Playing by the numbers

Feb 01, 2000 10:30 PM  By

This month’s question

Do you plan to be more aggressive with your catalog circulation for 2000?

Who knows if the small catalogers we spoke to this month will be the barometer of things to come, but half of them indicated they would step up their catalog distribution this year. Increasing their Web presence was a major factor for nearly all, and the bricks-and-mortar pull of traditional retail store distribution proved the way to go for another marketer.

Greg Taylor is president of Liberty Orchards, a cataloger of fruit confections based in Cashmere, WA. Annual circulation, 5 million; annual catalog sales, approximately $7 million.

We decreased circulation in ’98-’99 to concentrate on retail distribution, and we don’t plan on any increase for 2000. About 90% of our business is around the Christmas holiday, so our catalog distribution is very seasonally focused.

Our prospecting efforts are not working as well as in the past, because of our expanded retail distribution in the last five years. We’ve gone from regional distribution to national distribution in several drugstore chains, club-store formats such as Costco, and the mass-merchandising arenas of Target and Wal-Mart.

With this retail expansion, it has been more difficult to grow the mail order business, but we will continue to issue large sample mailings, which include a letter, a catalog, and a product sample, and work to prospect for names through various mailing lists.

Paula Meehan is owner/president of Boutique Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, CA, which sells gifts and accessories for girls and women. Annual circulation, about 750,000; annual sales; $1 million-$1.5 million.

We’re decreasing our catalog distribution from quarterly to twice a year in 2000, but we will concurrently increase the circulation. We started out distributing catalogs and products in beauty salons but have switched our market focus to targeting the individual consumer.

Our mailing lists are based on age range, income levels, and to a lesser degree, geography. With the debut of our Website in the last year, we have turned more of our attention to e-commerce, where we feel we can reach a broader range of people. Internet marketing also allows us to react to inventory overstock situations, in that we can offer timely specials and certain products at lower prices online.

Erika Judd is the owner/president of Eclectic Junction in Chicago, a cataloger/retailer of handcrafted giftware. Annual circulation, 200,000; annual catalog sales, $200,000.

I hope to increase catalog circulation for 2000, ideally to 400,000, but a much more modest lift is more realistic due to limited finances – and the fact that I’m a one-woman show.

Most of my customers are women, and my mailing list is based on lists from similar catalogs with a focus on unusual gift products. These mailing lists reflect spending patterns, age, and gender. Some of our financial resources will also go toward developing our Website, which will soon accommodate online ordering.

Acy Crawford is the general manager of Wall Street Creations Ltd., a Rome, GA-based catalog of high-end executive gifts. Annual circulation, 5 million-10 million; annual sales, $6 million-plus.

We plan on being slightly more aggressive for 2000, growing at a moderate rate. We decreased circulation in ’99 but were much more profitable. Circulation will increase about 10% per quarter vs. 20% per quarter last year. We recently hired a consultant, Steve Lett, who instituted a number of cost-cutting measures including staff cutbacks and the use of lighter-weight paper, enabling us to reduce our postage costs.

Duane Abbajay is CEO of Just for Redheads, a Sedona, AZ-based catalog of beauty products for redheads that he runs with his wife, founder/president Paula Pennypacker. Annual circulation, 150,000; annual sales, $1 million.

Our plans for 2000 include being much more aggressive with circulation, increasing to 200,000, and upping frequency to four times a year from three times a year. Our customer base ranges from very young to older women. Advertisements in women’s fashion and beauty magazines such as Woman’s Day, Jane, Allure, Glamour, and Vogue have contributed to our growth. We use the names from these catalog requests to develop our mailing lists – which is very time-consuming. But the end result is extremely rewarding.

We want to further develop our Website, but we will continue to focus on our catalog distribution, because there’s something much more tangible about a print catalog.

Carushka Jarecka is owner/ president of Carushka Bodywear in Van Nuys, CA, a catalog of women’s bodywear and activewear. Annual circulation, 850,000; annual sales, approximately $4 million.

We’re going to be more aggressive with our circulation in 2000, pushing to 1.1 million, while increasing our distribution 37% for January, February, and March.

The timing of our catalog mailings is important, so we test to find the best months to drop. For example, after sending out 300,000 catalogs in the summer of ’98, and only 100,000 that fall, we discovered that customers weren’t ready to buy until the fall. So we changed our distribution pattern for ’99, mailing 100,000 during the summer and 300,000 in the fall. As a result, sales were up 43% for the whole year from ’98.

We are also spending more on market research to help us with our list selection, and we are buying new territory lists by zip code and developing new profiles for customers. Consumer spending patterns will be a huge consideration in picking lists to rent, as we’ve found that the higher-income customer groups account for most of our sales.