereas some catalogers like to collate all package inserts in an envelope inside the packages, Norm Thompson prefers to drop them in loosely. “With collating, the fear is that response will drop,” she says, noting that customers may be more inclined to toss the whole envelope out.

The blow-ins that run with Norm Thompson catalogs include postcard-size subscription business reply cards, product offer cards, and book offers. The company hasn’t heard complaints from customers about the blow-ins. “Most of our catalogs are 72-84 pages,” Davis says, noting that the catalogs are large enough that the blow-ins don’t easily fall out. “So it hasn’t been an issue for us. I don’t think there’s an issue with fall out.”

Norm Thompson avoids having two blow-ins in a particular issue. So if the cataloger sells to two advertisers, it’ll blow in one insert for a portion of a mailing, with the other insert placed in the other portion of the mailing.

As have apparel catalogers J. Jill and Coldwater Creek, Norm Thompson has arranged a barter deal with lifestyle magazine Real Simple: Its Solutions title carries Real Simple subscription cards in exchange for full-page ads in the magazine.

“It allows us to get into space advertising without paying high space prices,” Davis says. “You can pay $50,000-$70,000 or more for full-page space ads depending on the publication.”

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