Coming off a solid spring season, and buoyed by the strong economy and the prospect of a delayed (and manageable) postal rate increase, consumer catalog mailers have big plans for fall. In fact, many of the catalog companies contacted by Catalog Age say they will increase fall/holiday circulation by double-digit percentages.

For instance, “our fall mailing will be up 10% over 1997,” says Jim Klaus, president of $20 million Richmond, VA-based clothing catalog Children’s Wear Digest. “And we use that figure as a growth benchmark. We’ll probably see a 15% mailing increase for our holiday issue.” The fall increase will be evenly divided between house lists and rented names.

As for the impending postal increase, Klaus says it won’t affect the cataloger’s mailing plan or schedule. “It’s not as big an increase as in the past-and we have a gut feeling that when we mail earlier to avoid the higher costs, we really don’t end up benefiting.”

Caviateria, a $5 million-plus cataloger/retailer of caviar and smoked salmon, has a different rationale for its whopping 30% increase in fall circulation. The New York-based firm has expanded its retail operation, which has provided it with more names to mail. “We have one more store location than we had last year, which is the way we develop our house lists,” says Sandra Jones, the New York-based retail manager. (The company doesn’t use rented names.)

The 5%-10% increase contingent In general, many catalogers, including Medfield, MA-based multititle gifts cataloger Potpourri, are citing 5%-10% circulation boosts this fall compared with last year. “An infusion of capital is enabling us to prospect and mail slightly more aggressively than we did last year,” says president Jack Rosenfeld. “We will be using more rented names.” In addition to its eponymous gifts book, Potpourri also mails the Expressions gifts book, and Stitchery and Counted Cross Stitch, two needlecraft catalogs. “Our sales are on plan. The postal rates aren’t significantly going to affect our mailing rates,” Rosenfeld says.

Stamford, CT-based gifts cataloger Carol Wright is also planning a 10% increase in circulation compared to fall 1997, says Donna DiMarco, vice president of marketing. “We plan to mail to slightly more house file names,” she explains. Spring sales from Carol Wright and its newer book, Apple Creek Creations, have been “pretty good: Response and average orders are up from last year, and we’re expecting big increases for our holiday issues,” DiMarco says. The company has budgeted for the upcoming postal increase, and should that occur in January (as some anticipate), it will be business as usual, she says. Of course, a lot depends on Carol Wright’s printing schedules, she notes, as the company works on a long lead time, making it difficult to change dates.

Multititle gifts and home goods catalog Lillian Vernon is more conservative than many of the other mailers contacted, predicting just a single-digit percentage increase for this year’s fall circulation, says David Hochberg, the $240 million company’s vice president of public affairs. “Our gift catalog items are highly seasonal,” he says, “and the single-digit circulation increase reflects the normal increase in our mailing plans.” But he does say that the New Rochelle, NY-based company, which mails 178 million catalogs a year, will probably reduce mailings when the postal rate increase hits. “We hope that the increase won’t occur until January, as there’s always a correlation between mailing costs and mailing quantities.”

A different tack Going against the tide (and seeking more bang for the buck), Fingerhut, the $1.8 billion Minnetonka, MN-based general merchandise cataloger, says it will not be mailing significantly more catalogs this year over last, according to executive vice president/chief operating officer Pete Michielutti. “For the fourth quarter, we’re implementing mail stream optimization, a Fingerhut-designed software program that will reduce catalog repetition,” he says. On an ongoing basis, he notes, the cataloger works to “cut back on our mailing quantities without affecting sales.”

Minneapolis-based Damark won’t be boosting circulation, either. Director of print production Betsy Hayes says that fall mailing quantities will remain about the same as in 1997. The $600 million cataloger/membership club is planning to “focus on growing our membership club, on partnering with companies that have lists we can use, and using outbound telemarketing, which is more effective for us,” she says.

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