Eye on B-to-B: Catalogers Prepare for a Recession

If a recession is looming, b-to-b catalogers should be ready to face it. Even though many business mailers have yet to feel the ripple-down effect of falling consumer confidence, a number of them have nonetheless scaled back forecasts, pulled back on investments, and made plans to “play it safe” in general.

Mary Ann Kleinfelter is vice president of marketing for Nashua, NH-based Delta Education, which sells educational products to teachers.

We haven’t felt the downturn yet. The school buying cycle is so long — teachers have to get all sorts of approval to make purchases. But we’re not immune to a recession. President Bush says he’s going to spend more on education, so we don’t know how that will affect us. Regardless, it would take time for us to feel the impact.

Dan James is vice president of corporate business development for Carolina Biological Supply Co., a Burlington, NC-based cataloger of science and math materials for schools.

Because we sell to schools and governments, a decline in consumer confidence wouldn’t affect us for a year or two. To date, it hasn’t affected us at all. But our fear is that if President Bush’s school voucher program, giving parents the option to go to private schools, goes through, that could take some government money away from public schools, which would hurt our business. Nevertheless, if anything, we wouldn’t see any effect until a recession is over and budgets have been cut.

Cathie Fowler is vice president of marketing programs for Redmond, WA-based computer reseller Multiple Zones.

In the past we’ve mitigated the impact of the recession by balancing our buyer population between consumers and business buyers. But now we’re mailing primarily to businesses because it’s a more efficient to distribute to businesses. So we’ve also added higher-margin offerings, many of which are services-based. For example, we’ve partnered with a Web-hosting company, and also CompuCom, a nationwide service provider, to provide help-desk services, and we’re offering online training courses as well.

Ian Heller is vice president of marketing for Chicago-based Newark Electronics, a cataloger of electronic components.

We sense that our customers are pulling back a bit, and we’re being cautious because nobody knows if we’ve bottomed out yet. But we’re putting ourselves in a position so that we have options — that is, we’re pulling back on our investments. But if the economy picks up, we are in a position to pursue business aggressively. Our business isn’t necessarily cyclical as other industries are, but it has slowed lately nonetheless.

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