Few Pre-Election Jitters for Catalogers

As the country prepares to head to the polls, most catalogers are finding that their customers are still electing to buy.

New York-based luxury gifts catalog Vivre, for one, had expected sluggish sales in the weeks leading up to the election but was pleasantly surprised, says vice president of business development David Manela: “While we were expecting a slow month of October due to the election, it turns out we are trending 44% above last year for the same amount of book circulated.” The company is also optimistic about the month following the election. “With a stronger circulation going into our early November drop, we are looking forward to a very strong month of November, provided there are no post-election recounts,” he jokes.

October has also been good for Greenwich, CT-based women’s apparel cataloger Bedford Fair. “Our sales have actually picked up modestly in the last two or three weeks,” says director of marketing Pete Bather. In Bather’s experience, which includes stints as director of marketing at general merchandiser Fingerhut, vice president of marketing at apparel cataloger/retailer J. Crew Outfitters, and vice president of marketing at multititle mailer Hanover Direct, elections have little bearing on sales. “The last election, with all the chaos and attention given it in the weeks that followed, was not a good thing. Whether it’s O.J. [Simpson] or a war, you don’t want customers distracted, but I don’t think it’s specific to elections,” says Bather.

It’s also been a happy fall for Chelmsford, MA-based multititle gifts and crafts mailer Potpourri Group. “We’re on plan for all our holiday books–actually a little ahead,” says chairman/CEO Jack Rosenfeld. Nonetheless, Rosenfeld believes that sales would have been even better without a presidential election. “I just have a feeling that demand is going to pick up even more after the elections,” he says. “When there’s an exciting election, attention is diverted. Once the election is over, I think there is a pick-up in demand. My guess is it will be even better after the election.”

Rosenfeld bases his post-election projections on what the company experienced during the last presidential race: “We had a terrific year in 2000, but we did find that sales picked up after the election.”

San Diego-based athletic shoes cataloger Road Runner Sports has seen a pre-election slowdown, but CEO/owner Mike Gotfredson isn’t worried. “Every four years exactly the same thing comes up,” he says. “Two weeks before the election, sales slow down.” He says sales typically decline 10%-15% in those final days before Election Day but that sales rebound immediately after, making up for any lost revenue. “Hang onto your seat the day after the election,” he says.

The company, which refrains from mailing catalogs the two weeks before the election, will mail again on Nov. 3. And no matter the outcome, including no outcome, the post-election bounce has been consistent. “We had great sales right after 2000 [presidential election], by the next day,” Gotfredson recalls.

For Lowell, AR-based knives and men’s gifts cataloger A.G. Russell, October sales have been 25%-35% below expectations. President Goldie Russell suspects that many shoppers have yet to receive their catalogs due to the glut of political literature in the mail stream.

“Our catalogs are hitting mailboxes 10 days late at this point,” Russell says. “The impact of the election on the mail stream is more significant than in past years. I’ve been in this industry since ’88, but this [decline in sales] has been much greater than what we typically experience. The only thing I can guess, if you listen to the media, is that the two candidates are spending more money than has ever been spent before, and I assume that a lot of that is being spent on printed material that has been put into the postal system.”

Like Road Runner Sports, though, A.G. Russell is expecting a hearty post-election buying season. “We’re preparing ourselves for being absolutely covered up after the election, when people realize they have to buy Christmas gifts,” Russell says.

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