1-800-Flowers blooms after redo

Westbury, NY-based gifts merchant 1-800-Flowers.com is perhaps better known for its radio spots and Website than for its print catalog. But a recent creative and marketing overhaul has lifted response to the catalog, exceeding the company’s sales expectations.

The initiative was borne out of what the $587.3 million company’s Operational Excellence program, which develops revenue-building and cost-cutting projects. A team led by Peter Rice, part of the 1-800-Flowers.com executive management team and president of its Madisonville, VA-based gifts and home goods catalog Plow & Hearth, was enlisted to make over the core catalog. In addition to Plow & Hearth, the company’s titles include children’s products catalogs HearthSong and Magic Cabin Dolls and food and gifts book The Popcorn Factory.

Beginning with the fall 2003 edition of the 1-800-Flowers.com book, the team examined where changes could be made in circulation, merchandising, and creative.

For starters, the catalog needed more products with what Rice calls a “catalog advantage” — items that sell better in a catalog than in a store. Michael Kasprowicz, vice president of merchandising at 1-800-Flowers.com, included more traditional “catalog” selections, such as collectibles, food gifts, and teddy bears.

The Popcorn Factory’s vice president of marketing, Cheryl Zatz, oversaw circulation and marketing. 1-800-Flowers.com had relied on the standard recency, frequency, and monetary (RFM) selects. To hone circulation, “these selects were enhanced by adding additional attributes, such as the product category purchased or identifying specific direct mail buyers,” she says. Zatz also saw to it that customer service reps secured key codes from customers so that the company could better track its results and improve list selection.

The team also tested earlier drop dates to see if it could persuade the 1-800-Flowers.com customers to order earlier than usual. For Christmas 2003, Zatz tested numerous mail dates in November and December to optimize the catalog’s shelf life. Previously the catalog’s final drop had been two weeks before a holiday. This, says Zatz, was “cutting the tail off the catalog” by not giving it enough time to resonate with customers.

Cleaning up creative

Jean Giesmann, vice president of creative services at Plow & Hearth, and 1-800-Flowers.com vice president Julie McCann Mulligan examined design, photography, and production. “We were looking at eye flow and a way to take the customer through the book,” says Giesmann. Adding larger photos and “hero shots” of some floral arrangements, such as the popular Fields of Europe bouquet, improved the appearance — and the performance — of spreads.

Better pacing by eliminating repetitive spreads and adding “visual excitement” helps the reader stay engaged, Giesmann continues. And dropping the product density from about nine to six items on a spread added some air to the pages.

The efforts have paid off handsomely. In 2004, 1-800-Flowers.com reduced its circulation by 12% and exceeded its aggressive goal to increase sales by 73% by an additional 16 percentage points — resulting in an 89% lift over 2003. Says vice president of merchandising Kasprowicz: “Now we understand the value of square-inch analysis and which products we can feature that pay for themselves — and then some.”

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