Winterthur puts gifts book on hold

Due to a steady decline in sales, the Winterthur Museum has suspended its gifts catalog indefinitely. The Winterthur, DE-based organization, which is dedicated to preserving the estate of antiques collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont, will continue to mail its home furnishings catalog, however.

Launched in the early 1980s, the gifts book — which sold jewelry, ceramics, figurines, and paperweights — had not performed well in recent years, says Tara Theune Davis, the museum’s director of marketing and communications. Last October, Winterthur laid off 61 employees — about 10% of its overall workforce — as part of a restructuring plan in which the catalog operations were outsourced. Winterthur had been reviewing its operations for a few years, David says. All but six of the laid-off staffers worked at the catalog’s contact center and warehouse in New Castle, DE.

“The decision [to scale back catalog opertions] was made because being a museum and cultural institution, obviously we need to make sure we’re running at peak efficiency,” Davis explains. “Our core competencies are not necessarily in the direct mail business. Obviously, it’s a difficult decision to let go of any employees.”

Davis could not provide annual circulation figures for the home furnishings and gifts catalogs, but she says overall circulation has increased since 2004. According to its data card, the gifts title had nearly 248,000 12-month buyers; the furniture book, 58,500 12-month buyers. The home furnishings catalog, launched in 1997, “in many ways is more closely affiliated with our mission and esthetics,” she says. “The home catalog is higher-end decorative items.”

The 64-page fall edition of the home furnishings catalog mailed in August, Davis says, and the company plans to experiment by including in it some items from the gifts catalog. “It’s part of our evaluation,” she says. “We’re looking for a balance because we’re committed to the catalog business. We know it has value.”

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