It’s been a bumpy ride for Under the Canopy, which sells apparel made from organic fibers. Just months after its launch in 1998, fulfillment problems forced the company to shelve its print book and sell solely via the Internet. But three years later, the catalog is back.
After test mailings in 1997, the Under the Canopy catalog launched in August 1998, mailing to 300,00 rented names. The company hired Chattanooga, TN-based Harrison Fulfillment to handle all of its back-end operations, which proved to be a mistake. “By the second day when we were making calls to test the CSRs, we realized we had a problem,” says the Boca Raton, FL-based catalog’s cofounder/owner Marci Zaroff.
The problem, according to Zaroff, was with Harrison’s computer system. “It was untested and unable to perform basic fulfillment functions, such as ordering taking and stock status,” she says.
A lawsuit that Under the Canopy filed against Harrison in January 1999 prevents Zaroff from commenting on any monetary damages that the cataloger may have suffered. (Harrison Fulfillment closed in 2000; certain assets were bought by Greenwich, CT-based fulfillment provider New Roads.) But cash flow problems resulting from unfulfilled orders nearly caused the company to go under.
Crawling out from under
Zaroff moved the struggling company into her home. Equipped only with 300,000 catalogs from an aborted second mailing, merchandise, and a Website, the business was “barely operational,” Zaroff says. Still, with a staff of two and a loyal customer following, it managed to keep afloat. Mentions in magazines such as Lucky, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health and on TV shows such as The View generated Web inquiries and new buyers.
Indeed, the Under the Canopy Website attracted enough media attention and new business to justify Zaroff’s setting up a distribution center in Randolph, NJ. She also decided to relaunch the catalog this spring, with drops of 150,000-175,000 books each in March, May, and June.
Kathy Duggan-Josephs, president of Ridgefield, CT-based list firm D-J Associates, consulted on the circulation strategy for the relaunch. “We had little to build on but were able to discern from the last launch that there are many lists that work great for this type of apparel offering,” says Duggan-Josephs. Ninety percent of the mailings went to prospects, the remaining 10% to requesters and Web buyers.
Zaroff says that so far, catalog sales are 50% higher than the moderate plan she had put into place; the average order of $170 is well beyond her expectations. For next year, Under the Canopy plans to increase its circulation, product offering, and page counts.