Who’s Doing What: Food Merchant Promotions

As the holiday shopping season revs up, it’s good to survey the competitive landscape. MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT will periodically take a look at the offers that merchants are touting in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This week, we take a look at what some of the food mailers are serving up.

Our Early Holiday 2005 edition of the Allen Brothers catalog featured a blurb on the front cover promising “Free Delivery. See insert card for details.” The insert card, however, offered a different promotion: four USDA Prime complete-trim 6-oz. filet mignons for $59.95, as opposed to the regular price of eight filets for $164.95. A visit to the Website didn’t immediately clarify matters. Near the bottom of the home page was a link to special offers; we then had to input the keycode from the back of the catalog to discover that we were indeed eligible for free delivery of $99 or more per address on orders placed by Nov. 15.

To attract corporate business, Almond Brothers added a dot whack on the front cover of its catalog offering “free logo set-up fee on all orders placed by Nov. 7th.” Never mind the dubious ability to offer a “free fee”; Almond Brothers normally charges $25 per logo. The catalog also noted on the front that it did not require minimum order sizes.

Chocolatier Bissinger’s had a faux dot whack on the front cover of its Thanksgiving 2005 catalog giving free freight “for Yourself and One Gift Recipient” on catalog and online orders placed by Nov. 22.

A cover wrap on our Hershey’s Business Gifts 2005 Gift Catalog had its own faux dot whack: “Save up to 20%. See inside cover.” Buyers could save 20% if they order at least $5,001 worth of merchandise by Nov. 28. Orders of $3,501-$5,000 receive a 15% discount; orders of $2,001-$3,500 a 10% discount; and orders of $1,000-$2,000 a 5% discount. The actual front cover of the catalog featured yet another fake dot whack: “Free Gift! See back cover for details”: Customers who order at least $50 worth of goodies by Nov. 14 receive a free tin of Hershey’s Kisses with Caramel.

On the front of its Season’s Greetings 2005 edition, Harry and David placed the cover line “Same Low Shipping & Handling” near the bottom, almost like a tagline. The cover also called out a deferred payment offer; as spelled out on the order form, shoppers who applied for and were approved for a Harry and David credit card could defer monthly payments until Feb. 1.

This year, as it did last year, Wine Country Gift Baskets encouraged customers to place holiday orders early by promising to ship and bill on the date requested. The merchant also offered its usual 5% discount on Web orders.

And on the cover of what is apparently a prospecting catalog, Zingerman’s entices newcomers with a 10% discount on their first order.

Who’s Hiring? Not Too Many Marketers

Owatonna, MN—A direct marketing employment survey shows that almost one-third of direct marketing companies have hiring freezes in effect. The study, conducted the week of July 9 by Bernhart Associates Executive Search/Wheaton Consulting Group, also shows that sales and business development candidates will be in greatest demand for summer hiring.

In comparison to a similar survey the firms conducted in March, the number of direct marketing companies planning to add to staff dropped about 20%, while the percentage of companies with hiring freezes rose. “Clearly the direct marketing industry is continuing to retrench,” Bernhart president Jerry Bernhart said in a statement, “and many employers are now telling us they don’t expect much of a turnaround until next year.”

Among the companies surveyed, 44% plan to add to staff during the third quarter of the year, compared to 74% that said in March they were going to be hiring during the second quarter. For 30% of the companies that plan to add to staff this quarter, the additional headcount will be the result of newly created positions. Meanwhile, the percentage of companies reporting hiring freezes jumped to 30%, up from 21% in March. Most of those companies do plan to lift their hiring freezes in September or October, in time for the holiday season.

If there’s any encouraging news to come out of the survey, it’s that only 11% of the companies responding plan to reduce staff during the current quarter, “so hopefully the worst of the widespread layoffs is behind us,” Bernhart said.

Sales, business development, and account management positions appear to be most plentiful, according to the survey. Other positions mentioned most often by direct marketers who plan to hire include analysts, customer service managers, press operators, fulfillment specialists, database administrators, merchandisers, and media buyers.

Who’s the New PMG? Anyone’s Guess

Washington–The U.S. Postal Service appears to be far from making a decision on choice of a postmaster general to replace William Henderson, whose term expires May 31.

“Everyone’s confused. Will it be someone from inside the USPS? Outside?” says Tony Gallo, vice president of the Arlington, VA-based Association for Postal Commerce. “I think the postal Board of Governors [BOG] is working hard to find a PMG with a political background who can take the USPS through postal reform.”

Early favorites for the post, after Henderson announced last year that he intended to quit in May, included politicians such as former senator Alan Simpson, says postal consultant Richard Barton. “But I never thought any discussions of making political leaders PMGs were serious, and the BOG has been extremely quiet about its choice since,” he says. “I do believe the BOG is seriously looking for candidates outside the USPS, but that doesn’t mean that [deputy PMG John] Nolan won’t get it.”

Another source close to the situation says that other names floating around include Southwest Airlines president/CEO/chairman Herbert Kelleher, former USPS chief inspector Ken Hunter, and former USPS chief counsel Mary Elcano. “Rumor has it these are some of the people being considered,” the source says, “but the governors are keeping it close to the vest.”

The biggest problem the BOG is having, Gallo says, is that outside candidates “are realizing that the BOG consists of well-intentioned and nice people, but not necessarily a board they can work with. None of the postal board members are from large capital industries,” he says. “And a PMG doesn’t have a glamorous job. You have unions on one side, management on the other, and Congress to make legislative reform changes. And with the USPS approaching $3 billion in debt with little hope of turning it around, what kind of hero can a new PMG be?”