BackcountryStore.com Goes Multichannel

The dot-com bust of a few years ago didn’t kill off all the online start-ups of the 1990s. BackcountryStore.com, launched in 1996, has not only survived, but in November it mailed its first print catalog.

A marketer of outdoor sporting equipment and apparel, BackcountryStore was started in the basement of former Powder magazine editor John Bresee’s home. Because it had low overhead, the company reached profitability within its first year, Bresee says. This year, the Heber, UT-based company expects sales to exceed $15 million.

BackcountryStore mailed its 24-page debut catalog to 70% of the house file it has built up since its inception — 125,000 books in all. Until last year, “our house list wasn’t big enough to entice us to mail a catalog,” says marketing director Dustin Robertson.

To determine which 70% of its house file to mail, BackcountryStore.com performed some recency/frequency/monetary modeling, “but it’s our first time, so we’re not that sophisticated,” Robertson says. And because no names were rented and the book went out during peak holiday season, he was optimistic that the catalog would do well.

The company chose to mail its initial catalog only to existing customers “because we wanted to be successful first time out of the gate,” Bresee says. “It’s awfully hard to justify spending more on prospecting when you botch it up the first time.” The catalog met sales projections, he says.

Paring back affiliates

Introducing a print catalog isn’t Backcountry-Store’s only new initiative. The company is refining the online affiliate marketing program it manages as well. As recently as last year, it had nearly 10,000 affiliates ranging from mom-and-pop shops to multimillion-dollar manufacturers. But during the past year, BackcountryStore has edited the number of affiliates it works with down to a little more than 5,000.

“Some affiliates link to us off keyword generators from other sites that are based on search engines that may not apply to us,” says online marketing manager Bryan Rhodes. Companies may link to marginal sites in this way to increase their page ranking on Google. “This is traffic that’s just not going to convert on our site.” BackcountryStore now reviews a potential affiliate’s site to be sure it brings “some value, whether it’s a content site or one that helps people differentiate between products,” Bresee says.

“We’ve been able to build great brand exposure on sites that have Web-related content,” Rhodes adds. All affiliates receive a 7% commission on orders placed by referred visitors.

For affiliates that link to specific BackcountryStore products rather than the home page, the company uses Sniplet Generator, a Web tool from affiliate aggregator Commission Junction. The Sniplet Generator “pushes” updated versions of the product pages to the affiliates daily. “Occasionally you get an affiliate who puts a static product of ours up there with an old price,” Rhodes says. “And we get a customer who demands that old price. That can be frustrating.”

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