Opinion & Response

Dec 01, 2002 10:30 PM  By

From Dictation to Dick Tracy

Layoffs are no laughing matter, but for some they bring about change for the better. Just ask Margaret Thompson, a former executive secretary at cataloger Newport News turned private investigator. Thompson worked at the company, which was then based in Newport News, VA, for 20 years before parent company Spiegel consolidated the division into its Downers Grove, IL, headquarters and closed the information services department in April 2001. Though Thompson had planned to find another secretarial job, an employment agency had her take a computer program test to match her personality and experience with various jobs, and private investigator was one of the surprising choices. Thompson passed the federal background check and firearms training, and by early spring 2002 her days had gone from fetching coffee and taking dictation to conducting surveillance and digging up dirt on subjects. We’ve always said that working in this industry will prepare you for anything.


They’re called starving artists for a reason: Art supplies are expensive. Easels, pigments, papers, nibs — they add up. With its name, Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff addresses the price issue. But with its creative and product selection, the catalog makes it clear that it’s competing not only on price, but on service and quality as well.

The copy makes a point of differentiating among the various brands of similar watercolors, oils, and pastels. Holbein Artists’ Watercolors, for instance, are “brilliant, wild raucous colors! You just can’t get a more beautiful and unusual assortment anywhere…” while Daler-Rowney Watercolors are “calculated to produce free flowing color, which leaves no hard lines at the edge of the washes.”

Technical tips abound. Ditto inspiring quotes and selections of customers’ artworks. Combined with the photos of employees that appear on the footers of every page and the old-timey serif type (in a large font, for supereasy readability), they create a friendly, knowledgeable source that you want to buy from. And with all sorts of volume discounts (including free shipping on orders of more than $250), Cheap Joe’s makes it tough for promising Picassos and would-be Warhols to stop shopping.

Martha Catalog Now a Me-Too

We almost feel bad about picking on Martha Stewart, considering how the ImClone stock scandal has tarnished her good name, caused her company’s stock to plummet, and forced her to resign from the board of the New York Stock Exchange in early October. But then we received a copy of her revamped catalog. The former Martha by Mail, now titled Martha Stewart The Catalog for Living, is a dead ringer for kitchen products mailer Williams-Sonoma. Gone are the catalog’s light, airy layouts, signature soft color palettes, and grid design. In their place is, well, exactly what Williams-Sonoma does. Gifts and home products cataloger Restoration Hardware has taken a lot of heat in recent months for turning into a clone of William-Sonoma’s sister title Pottery Barn; Martha Stewart should also be taken to task for ripping off the upscale kitchenware bible. Love Stewart or hate her, Martha by Mail perfectly captured the essence of the Martha Stewart brand. Given what’s happened to the brand during the past six months, maybe copycatting a successful rival isn’t such a bad idea. Then again, why shouldn’t shoppers just go right to Williams-Sonoma?

Dessert with a $11,050 Cherry on Top

The 160-page 2002 Neiman Marcus Christmas Gifts Book, which began mailing in late September, features indulgences typical of the upscale marketer — the limited-edition 2004 Cadillac XLR ($85,000), a London taxi with the interior upholstered in Burberry ($58,900), a Balinese bamboo hut ($15,000). But we want to highlight a special gift developed by the company’s former leader Stanley Marcus, who died in January. The Cashmere and Ruby Pousse-Café, designed to resemble the multilayered after-dinner cocktail, consists of a giant hand-blown glass brandy snifter with five layers of pure cashmere sweaters, a 60-in. angora scarf for whipped cream, and a sparkling ruby-and-diamond ball ring as the cherry. The pousse-café, which was created by the beloved “Mr. Stanley” for a store customer, will set you back a cool $11,050. But if you omit the “cherry,” it will cost a mere $1,000.

Cookie Wars Nothing to Smile About

The ubiquitous yellow smiley face icon is causing some frowns among cookie marketers. Eat n’ Park, a Pittsburgh-based restaurant chain, is claiming in a federal lawsuit that cataloger/Web marketer Silver Lake Cookie Co. is infringing on its trademarked smiley face cookie. In the lawsuit, filed Oct. 11, Eat n’ Park says it has had a trademark on the smiley cookie’s design since 1993 and that Silver Lake began selling the cookie in question this past February. For its part, Islip, NY-based Silver Lake claims it’s been selling the cookie for at least 20 years. This isn’t the first time a cataloger has been slapped with a smiley suit. Eat n’ Park sued food gifts marketer The Popcorn Factory in March 2001 after warning it to stop selling smiley face cookies. Lake Forest, IL-based Popcorn Factory did not stop selling the cookies, but it agreed to pay Eat n’ Park an undisclosed licensing fee and ongoing royalties. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

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