A Death in the Family

Aug 01, 2001 9:30 PM  By

Reporters are often compared with vultures, circling near-corpses and waiting for them to die. And I did feel somewhat like a bird of prey while following the last days of Foster & Gallagher (F&G), monitoring the company for signs of life. (Were the Websites still taking orders? Were the 800-numbers still in service?)

But while vultures proceed to feast upon the remains, the media tend to conduct autopsies, trying to determine the cause of death. These in turn often translate to assigning blame: F&G executives should have realized that sweepstakes were coming under ever-increasing scrutiny several years ago and switched to alternative prospecting methods earlier than they did. They should have tried to sell the company’s noncore assets, such as its children’s products and gifts catalogs, earlier. Or they should have diversified even more, given that catalog sales of gardening products — F&G’s core market sector — were growing about as quickly as a cactus on a Manhattan windowsill.

It’ll be a while before the postmortem is completed. But what has surprised me is the degree of mourning in the industry for F&G. In the course of researching his articles on the cataloger (the most recent of which is on page 5), writer Mark Del Franco spoke to numerous vendors, observers, former F&G employees, and competitors, and not one, even off the record, expressed anything less than genuine sadness. Not a hint of schadenfreude, nothing along the lines of “this could provide more opportunities for my business.” The industry is mourning the loss of one of its own.

Extra, extra

In addition to its unique dilemmas, F&G no doubt faced challenges common among many catalogers, such as declining response, mailbox glut, and Internet integration. At the recent Annual Catalog Conference, held in June, a panel of top executives (Black Box CEO Fred Young, Brylane executive vice president Jules Silbert, Catalog City CEO Lee Lorenzen, Fingerhut president Michael Sherman, and Newport News CEO George Ittner) discussed those challenges and others during the first-ever Catalog Power Forum, cosponsored by Catalog Age and the Direct Marketing Association. If you missed the session, you should check out the highlights in our Special Report on the Catalog Age Website (www.CatalogAgemag.com). The four installments of the report include videos and transcripts from the Power Forum, along with related data from our Benchmark Reports and links to pertinent articles. The session was a lively one, jam-packed with first-hand knowledge and provocative opinions; the Special Report promises to be just as robust.