Northern Tool + Equipment Launches Gadgets Catalog

Where would you go to find an underwater camera mask, a keg-o-rator, a retro vending machine or a circus popcorn cart? You can find such items, along with gas-powered blenders, storm-proof lighters and much more in Kotula’s, a new gadgets print catalog and Website from multichannel merchant Northern Tool + Equipment.

The 68-page catalog— named after company founder/CEO Don Kotula, who has always had a fascination with unique and hard-to-find products—first mailed in August. A second holiday book dropped to about 2.5 million names in November—about half of which were prospects. The plan is to mail it out quarterly, says director of database and new catalog marketing Jon Thorsen.

Many Kotula’s products have been also featured in Northern Tool’s master catalog over the years. While the items didn’t fit in with the Northern brand, “all the guys who buy from us are really interested in these gadgety type products,” Thorsen says. “We knew our customers were buying this stuff—not only from us, but also from other suppliers,” he adds.

So Northern Tool opted to spin Kotula’s off into another brand to get more wallet share from the buyers it already have, and also attract some new buyers—including women. “I think our big master catalog is kind of intimidating to some people,” Thorsen says of the 600-page core book, which mails twice a year.

What’s more, the presentation is much different in the Kotula’s catalog, he adds. “There’s much more page space for each product – bigger photos – whereas the Northern catalog is a lot more dense, with less room for each product.”

Another key difference is that the Kotula’s catalog includes a lot more humor in the copy. This gives it a more lighthearted tone and more entertainment value for the reader compared to the master catalog, which tends to be dry and descriptive.

Burnsville, NC-based Northern Tool + Equipment has been mailing catalogs since its inception in 1981; about 60% of its nearly $1 billion in annual sales comes from its print catalog. Thorsen says the company hopes Kotula’s will add tens of millions more in sales annually to its existing sales. The company also operates 65 retail stores in 11 Southeastern states, but only limited amounts of Kotula’s merchandise will be available in these locations.

With the economy being what it is, Thorsen admits it’s not the best time to launch to launch a catalog. “But we’ve actually been doing pretty well—we’ve been happy with the sales we’ve had so far,” he notes.

It helps that Kotula’s has been getting quite a bit of promotion through the Internet, as well as on radio and television. For example, one of the catalog’s more popular products, the “flair hair visor,” was recently shown on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

“This little flair-hair visor we have has been really popular,” Thorsen says. “It’s a visor for guys who are balding – it’s a gag gift. It has a piece of hair attached to the visor, so you look like you have hair.”

Sales of the flair hair visor took off after it recently got voted up on the front page of social news site reddit.com. “We had like ten times our normal Web traffic that day,” Thorsen says.

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