Magellan’s explores Web growth

Ferdinand Magellan was killed while trying to sail around the world. The 10-year-old travel gear cataloger Magellan’s is trying to make a killing by navigating the World Wide Web.

As of last holiday season, the Magellan’s Website accounted for 20% of the company’s $25 million in annual sales, according to founder/president John McManus. For the past two years, the company has held its annual print catalog circulation steady at 8 million with four seasonal editions.

Nonetheless, the Santa Barbara, CA-based cataloger has enjoyed 25% annual sales growth, in part by “taking some of the dollars we were using for prospecting catalogs and putting them into our Website,” McManus says. “The fact that our site is a content-heavy source for customers is enabling us to pump up our business online.”

For instance, whereas some travel items, such as apparel, don’t require much explanation, much of Magellan’s merchandise is more technical, such as a hand-powered cell phone battery generator and dozens of electricity adapters for different countries. “We’re so heavy on hard goods that require an involved story, whether they’re water purification devices or electrical items,” McManus says. “So we want to give customers more than we can justify in space in the catalog.”

Magellan’s will begin mentioning its Web address on every page of its summer print catalog “inviting people to go to our site to get more information on products from the catalog for which we can’t justify the square inches in the print book,” he adds.

The importance of paper

But catalog consultant John Lenser, president of San Rafael, CA-based Lenser & Associates, cautions that Magellan’s shouldn’t lose track of its core business. “Magellan’s in all probability could have a successful site, but it’s highly improbable that the site will ever take the place of the catalog,” he says. “I had a couple of catalog clients recently who built up their sites, but then Web sales began to flatten, and they didn’t have the growth they had in the past. So they’re now looking to expand their catalog circulation again.”

For its part, Magellan’s has no plans to give up the print book. In fact, next spring the company plans to test-mail a smaller prospecting version of its 66-page main “reference” catalog. At press time, McManus was unsure of the new book’s exact size, but he hopes to cut costs somewhat with the scaled-down book. “We’ll offer more-popular products to prospects and spend the money we save from not mailing the big book on our Website.”

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