Buy American with new catalog

Americans aren’t the only consumers to value a “made in the USA” label on their products. Lenexa, KS-based Smith-Dale, a wholesaler of U.S.-made handcrafted home decor and gift items, has been selling to overseas retailers for 12 years. And with the September 1998 launch of It’s Made in USA!, the company is selling directly to customers for the first time.

In the first six months of catalog’s existence, says president Dale Minard, overseas buyers have accounted for 10% of its $56,000 in sales-an impressive share considering that not one of the 100,000 catalogs in It’s Made in USA!’s initial drop was mailed to an overseas prospect.

Instead, 90% of the catalog’s overseas sales have been generated by its Website, which also launched in September. “The rest are from the print catalog, which overseas customers request after visiting our Website,” Minard says.

Minard cites the high cost of mailing catalogs overseas as the reason his company did not prospect abroad. “But we’re building a preferred customer database of e-mail addresses, and we send weekly e-mail newsletters to those customers,” he says. “We promote discounts and specials through the newsletters, and that generates additional sales.”

Shipping the merchandise overseas has not been a problem, Minard says. “Any big-ticket items, such as furniture, get drop-shipped, and we tell our customers to allow six weeks for those.” The catalog uses the same shipping companies that are already under contract with Smith-Dale. “We get good discounts with those companies.”

Do-it-yourself currency conversion While product descriptions in the print and online catalogs appear in English only, order instructions are translated into Spanish, French, Japanese, and German. All prices are listed in U.S. dollars, so customers are responsible for converting the currency.

While the lack of currency conversions might seem offputting to some users, Richard Miller, managing partner of Market Response International, a Chatham, MA-based consulting firm, says the catalog’s practice of listing product prices only in U.S. dollars shouldn’t pose many problems: “People are used to converting currencies,” since so many companies now use the Internet as a “basic medium of product distribution.” U.S. companies on the Web “have to list the prices in U.S. dollars, because they have no way of knowing which countries their customers are going to come from,” Miller adds.

But if It’s Made in USA! plans to distribute its print catalog more widely overseas, then Miller suggests that it consider listing conversion rates for those countries the catalog is mailed to. “If the catalog plans a major international drop, it would be silly not to include some kind of guideline for exchange rates,” he contends. “But if the majority of its international customers come from the Internet and pay by credit card, then currency conversion really isn’t a problem,” because the banks calculate the exact currency exchange.

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