‘Yay, snow!’ ‘Boo, snow!’

Mar 01, 1999 10:30 PM  By

The snowstorms and frigid temperatures that finally blanketed most of the U.S. around Christmas followed a long and unseasonably mild autumn. But when it comes to wintry weather, catalogers of outerwear and winter sports gear say better late than never.

“Our catalog probably lost about 20% of what we had hoped to do in pre-Christmas sales,” says Keith Richardson, founder of Cheyenne, WY-based sporting gear and apparel cataloger Sierra Trading Post. “And we’re dropping prices now to get rid of the winter merchandise.” But, he adds, sales of winter and ski apparel picked up greatly after the cold weather hit.

“There is no question that the cold weather has helped the sales of our outerwear, footwear, and parkas,” agrees Rich Donaldson, spokesman for Freeport, ME-based outdoor gear and apparel cataloger L.L. Bean. “In particular, the sales of items from our winter sporting goods catalog have increased 50% since Christmas.”

Catalog sales of J.C. Penney’s men’s and women’s seasonal apparel also picked up once the cold snap hit. “Sales were significantly better than during the pre-Christmas season,” says Stephanie Brown, spokeswoman for the Plano, TX-based cataloger/retailer.

Boon or bane? But while the harsh weather was a boon for some catalogers, it was a bane to others. The cold temperatures that froze orange crops in California was bad news for some food catalogers. “The crops weren’t completely wiped out,” says Steve Sirianni, vice president of direct marketing for food mailer Harry and David, but the Medford, OR-based company nonetheless expects to end up paying more for its citrus fruits.

The Chicago area, home of auto parts cataloger J.C. Whitney, bore the brunt of several severe winter storms in January, making it difficult for employees to commute to work. “We had problems getting some people into our telemarketing center,” says Ed Bjorncrantz, vice president of marketing. The shortage of order-takers, he adds, cost the company some business, though he couldn’t estimate how much. On its phone message, the company apologized for being unable to take all calls and promised a free gift to those who called back the next day. “But you don’t get back all the sales that you don’t take,” Bjorncrantz says. “Customers who need something right away will find an alternative.”

And while most catalogers contacted by Catalog Age claim that customer deliveries were virtually unaffected by the winter weather, Penney’s Brown says that storms on Dec. 23 and 24 and on Jan. 4 did delay a small percentage of deliveries in the Midwest. “We called as many customers as we could to let them know their orders would be a day late,” says Brown, adding that no deliveries were delayed more than 24 hours.