The Lighthouse expands its focus

Just three years after revamping its catalog offering to include items for senior citizens as well as for those with vision problems, Lighthouse International, a nonprofit organization for the visually impaired, is going even more mainstream. With its fall catalog, the organization is selling toys and decorative gift items in addition to the large-print books, magnifying glasses, and audiocassettes that have been its staples.

Although the New York-based organization has mailed a print catalog since 1989, only recently did it step up its mail order efforts. Roberta Nasta, vice president for consumer products, says Lighthouse will mail four catalog editions in 13 drops this year. Previously, the organization mailed a spring/summer book and a fall/winter title in six drops a year. Circulation for the holiday catalog increased 30%, to roughly 1.2 million, Nasta says, with the first of four holiday drops mailing in September.

Prospecting to boomers Nasta, who joined Lighthouse in February, is leveraging her experience as the former president of women’s apparel cataloger Brownstone Studio and as an executive at list firm Mokrynski & Associates by analyzing Lighthouse’s customers to see which buyers are most profitable. “Right now, we’re in the throes of prospecting – I don’t have any results yet,” she says.

But Nasta has decided to prospect to baby boomers rather than focus solely on consumers with vision impairments and senior citizens. “I wanted to raise awareness of consumers to the Lighthouse’s services and programs,” she says. Most of the holiday circulation consists of names rented from gift and apparel lists. “Our house file is small, which is why I’m doing so much prospecting,” says Nasta, who won’t release numbers.

Sixty percent of the products in the Lighthouse’s holiday catalog are new, including the merchandise designed for children. Among the kid’s products: the WigglyGiggly ball, which wiggles and giggles as it rolls; musical building blocks, which let children “compose” music as they play; hands-free Spy Walkie-Talkies; and a “talking” Teddy Bear.

Other products new to the catalog were designed specifically for Lighthouse, such as pillows and towels adorned with an image of a lighthouse. To accommodate the increase in new products, the holiday book increased its page count from 32 to 44.

Not that Lighthouse has strayed too far from its purpose. In fact, its niche helps the Lighthouse differentiates itself from other gift books, Nasta says. “It’s not just about selling a product; it’s about helping those with visual impairments,” since catalog sales are funneled back into Lighthouse International.

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