Garden.com’s seedling print book

After launching four years ago with lofty plans to become the Amazon.com of gardening, $5.3 million Garden.com has rather quietly launched a print catalog.

The Austin, TX-based company first mailed a 50-page print book to 500,000 customers and prospects in December; the holiday catalog “broke even,” says Jay Waddell, director of database marketing for Garden.com.

In February, Garden.com mailed about 1.1 million copies of a 52-page spring catalog, mostly to prospects as well as to customers. The spring book mailed to rented names from gardening publications and requesters from the Internet, some of which were Garden.com’s Web customers. “Our main objective is to grow; we are still feeling our way around with prospecting,” Waddell says.

To the Web marketer, mail order is primarily another way of communicating with its customers, Waddell says, though it’s also a vehicle to drive sales. “Mailing a print catalog is really a convenience for customers. We want our customers to feel comfortable buying what they want, how they want to buy it.”

Although Waddell says it’s too early to gauge the success of the spring book, Garden.com is pleased with initial results. “Since this is our first year in the catalog business, there’s really nothing to compare results to. We are still flying by wire” in traditional mail order, he admits.

Clearly, the Internet marketer did not skimp on catalog production costs for its first foray into print. The Garden.com catalog features sharp photography of colorful flowers and lush plants printed on heavy coated paper. Waddell would not comment on production costs, but he says the company wants the catalog to “communicate a message of quality to our customers,” as well as to provide another ordering channel. Still, “if we can acquire customers through the catalog and transition them to buy on the Website, it’s going to be cheaper for us in the long run,” he says.

A mail order channel might also help distinguish Garden.com from the Web pure-plays now taking a beating on the stock market. Even Garden.com, which raised $49.2 million in an initial public offering (IPO) in August ’99, saw its stock price tumble from a high of 24 1/8 to 3 3/8 at press time. And in April, the company reported a third-quarter net loss of $11.4 million, compared to a net loss of $5.4 million for the same period last year. But revenue for the quarter was $3.2 million, an increase of 236% over $939,000 for the same period last year.

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