EMS climbs back into the mail

Eighteen years after discontinuing its catalog of apparel and supplies for extreme-sports enthusiasts, Peterborough, NH-based Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) is back in the mail with a “catazine.”

Product offerings account for about 70% of the 180-page book, with articles and other editorial content making up the rest. The title mailed in November to 650,000 house file and rented names.

“Our main goal was to create a unique sales vehicle that would stand out from all the clutter our customers have in their mailboxes during the holiday season,” says EMS chief marketing officer Scott Barrett. The book’s product selection emphasizes sports gear for true enthusiasts, such as the $69 Power Day Hydration Pack, an insulated backpack designed to hold a canteen or a thermos, and the $99 Men’s & Women’s EMS Trek Pants, which are water and wind resistant. The best-seller was the $279 Hammerhead sled with an aluminum frame set on two skis.

Editorial includes articles on finding fresh ice-climbing trails and tips for safe mountaineering and a first-person narrative from a customer about growing up in Canada. The book also features edgy cartoons, such as one depiction of a nude man and woman clinging together as they shiver inside a tent and another of a man on a skateboard with a nose and tongue-ring.

Barrett says the catalog generated a 4.4% response rate, which contributed to a “double-digit” boost to the company’s year-over-year Internet sales. “The Website address on each page of our catalog drove traffic to the site,” he says. The book is also prompting customers to visit the company’s more than 80 stores. “People are coming into stores with pages dog-eared, saying, ‘I want this from page 99, and do you have this from page 78?’” Barrett says.

The second issue will drop in May to the same 650,000 names mailed to in November, as well as to additional prospects. “We will do more prospecting, targeting a slightly younger demographic,” says Barrett. The company already has a college-age buyer marketing program in place: EMS distributed 100,000 copies of the catalog to outing clubs at northeastern universities in November, concurrent with thebk’s first mailing.

Founded in 1967, EMS mailed its first catalog the same year. By the early 1980s, however, the catalog suffered from a too-generic merchandise selection, says Barrett. The pages were filled with bland products, such as parkas and backpacks that could be found in hundreds of other catalogs.

In 1985 the company was acquired by New York-based American Retail Group; the owner decided to stop EMS catalog mailings altogether in 1987. After a management buyout in 2003, however, the company decided to relaunch the catalog.

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