Location shots pay off for Frontgate

Since its March issue, upscale home goods cataloger Frontgate has been taking its show on the road by shooting elaborate cover and inside photos of customers’ homes.

Not only does the strategy of using customer homes for backdrops build good will, but response for the Frontgate’s first two issues with the new creative was “significantly” higher than prior response, says president Paul Tarvin, though he won’t reveal specific numbers. He does note, though, that Frontgate’s core customers are in the upper 10% of U.S. households in income and home value.

“I set out to redefine our creative strategy a year ago,” Tarvin says. “Differentiation is the real key, because over the past few years, our [previous] abstract covers have been emulated by a number of other catalogs in the market. So I felt it was time to move ahead and do something new and different.”

The $100 million-plus division of multititle conglomerate Cornerstone Brands invites customers to send in sample pictures of their homes. The West Chester, OH-based cataloger, in turn, chooses a home to visit and photograph, showing how people have redecorated or renovated their homes.

For instance, Frontgate’s Early Summer 2000 edition shows a restored 1856 New Orleans mansion on the cover. On the inside front cover, it shows a small picture of the owners and tells how they came to own this historic home. On the opening pages of the catalog, following the customer home shots, Frontgate ties in product offers to the kinds of items seen in the houses featured.

“We did a lot of testing over the past year with some print surveys, focus groups, and A-B split tests with different covers,” Tarvin says. As a result of this research and testing, Frontgate’s new look is “part of a home and customer lifestyle, and a brand positioning strategy. It doesn’t bring products into play until at least page 3.”

Expensive, but worth it

The location photography isn’t cheap, however. Tarvin says the location shots can cost up to 10 times more than standard studio shots. But he insists that the new creative strategy has paid off.

“We have seen enough added strength in doing all this location photography to be able to afford to travel across the country and identify with our customers,” Tarvin says. “Now we have customers calling us and volunteering their homes to be on our covers. And with this measurable boost in response and attention, we’ll adopt this strategy going forward. After all, what’s an easier way to strike a chord with customers than changing a photo on the front cover?”

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