Chicago–Get back to prospecting: That’s the message from Direct Marketing Association president/CEO Bob Wientzen. In an exclusive interview with CATALOG AGEprior to this year’s Annual Catalog Conference, Wientzen said that not only is it time for catalogers to focus once again on growing their businesses, but that they should look overseas as well as at home to do so.
“The typical reaction to increasing costs has been to reduce mailing, and the natural inclination, of course, if you have to go that direction is to reduce prospecting mailings,” Wientzen said. “Consequently, a lot of companies are seeing a reduction in their house files, and over time that will erode the business.”
Increased prospecting, he added, means looking beyond proven mail order buyers. “It means getting new customers in the habit of buying by catalog,” he said. “If not, we’ll see catalogers’ market share decrease, and that will be bad for the industry. We’re still stuck, if you will, in an environment in which a large percentage of the population–50%-60%–doesn’t buy from catalogs.”
Wientzen touted the DMA’s Shop-At-Home program as an effective means of promoting catalog shopping to media–and therefore to consumers–around the country. More than 70 marketers currently participate in the program. Participants pay a fee to have their catalog sent to feature editors nationwide, included in press releases, and featured in story pitches to television, radio, and print journalists.
And when it comes to spreading the word, Wientzen contends that there’s no need to stay within the United States. “Catalogers have backed away from global expansion, and I understand why,” he said. “But the European catalog industry is going to benefit from the fact that it hasn’t walked away from global expansion. In China, for instance, there are a half-dozen fairly significant catalog operations, and all but one is European. Electronic marketing will make it easier to expand overseas, and we may lose the initiative when business gets better in the States. But then we may discover that European companies are beating us to the punch.”
Beyond tending to their own companies, Wientzen said, more catalogers should get involved in lobbying at state and national levels regarding such key issues as postal reform, privacy, and use tax: “Many catalogers leave it to their larger brethren and don’t really get involved. I am particularly concerned now about the Postal Service and trying to enact postal reform. We need everybody.”