Ben Silver Sees Success with Eyewear Spin-off

Since fall 2000, upscale men’s apparel cataloger/retailer Ben Silver has been selling a small selection of eyeglass frames in its catalog. The line’s success has prompted the $10 million-plus marketer to launch a spin-off catalog of eyeglass frames.

In late November the Charleston, SC-based company mailed 65,000 copies of the 32-page eyewear book. One-third of the catalog went to house file names; the remainder mailed to prospects from catalog lists that were likely to have upscale customers who wear eyeglasses, says Sue Prenner, daughter of late founder Ben Silver and co-owner of the business with her husband, Bob Prenner.

Ben Silver also ran small ads in The New Yorker promoting the catalog. For more than 30 years it has taken out small (1/6 of a page or 1/12 of a page) ads in the magazine several times a year spotlighting individual products. The magazine’s readers are similar to the company’s customers: upscale, Ivy League types, ages 35-55, with an average household income of more than $75,000.

Response as of early February had slightly exceeded the company’s initial 1.2% goal. Many of the orders taken from the new book are being attributed to Ben Silver’s mainline catalog, Sue Prenner adds, “so it’s harder to estimate the actual response rate.”

Built to last

The Prenners expect response to only improve during the next few months. They anticipate the shelf life of the catalog to be as much as six months — twice as long as the core book’s typical shelf life of three months — because eyeglasses “aren’t something that goes in or out of fashion very quickly,” Bob Prenner says.

To encourage recipients to save the catalog, the cover is printed on 125-lb. paper, compared to the mainline book’s usual 60-lb. cover stock. The sturdier paper makes it something “people will put on their night table or bookcase and refer to time after time,” he says.

The Prenners are pleased with the spin-off not only because of the strong initial response but also because the book is pulling an average order of $300, which is $50 more than the core Ben Silver catalog’s average order. Frames range in price from $175 to more than $700.

“Eyewear is an extremely upscale accessory just like a belt or shoes or socks are, and people consider eyewear to be part of their look,” Bob Prenner says. “And the eyewear industry isn’t familiar with catalog sales, while the menswear industry doesn’t understand that eyewear can be part of your wardrobe.”

Bob Prenner should know; it was his “look” that inspired Ben Silver to start carrying eyeglasses. After he served as a model in the catalog several years ago, customers called to ask where Bob got his eyeglasses — light-colored Le Fant frames from Paris. So for the past two years, Ben Silver has run two pages of high-end, European-inspired eyeglass frames that soon became “the best-producing pages in our catalog,” Bob Prenner says.

The eyewear catalog is only the first of what the Prenners hope will be several new books. The company is eyeing leather goods and shoes as well as neckwear for potential spin-offs. For now, however, the Prenners have yet to decide when their second eyewear book will mail.

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