The Down Economy Is Child’s Play for Lilliput Play Homes

Lilliput Play Homes is one marketer that’s not feeling the sting of the stagnant economy. The Finleyville, PA-based cataloger/retailer of upscale play homes for children saw sales jump more than 50% during the past year — despite mailing catalogs solely to requesters.

The catalog sells lavish play homes for children, which range in price from about $3,000 to nearly $7,000. The average order size is $4,000-$5,000. Stephen K. Chernicky, president of the $2 million company, says Lilliput has grown 20%-30% a year since 1995. Chernicky founded Lilliput in 1990 as a part-time venture, and it wasn’t until 1995 that he sold his primary business to focus on Lilliput full-time. The eight-page fold-out catalog accounts for three-quarters of the company’s sales; Lilliput also has two stores in the Pittsburgh area and a wholesale business.

Instead of renting lists, Lilliput prospects by advertising in magazines targeting upscale parents and grandparents, such as Martha Stewart Living, Child, and Parents. The catalog’s annual circulation, which averages around 10,000, goes to requesters only — it doesn’t even mail to past buyers. Chernicky says that 1%-2% of requesters make a purchase.

To keep sales growing, the catalog is being redesigned for next year. “We want to add two more models and feature more photos of the play homes’ interiors with children using them,” Chernicky says. The company is even considering prospecting with the redesigned, 16-page catalog. In the meantime, it will likely start charging requesters $3-$5 for the book “to screen for those who are serious about buying,” he says. After all, parents in the market for a $5,000 Victorian playhouse aren’t likely to balk at shelling out $5 for a catalog.