Mini Catalogs Catching On as Economy and Culture Change

crestline-slim-jim-catalog-300While mailing catalogs can still be an effective way to reach a mass audience of prospects and customers, a growing number of direct marketers are finding that supplementing full-sized catalogs with a new category of mini catalogs can help them do business more cost effectively while improving key metrics such as response rate.

Unlike traditional slim jim size catalogs that use hard to open wafer seals, the mini catalogs are designed so their pages are contained under a panel, so no wafer seals are required. Instead, fugitive glue adhesive is used for automated mail and easy opening without ripping or tearing.

Mini catalogs mail at the cost of a standard automated letter and provide up to ten pages to promote products. They can cut mailing and production costs by a third and avoid required but troublesome wafer seals, yet can be as effective as larger catalogs in driving customers to company websites.

Supplementing their schedule by doing three full-sized catalog mailings and two mini catalog mailings, for instance, can significantly lower cost without lowering response rates. While mailing a full-sized catalog can cost 57 cents a piece at a million mailed, mailing these new mini catalogs can cost as little as 28 cents apiece at similar volume. This can make mini catalogs a cost-effective alternative even to postcards.

“Since we began using mini ‘slim’ catalogs a few years ago, we’ve increased our response rate to some customer segments by up to 10%, increased their retention by 20%, and saved about one-third in postage and production,” says Bill Diener, catalog marketing manager at Crestline, a Lewiston, Maine-based custom promotional products firm.

Spurring growth, controlling cost
Traditionally Crestline had mailed out full-sized catalogs of about 68 pages every other week, but after the recession hit a few years ago, the company sought an effective way to engage its customers and prospects without the expense of a full catalog, according to Diener.

“Our goal was to stay in constant contact with prospects and customers, to expand prospecting, spur growth, and control cost,” says Diener. “We wanted to keep our full catalogs fresh for customers, but this can be challenging with frequent mailings.”

According to Diener, if prospects or customers receive similar full catalogs too often, they may feel they have seen them before and toss them. This can be true even if the full catalogs have fresh covers but familiar material and formatting inside.

Another turnoff to consumers can be wafer seals, which are required for traditional multi-page mailings, difficult for consumers to remove without tearing, and can end up ruining several pages of a mailing. Wafer seals also cost about $12 per thousand for every 100,000 pieces mailed.

“Studies show that response rate plummets when wafer seals are used,” says Diener. “With wafer seals, you’re paying extra for something consumers don’t like, and often won’t open.”

Crestline turned to mini “slim” catalogs by B&W Press, a Georgetown, Mass.-based printer specializing in direct marketing. Each of the printer’s USPS-approved mini catalogs can offer up to ten surfaces to promote product, and allow two separate spreads.

According to Diener, the printer worked with Crestline to meet their exact requirements for mini catalog print quality and in-home dates with co-mailing. The custom promotional products firm now mails full catalogs out about every third mailing with mini catalogs going to prospects and customers in between.

“We’ve relied on the mini catalogs to remain in constant contact with our customers at a greatly reduced expense compared to our full catalogs,” says Diener. “Not only have the mini catalogs delivered consistent, full catalog-like results, but they’ve often exceeded them. By changing up our format we’ve had greater impact, and many customers like that the mini catalogs use less paper.”

Driving Prospects and Customers to the Company Website
National Ropers Supply (NRS), a Decatur, Tex.-based catalog and store retailer of western lifestyle décor and supplies (, needed an inexpensive way to drive customers and prospects to make purchases at their website, according to Kerrie Thornton, a NRS business analyst.

According to Thornton, the retailer had traditionally mailed out five to six full catalogs of over 250 pages annually, costing about $1.50 each at their volumes. To cut costs they began substituting a few 84-page catalogs for the larger catalogs, but still found this a costly way to market to prospects. Another challenge was forecasting accurate inventory and sale prices in these catalogs, since the printed data could be out-of-date by the time customers went online to buy.

As a solution, NRS chose to mail out two full catalogs a year, supplemented by mini catalogs by B&W Press in between.

“We found that sales with the mini catalogs were as good or better than with the 84-page catalogs,” says Thornton. “For as little as 32 cents per mini catalog, we’ve been able to get our key product groups in front of prospects and customers to drive them to our website, where inventory and pricing is up-to-date. For about the cost of producing and mailing a postcard, we’ve found this to be a much more effective direct marketing approach.”

The women’s clothing retailer April Cornell sells products online, in its own stores, and through independent retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada. While the company has a strong online presence, it sought to get more prospects and customers to its website through direct marketing. But this effort wasn’t cost effective until the company tried the mini catalogs.

Basil Stetson, COO of April Cornell, found a solution he was looking for when B&W Press sent him a mini catalog prototype, with photos downloaded from the April Cornell website. The company has since mailed mini catalogs regularly to prospects and customers with good results.

“In our online sales niche, the mini catalogs are proving effective and deliver potential customers and sales at a cost that is affordable,” concludes Stetson. “We’re reaching prospects and customers and bringing them to our website at a fraction of what prospecting with postcards or other mini catalogs cost us in the past.”

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.

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