Nobody wants to profit from a tragedy such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But for some catalogers — largely those selling safety equipment and patriotic merchandise — business is booming.
In the weeks following the attacks, U.S. Cavalry, which sells to the U.S. government, the military, and police officers, booked twice as many orders as it had during the same period last year. “I thought sales would plateau a bit, but we’ve been busy,” says president Randy Acton. “In fact, FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] just laid some really big orders on us.”
About 30% of U.S. Cavalry’s sales are business-to-business, or what it calls business-to-government. Among the Radcliffe, KY-based catalogers’ best-sellers are “Terrorists Beware!” T-shirts, masks, freeze-dried meals, and leather combat boots.
Sales have also been fast and furious for Philadelphia-based safety products cataloger Arbill Safety Products. Since the attacks, “we didn’t even have an hour to think about what happened,” says Scott Overholt, vice president of marketing. At Arbill, which distributes 50,000 copies of its 288-page catalog annually, fall sales are up about 15% from plan. “Before the 11th, it was a down year for us,” Overholt says.
To accommodate the rush of orders, Arbill has had to replenish its picking stock more frequently. Overholt says the cataloger went from ordering product twice a week to ordering it twice a day.
“Late at night on the 11th, the FBI called our senior vice president to purchase a large quantity of gloves to protect searchers from blood-borne diseases,” Overholt says. “The phones began ringing nonstop the morning of the 12th, with every imaginable agency and organization looking for respirators, protective gloves and eyewear, and disposable coveralls.” And with such products now in short supply on the East Coast, Arbill’s regular industrial customers are stocking up and buying more, Overholt says.
Paul DeMartinis, director of sales for Tonawanda, NY-based Masune First Aid and Safety, says he was surprised that a catalog drop scheduled for Sept. 5-Sept. 10 pulled as well as it did. “I figured that response would suffer, but surprisingly response is running ahead of plan,” says DeMartinis, who wouldn’t specify sales. Masune, part of catalog holding company Landmark Direct (which also mails sports medicine catalog Medco and podiatry catalog Surgical Supply) sells first-aid equipment to schools, day-care facilities, and youth centers.
And for the week of Sept. 11, sales at $20 million-plus Tempe, AZ-based Direct Safety Co. rose 30% over last year’s. Respirators and filters are selling especially well, says general manager Pat Acton.
Santa Barbara, CA-based CMC Rescue, which mails 50,000-100,000 catalogs a year, has also seen an increase in sales following the attacks, says president Jim Frank. “Some of our dealers are working directly for the rescue effort, and the government purchase orders are starting to come in,” he notes. “We were watching the economy and expecting a sluggish year, but we had been tracking close to plan even before the attack.”
But most marketers contacted echo the sentiments of Arbill’s Overholt: “We’ll have to wait and see what transpires after the U.S. retaliates for the attack. A wartime economy might be good for us, but then again I’ve never been in that situation before.”
— Additional research by Ellen Hansen and Shayn Ferriolo