It survived the Civil War. It emerged from the Great Depression. And not even last summer’s bankruptcy of parent Foster & Gallagher (F&G) could kill the 186-year-old Stark Bros. Catalog.
In October 2001, Louisiana, MO-based fruit trees and berry plants mailer Stark Bros. was sold with F&G’s other gardening titles to horticultural marketer Gardens Alive! as part of a court-supervised auction. Illinois businessmen Cameron Brown and Tim Abair, who run a medical management company, then purchased the assets of Stark Bros. from Gardens Alive. (Lexton Group, which includes former Stark Bros. executive Jack Alexander, purchased the Stark Bros. third-party fulfillment business.)
Brown and Abair, along with a small team, then hustled to produce a catalog before the end of the year. The book would be Stark Bros.’ first since March 2001.
Putting together the catalog in such a short period “was the toughest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” says marketing specialist Lita Eatock, who has been with Stark Bros. since 1978. “We have a loyal base of customers here.”
The first Stark Bros. catalog under the new ownership mailed on Dec. 28 to about 2 million house file names. “We didn’t have much time to rent names,” Eatock says. A second mailing, promoting strawberries, was later mailed to 1 million customers.
During the demise of F&G this past summer, many customers payed for goods that were never shipped. “To make good, we are shipping the orders gratis,” Eatock says. She estimates that 5,600 orders are being sent free of charge to the customers.
“This business is like a family,” Eatock adds. “When customers started to receive their orders, we’ve had people call us and begin to cry.”