Catalogers Aglow Over Valentine Sales

Many flowers, candy, and specialty gifts mailers reported strong Valentine’s Day sales

Although some catalogers reported disappointing January sales, February was looking up for others, thanks to strong Valentine’s Day gift sales.

In general, the Valentine’s Day gift business is booming: U.S. consumers spent $3.6 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts last year, according to the Arlington, VA-based trade group International Mass Retail Association (IMRA). And this year, consumers surveyed by the IMRA were planning to spend an average of $84.20, which is up 8% from 2000.

Considering that the most popular gift offering for Valentine’s Day is flowers — red roses, for the true romantic — floral marketers were busy the few days preceding Feb. 14. Valentine’s Day is the third busiest holiday for Garden City, NY-based cataloger/Internet marketer 800-Flowers, after Mother’s Day and the December holidays, says spokesperson Ken Young. The company mailed an undisclosed number of a Valentine-themed minicatalog (measuring 6″ × 4″) in January. Valentine’s 2001 was “every bit as busy as last year — and more,” Young says.

San Francisco-based fresh-flowers cataloger Calyx & Corolla reports that Valentine’s Day sales are “over plan and over last year in the single digits,” says executive vice president Ann Lee. The company mailed three Valentine’s Day editions this year, although she would not disclose circulation specifics. Calyx & Corolla’s best-selling items for the holiday included, not surprisingly, red roses, lipstick orchids, moonlight orchids, and sweetheart roses.

Instead of — or in addition to — flowers, many consumers give chocolates to their sweetheart on the big day. To capitalize on the holiday, San Francisco-based cataloger/retailer See’s Candies mailed nearly 500,000 Valentine’s Day catalogs in January, mostly to its house file, says vice president of marketing Richard Van Doren. Valentine’s Day catalog and Internet sales were 17% ahead of last year, while retail sales were up just 2% of 2000.

It helped that Feb. 14 fell on a Wednesday this year, Van Doren adds: “When the holiday falls on a weekend, people tend to go out to dinner instead of buy candy.”

Valentine’s Day catalog sales for Las Vegas-based Ethel M Chocolates exceeded plan, says vice president of e-commerce Tari Staton, although she would not say by how much. The company mailed an undisclosed number of catalogs to customers and prospects in January, “and sales this season were way above last year,” she says.

Meats cataloger Omaha Steaks also beat expectations for the holiday, says vice president of marketing Vickie Hagen, “with nice growth over last year, too.” This year the company sold more complete dinner packages for two, “rather than the individual fillets,” Hagen says.

In addition to flowers and food, some romantics like to buy lingerie for their Valentine to wear — or to wear for their Valentine. That’s why lingerie mailer Frederick’s of Hollywood mailed a spring preview catalog with a Valentine’s Day-theme cover. The company mailed 4 million copies of the book in early January; the first 12 pages featured Valentine’s Day products, says vice president of marketing Danielle Savin. Frederick’s replaced the swimsuit section with a 16-page sale insert.

The catalog’s results met plan, Savin says: “We had a great Valentine’s Day, but then we were expecting a lot. We were expecting a 2.7% response, but we got a 3.2% response.”

A lovely holiday for gifts

Valentine’s Day sales at Shelburne, VT-based stuffed bears marketer Vermont Teddy Bear increased 25% from 2000. The company sold 107,000 Bear-Grams, which include a customized teddy bear, a candy treat, and a personal greeting card; half of the orders came via the Internet.

“Bear-Gram sales continue to show strong growth as other sectors of the economy have stalled,” CEO Elisabeth Robert said in a statement. It also doesn’t hurt that the company “pounded the airwaves with radio ads this Valentine’s season,” she added.

Even more impressive was Red Envelope’s whopping 300% increase over last year’s Valentine’s Day sales. The San Francisco-based upscale gifts marketer mailed 3 million copies of a 36-page Valentine’s Day edition in mid-January to a combination of house file and prospect names, says CEO Martin McClanan, “and we were more than 20% ahead of plan.”

In fact, the peak order day for Valentine’s Day marked the largest order day in the company’s history. Among Red Envelope’s products — which range from love magnets for $18 to a rose-quartz choker for $325 — romantic gifts, flowers, and personal care items were the top sellers, McClanan says.

One mailer falls short

The only cataloger contacted that did not have a stellar Valentine’s Day was Lake Forest, IL-based food gifts cataloger The Popcorn Factory. In January, the company mailed more than 1 million copies of a special Valentine’s Day book in two drops to customers and prospects, says president Nancy Hensel. Results were “close to plan,” she says.

Hensel blames the slight Valentine’s Day sales shortfall on a flood of mail dropped to beat the Jan. 7 postal rate hike, which might have slowed delivery of the catalogs. “More than half of the books were in homes a week beyond plan, which messes up projections and forecasts,” she says.

WHO ARE THE INDUSTRY’S STARS OF TOMORROW?

For an upcoming article on cataloging leaders of the past, present, and future, we need your input.

Fax your picks to 203-358-5823,
or e-mail them to ellen_hansen@intertec.com.
Deadline is March 30.

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