Winterthur Suspends Gift Book

Aug 11, 2006 3:45 AM  By

Due to a steady decline in sales, the Winterthur Museum has suspended its gifts catalog indefinitely. During an evaluation period for the title, the Winterthur, DE-based organization, which is dedicated to preserving the estate of antiques collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont, will continue to mail its home furnishings catalog.

Started in the early 1980s, the gifts catalog — which sells jewelry, ceramic and glass items, figurines, and paperweights — has not performed well in recent years, says the museum’s director of marketing and communications Tara Theune Davis. Last October, the company laid off 61 employees — about 10% of its overall workforce — as part of a restructuring plan in which the catalog operations were outsourced to an unidentified third-party company. All but six of the layoffs affected workers at the call center and warehouse in New Castle, DE, Davis says.

“The decision was made because being a museum and cultural institution, obviously we need to make sure we’re running at peak efficiency. Our core competencies are not necessarily in the direct mail business,” Davis says. Winterthur reviewed its operation for a few years of reviewing it, and decided last October to start moving back-end functions to a third party. “Obviously, it’s a difficult decision to let go of any employees,” she says, noting that workers “were retained and incentivized to stay through June, and 14 will be here through the end of this month.”

Davis could not provide annual circulation figures for the home furnishings and gifts catalogs, but she says overall catalog circulation has increased since 2004. The home furnishings catalog, launched in 1997, “in many ways is more closely affiliated with our mission and aesthetics,” she says. “The home catalog is higher-end decorative items.”

The 64-page fall edition of the home furnishings catalog will mail the week of Aug. 14, Davis says, and the company plans to experiment by including in it some items from the gifts catalog. “It’s part of our evaluation,” she says. “We’re looking for a balance because we’re committed to the catalog business. We know it has value.”