Corporate Greetings Greets Promo Market

You’d expect a catalog named Corporate Greetings to sell primarily corporate greeting cards. But cards make up just two spreads of the 20-page debut Corporate Greetings catalog. The company also sells pens, desk accessories, mugs, and other promotional products and motivational materials.

Backed by nearly $600,000 in venture capital, Corporate Greetings launched in late November as a business-to-business cataloger and outbound telemarketer. For its initial mailing, the Trinidad, CO-based company had three drops of 40,000, 20,000, and 20,000 books each, for a total mailing of 80,000 copies. The cataloger printed 5,000 additional copies for its outbound phone reps to send out in conjunction with their telemarketing efforts.

CEO Neil Sexton says that prospects for both the mailings and the outbound calls came from lists of marketing professionals. Without citing specifics, he says that the catalog’s average order was twice what he planned, though he admits his expectations were low.

Having been an executive with Successories, a manufacturer/marketer of motivational products, Sexton knows he’s entering a crowded market. Competitors include 4imprint, Branders, and Made to Order.

“We will compete with local distributors that have ruled these industries for more than 100 years,” Sexton says. “But I would like to think that our approach of sometimes partnering with competitors will help us where it makes sense.”

For instance, Corporate Greetings manufactures a small percentage of its own products, which it would like to sell to other mailers. It is also interested in buying merchandise from catalogers that manufacture some of their own products. Sexton says he’s talking with Executive Greetings, Successories, Reliable Corp., and Taylor Corp., which owns the Current and Paper Direct catalogs, about establishing supplier-buyer relationships.

But some are skeptical as to whether Sexton can count on his competitors to be so cooperative. “It’s doubtful that he can be both a strong competitor and have products supplied by competing catalogs,” says Lois Boyle, partner/chief creative officer for J. Schmid & Associates, a Shawnee Mission, KS-based catalog consulting firm. “What makes a catalog successful is its uniqueness. The company will need its own exclusive products to be sold in its own catalog to succeed.”

Going forward, Sexton says, “We’ll be more niche-oriented, focusing on about five key areas, some of which are still in the definition phase.” Potential target markets include women and Latino business professionals – two underserved niches, he says. Sexton plans at least 12 drops for this year, with different versions to target specific market segments.

Just because you’re a man towering well over 6′ tall and weighing more than 200 lbs. doesn’t mean you can’t be a fashion plate. San Francisco-based cataloger/retailer Rochester Big & Tall has built up a $60 million business outfitting “men of size” with designer duds. And some of the company’s devoted celebrity customers have stepped in as catalog models, adding cache to the brand.

Rochester operates 21 stores nationwide and mails 350,000 catalogs four times a year. About half of its catalogs are sent to its house file of approximately 165,000 and half to prospects from rented lists and co-op database Abacus Direct. Additional catalogs are distributed at the retail locations. Response rates average 2.5%, and catalog orders average $325.

Rochester Big & Tall president Bob Sockolov attributes the solid response to the lack of venues selling stylish, quality clothing for larger men. Rochester brands range from Levi’s to Versace; the company also has some exclusive designs specially made. Customers can attest to the dearth of designer menswear in large sizes. Actor Michael Clarke Duncan, the 6′ 5″ star of the movie The Green Mile, came to Rochester after an exhaustive search for a tuxedo to wear to last year’s Golden Globes Awards. Rochester was able to fit him with a tux from its custom line, as well as several other designer label suits. Duncan returned the favor by posing for the cover and the inside pages of the 2000 holiday catalog (see above). Other Rochester clients-turned-models include comic Louie Anderson, host of TV game show Family Feud, and football player Leonard Marshall. In fact, the former New York Giants defensive lineman recently inked an exclusive contract to create a sportswear line for Rochester.

The Rochester Big & Tall catalog makes up just 10% of the company’s total sales. Nonetheless, Sockolov says the catalog is an integral part of the business. For one, the book enables the company to reach customers outside the metropolitan areas where the stores are located. Also, Sockolov says, “We know that many customers come into the store after receiving catalogs, but we have no precise way to segment out those sales.”

Rochester Big & Tall does not yet have a Website, though the company plans to launch an informational site this spring and, eventually, a transactional Web catalog. Sockolov says that the company has deliberately delayed its foray into e-commerce to ensure that it can get things right. “I have been frustrated by other Websites and saw the potential for customer alienation,” he says. “So I want to make sure that our customers will have the same positive experience online that they have when shopping in the store or via the catalog.”

Sharper Image Tunes in to Infomercials While some large multichannel marketers such as Talbots and J.C. Penney are running primetime television commercials to raise their profiles, The Sharper Image prefers infomercials. For nearly three years, the high-tech gifts and gadgets cataloger/retailer has run two-minute infomercials promoting individual proprietary products, such as a silent air purifier, a hand-held vacuum cleaner and scrubber, ionic hair wand, and the Razor scooter. Although he won’t divulge specifics, Tony Farrell, senior vice president of creative services for the San Francisco-based company, says that the sales generated from infomercials represent “a fairly good-size piece of our business.”

Unlike 30-second commercials, which serve largely to bolster brand images, “we aim to make money or at least break even on all our infomercials,” Farrell says. The company tracks all infomercial phone orders through the 800-number used exclusively for the spots. “Any spillover to our stores or our Website in response to the infomercial is gravy,” he says. The Sharper Image regards its infomercial advertising as somewhat of a “self-liquidating advertising proposition,” Farrell says. “It pays for itself even without accounting for the advertising’s impact on our stores. And we typically see sales in stores go up when we run the infomercials.”

Farrell says The Sharper Image buys time on all the major cable TV networks, though he won’t specify which ones. The company has run its infomercials in a “broad rotation” of various times throughout the day – most often late at night, when infomercials typically air. “We pretty much try every part of the day and follow our nose to where the response is,” Farrell says, “which isn’t unlike how it is with direct mail.”

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