Small Catalogs Forum: The Goal for 2003–Growth

For Naperville, IL-based music cataloger Folk Era Productions, 2002 was a year for “holding and surviving,” says president/owner Allan Shaw. In fact, many, if not most, other small companies were in a similar position last year. But a number of mailers contacted by Catalog Age appear to be making growth one of their resolutions for 2003.

Steve Tamke, senior vice president, list brokerage for Hackensack, NJ-based list firm Mokrynski & Associates, says that so far, overall circulation among his smaller catalog clients looks to be flat this year. “But there’s a level of optimism that this year will be better,” he says, “and I think they’ll revisit fall/holiday mailing plans for possible increases if spring/summer results are strong.”

Katie Muldoon, president of Tequesta, FL-based catalog consultancy Muldoon & Baer, suggests that small catalogers consider boosting their circulation sooner rather than later. “A tough time like this could be the perfect opportunity for a small mailer to gain market share,” Muldoon says. She advises starting with a 10%-20% increase in circulation.

New year, new names

Sales at Folk Era, which sells mostly folk music compact discs, began to pick up in late November/early December, says owner Shaw. “We had a very lackluster year until Thanksgiving, when our Christmas catalog hit.”

When interviewed in mid-December, Shaw was planning to increase circulation at least 10% this year. But if Folk Era’s 2002 holiday season finished as strongly as it had started, he said, he would boost circulation by 50%, from 50,000 to 75,000.

Shaw was looking to increase prospecting names from 40% of his circulation mix to 60%. House file mailings “keep us alive,” he says, but “you can’t grow your business that way.”

J.H. Breakell & Co., a Newport, RI-based jewelry cataloger, is also looking to prospect more this year, increasing circulation 15%-20%. The $1.4 million company’s sales rose 10% in 2002, says co-owner Jim Breakell, despite flat circulation of 425,000 books. “Going by this past year, I’m optimistic for 2003,” Breakell says.

J.H. Breakell built its house file over the years through single-product space ads in such publications as The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines. But as time has passed, ad response had declined while the cost has risen. Whereas Breakell says he used to pay as little as $600 for a New Yorker ad, now he pays $1,700. “You have to sell a lot of silver pins to break even on that,” he says. So this year the company will rent more names from catalogs and co-operative databases, as well as do more modeling.

‘A matter of cash flow’

MyMedMart, a Webster City, IA-based cataloger of home healthcare supplies, aims to mail 750,000 catalogs this year — double what the former dot-com-only marketer had mailed in 2002. “We’re hoping to really expand this year by implementing our original marketing plan from last year,” says founder/owner Maureen Seamonds. “It’s all a matter of cash flow.”

MyMedMart targets mostly older people with medical ailments and their adult children who act as caretakers, though it also mails to home-care facilities and professional caretakers. Rather than rent lists, it mails to online customers and catalog requesters. The $100,000 company is increasing its investment in search engine marketing to help it accumulate additional catalog requesters.

To afford the increased circulation and marketing efforts, MyMedMart is slashing the page count of its catalogs from more than 200 pages to no more than 32 pages; one mailing may be as small as 16 pages. “Our customers can take a quick look at some of our special products, then will more likely go online to see the rest of what we have,” Seamonds says.

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