MULTICULTURAL MARKETING: Fingerhut’s Hispanic push

Cataloger invests in Hispanic mailer Empire Direct to expand in market

When general merchandiser Fingerhut Cos. began targeting the largely ignored Hispanic market in 1991, it was a tiny, but growing, part of the Minnetonka, MN-based cataloger’s business. But nine years later, sales to Hispanics account for 15.6% of Fingerhut’s $1.6 billion total annual revenue (roughly $250 million).

And that number should increase, thanks in part to Fingerhut’s January purchase of a 28% interest in New York-based Empire Direct, which sells jewelry, electronics, and other merchandise to Hispanics through its Empire Club catalog. What’s more, Fingerhut plans to announce a joint venture with another Hispanic marketer later this month, although Rafael Saldana, vice president and general manager of Fingerhut’s Hispanic business, wouldn’t give details at press time.

“The investment in Empire Direct will help Fingerhut expand its reach into the Hispanic community,” Saldana says. “Right now, Fingerhut is trying to take the Hispanic business to the next level.”

Fingerhut is also trying to build its house file. Empire’s database consists of 1.1 million names. Fingerhut, owned by Federated Department Stores (which also owns the Macy’s By Mail and Bloomingdale’s By Mail catalogs), has 1.2 million Spanish-speaking customers in its database. The amount of overlap between the databases is yet to be determined.

Fingerhut already mails 12 prospecting catalogs a year, in addition to six catalogs annually to its established Hispanic customers. It also uses alternative media, such as radio, to acquire new names. “We are going heavy into Hispanic markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York,” Saldana says.

Market challenges

Finding Hispanic prospects is just one challenge when targeting this market. There’s also the matter of producing Spanish-language catalogs and hiring Spanish-speaking order-takers and service reps. And you need to be aware of the differences in colloquialisms and preferences among Hispanics from different areas. For instance, Mexican Spanish and Columbian Spanish differ just as American English and Scottish English do.

Then there are certain postal address issues, especially when mailing into Puerto Rico. Home addresses in Puerto Rico have four lines, compared to three lines in the States, says Chris Ragusa, president of New Rochelle, NY-based list firm Estee List Services and a member of the Direct Marketing Association’s Hispanic Marketing Council. The extra line is the urbanization code, which narrows down the location in cities with several districts. Without this code, your mailing may still arrive, Ragusa says, but its deliverability may be slowed. Also, in Puerto Rico the house number is listed after the street name (“calle main 193”), not before (“193 Main Street”).

And because some Hispanic names include both the mother’s and the father’s surnames, you may need to lengthen the name field in your database. The multiple surnames can also make it more difficult to dedupe lists.

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