Rockler Crosses Over to B-to-B

For 47 years, woodworking tools and hardware cataloger/retailer Rockler Cos. has focused on serving hobbyists. But over the years, the company has built up a file of more than 100,000 business-to-business requesters and buyers. So in March, the Medina, MN-based cataloger launched a b-to-b edition, mailing 275,000 books to an even mix of house file names and prospects.

“We’ve collected business names who have ordered from pass-along catalogs or have asked to be on our mailing list,” says vice president of mail order Bill Perrizo. “So we realized an opportunity to mail them a book and see how they’d react.” At press time, early results from the book were “very encouraging, but it’s too early to gauge any patterns,” he says.

Some of the prospect names Rockler mailed to came from Stamford, CT-based list firm MeritDirect, which compiled names from Dun & Bradstreet and InfoUSA. Rockler also mailed to the subscriber files of magazines for professional woodworkers and to lists of schools, small cabinet shops, and maintenance facilities in large institutions such as hospitals “where they tend to repair furniture or build it inhouse,” Perrizo says.

Creative differences

Unlike the four-color consumer catalog, the b-to-b book is black-and-white. “We wanted to make it look more economical because in b-to-b costs are more important,” Perrizo says.

Although both catalogs run 156 pages and measure 10-1/2″ in length, the b-to-b edition is a half-inch wider than the consumer book (8-1/2″ vs. 8″). “This gives us more organizational opportunities,” Perizzo says. “We printed category tabs on the outside of some pages because businesses know what they need and want to find things fast, compared with consumers, who are shopping.”

As for the merchandising, Perrizo notes that the biggest difference between the books is in the pagination rather than the actual product assortment. “We put items in which we believe the business buyers are more interested in the hot spots” of the b-to-b book. For example, drawer slides are more important to the businesses Rockler targets, so they were given a prime position up front. On the other hand, professional woodworkers are less likely to need project plans “because they already know what they’re building,” so plans appear farther back in the b-to-b book than in the consumer version.

Repaginating the b-to-b version was probably a wise investment. As consultant Victor Hunter, president/CEO of Milwaukee-based Hunter Business Group, notes, when expanding into b-to-b, “you need to create a unique differentiated value and understand a segment of the market.”

But Hunter questions Rockler’s decision to make the b-to-b version a two-color book. “Bottom-feeders who depend on low-priced offerings don’t care whether your book is in black-and-white or in color,” Hunter says. “But if Rockler is looking to build its brand in b-to-b, brand loyalists will demand a clear presentation of the product — usually in color — and with lots of detailed technical information.”

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