LIVE FROM THE ANNUAL CATALOG CONFERENCE: Five Quick Lessons from Williams-Sonoma’s Pat Connolly

The marketing landscape is changing. There’s more competition on the Web and in stores than ever before. And with costs likely to increase, you’ll certainly have to keep doing more with less.

To stay ahead of it, Pat Connolly, executive vice president/chief marketing officer for San Francisco-based cataloger/retailer Williams-Sonoma, which mails the Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, and Williams-Sonoma catalogs, urges attendees to roll with the changes and not accept the status quo.

In this morning’s keynote address, “Securing Our Future in a Changing World,” Connolly will offer strategic guidance to attendees. “Retail is changing, and we have to change with it, in order to stay competitive,” he told Catalog Age: The Show Daily in an exclusive interview. In other words of wisdom, Connolly offers these five quick lessons:

1) Don’t think of yourself as a cataloger; think of yourself as a brand.

Sounds simple enough, but according to Connolly, the reason that so many of the top regional department stores of 20 years ago are no longer around is that they didn’t focus enough on branding. But companies that have a strong brand, regardless of channel, will continue long into the future. “Look at Amazon, for example. They weren’t profitable for years,” he noted. But its strong brand kept it in the good graces of Wall Street analysts.

2) Quit whining and fix the goods.

“There’s no challenge that we face as an industry that good merchandising won’t solve,” Connolly said. In fact, the catalog industry could be doing a better job of merchandising and coming up with unique products, he added. “If you’re not doing as well as you’d like, concentrate on the merchandise.”

3) It’s not about customer service…it’s about the customer experience.

How easy do you make it for your customers to buy? Williams-Sonoma, for instance, makes it easier for customers to experience the brand across all channels; customers ordering from the catalog can return the goods at its stores.

4) The Internet is not a threat. It’s the future.

Catalogers should “own” the Internet, Connolly said, “because we have the fundamentals down–I don’t think we can spend enough time on the Internet.” Williams-Sonoma’s Internet business accounts for about 40% of its direct business and 17% of total sales. Citing a Forrester Research statistic, he said, “It took 100 years for catalog sales to equal 5% of total retail sales. And it took just four years for e-commerce sales to equal 4% of total retail sales.”

5) We cannot succeed by ourselves.

We need each other’s lists for our survival, Connolly said. True, The Limited and The Gap don’t need each other’s lists. But we do.

Connolly also told Catalog Age that Williams-Sonoma Home will be hitting mailboxes as soon as September. The new high-end home decor catalog will extend beyond the bed and bath accessories offered by Chambers, the company’s upscale linens catalog. Chambers, which began mailing in 1989 and according its data card has an average unit of sale of $289, will be folded into Williams-Sonoma Home.

Total direct-to-customer sales for Williams-Sonoma totaled $966.4 million last year, up 21% from $798.2 million in 2002.

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