A Little Romance

Unemployment may rise and consumer confidence may fall, but romance never dies. So while catalog purveyors of flowers, chocolates, and similar gifts didn’t see huge increases in Valentine’s Day sales compared with last year, for the most part they didn’t suffer steep declines either.

“The economy has been tough for the past year,” says Ken Young, spokesperson for multichannel gifts marketer 1-800-Flowers, “but the lure of romance seems to bring people out to spend.” Without citing figures, Young describes 1-800-Flowers’ Valentine’s Day sales as “good and solid.”

You can’t hurry sales

Several catalogers note that Cupid got off to a slow start this year. At Xandria Collection, a Brisbane, CA-based mailer of adult entertainment, January sales were down 10%-15% from last year. “The recession finally caught up with us,” says director of marketing Marcia Jackson. Xandria had dropped its winter catalog Dec. 31.

An e-mail campaign led to a “huge spike in sales” in February, however, Jackson says. On Feb. 8, Xandria transmitted e-mails telling customers of a sale on Feb. 11. This was the first such promotion the cataloger had done. “We wanted to drive sales in this tough economy,” Jackson explains.

At Bissinger French Confections, January sales were 10% below plan and flat with last year, says Dana James, senior vice president of catalog and Internet for the St. Louis-based candy marketer. Although the company’s Valentine’s Day catalog arrived in homes Jan. 7, sales didn’t pick up until the end of January. To even out the ordering curve, Bissinger offered a free pound of chocolate with any purchase placed before Feb. 1. Nonetheless, James says, last year its Valentine’s Day sales were more evenly distributed.

The same held true for fresh-flowers cataloger Calyx & Corolla. A full 25% of its Valentine’s Day sales came in on Feb. 11 and Feb. 12, says president/CEO Andy Williams. Overall the Vero Beach, FL-based mailer saw Valentine’s Day sales rise 4% over last year’s on flat circulation.

But for Seta Corp., which produces the Palm Beach Jewelry catalog, order volume was steady throughout January and February. That was a pleasant surprise, says vice president/general manager Fred Neil, given that last-minute orders had characterized the Boca Raton, FL-based company’s Christmas season. Valentine’s Day sales ended up 5% ahead of last year’s and 10% over plan.

Love and promotion

Although Seta Corp. kept catalog circulation flat at more than 4 million, it did use special offers such as free Federal Express upgrades and gifts-with-purchase to entice customers. Adult-entertainment products cataloger Adam & Eve also offered a promotion to drive business, says sales coach Cindy Lutz. The Hillsborough, NC-based marketer sent out two Valentine’s Day e-mails. The first e-mail, which was transmitted Feb. 1, highlighted several products. But the second e-mail, sent Feb. 8, offered half-price express shipping.

Unlike Seta, Adam & Eve, Xandria, and Bissinger, several catalogers made a point of not offering Valentine’s Day promotions or discounts this year. “We had a very promotional season last year” and this year wanted to concentrate on full-price gifts, says Linda Angelacci, senior vice president of marketing and merchandising for Walnut Creek, CA-based The San Francisco Music Box Co.

Valentine’s Day Sales at a Glance
Catalog Sales vs. last year Comments
Bissinger French Confections down slightly average order size up $2
Calyx & Corolla up 4% flat circulation
Caswell-Massey up 4% (catalog only)
Fairytale Brownies up 15% circulation nearly doubled, added more products
Lake Champlain Chocolates down 20% cut circ 30%, reduced book size from 12 pages to 4
Palm Beach Jewelry up 5% flat circulation
Ross-Simons flat catalog jewelry sales up 15%
San Francisco Music Box Co. up slightly flat circulation
The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. up 3% flat circulation, but added 8 pages to book

Despite its lack of promotions, the gifts cataloger/retailer’s Valentine’s Day sales were slightly ahead of last year’s because of the additional weekday in the selling season. (Valentine’s Day fell on a Thursday this year, compared with a Wednesday last year.) Excepting that extra day, the company was still tracking even with last year — and that’s just fine, Angelacci says: “This year’s sales were full-priced and therefore more profitable.”

The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. also steered clear of special promotions. Instead, it tried to gain more seasonal business by restructuring its mailing schedule, says direct mail manager Arthur Borden. The Shelburne, VT-based manufacturer/marketer had mailed its 650,000 Valentine’s Day books in one drop, but this year it mailed the same number of catalogs in three drops. The second drop included a remail to customers, while the third went to buyers who had made a purchase in December.

The cataloger also boosted its page count from 16 to 24 and featured additional items. Borden estimates that Vermont Teddy Bear’s catalog sales for the holiday were up 3% from last year’s, meeting plan.

Like Vermont Teddy Bear, toiletries cataloger/retailer Caswell-Massey tweaked its mailing strategy for the holiday. “Instead of mailing right after Christmas,” explains president/CEO Anne E. Robinson, “we mailed about two and a half weeks later to try to capture increased Valentine’s Day sales from existing and new products.” To celebrate its 250th anniversary, the multichannel marketer is selling limited editions of 30 of its most popular past and current fragrances in collectible bottles.

Although circulation was flat, Caswell-Massey’s catalog sales for the six weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day increased 4% from last year. The Edison, NJ-based company’s store sales increased in the mid single digits as well.

And the Winning Products Are…

Among catalogers’ hot Valentine’s Day products this year:

  • At Cranston, RI-based jewelry, tabletop, and home decor multichannel marketer Ross-Simons, catalog jewelry sales were up 15% from last year, says vice president of marketing Cindy Marshall. Likewise, Website sales of Valentine items were up 20% from last year, although total company sales have been flat with last year’s. A red, white, and blue heart pendant was a best-seller, and sales of heart charm necklaces were strong in the company’s 10 full-price stores.

  • The best-seller for St. Louis-based Bissinger French Confections was a heart-shape red-satin gift box filled with chocolates — just as it was last year, says Dana James, senior vice president of catalog and Internet.

  • The San Francisco Music Box. Co. enjoyed a resurgence in inlaid-wood music boxes from Sorrento, Italy, which could be personalized with one of more than 70 tunes, says Linda Angelacci, senior vice president of marketing and merchandising for the Walnut Creek, CA-based marketer. Several Gone with the Wind and Betty Boop music boxes sold well also, as did an inexpensive water globe, one of which the company offers every Valentine’s Day. “It’s a $14.99 globe with a little heart in it,” Angelacci says. “It’s positioned for the little boy who wants to get his mother something or a friend for a friend.”

  • At Salt Lake City-based food gift purveyor Mrs. Fields, heart-shape cookie tins and the like were the most popular catalog items, says vice president of mail order Jennifer Jobin.

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