Mourning The Paragon

In all the excitement of Multichannel Merchant’s 25th anniversary this year, we’ve been combing through back issues and taking the proverbial walk down memory lane. A Backword item we uncovered from our January 1998 issue hit home:

A Day at The Paragon It was a bright November day when the staff of Catalog Age descended on the Paragon catalog in Westerly, RI. Expecting to get the nickel tour and play Q&A for a while with The Paragon’s head honcho Coy Clement, imagine our shock when we were instead given jobs and put to work…”

Our field trip to the gifts cataloger was a great introduction to what really goes on at a catalog company — and a lot of fun. Who knew 10 years later — and after 35 years in business — that The Paragon would be unceremoniously shut down when its parent company, BlueSky Brands, hit the skids. (For more on BlueSky Brands, see page 12.)

More silver celebrants

As we reported in the 20th anniversary edition (May 1, 2003) Multichannel Merchant is in good company! Below are some catalogs that also launched in 1983:

American Spoon Foods Gardener’s Supply Co.
Ballard Designs Hanna Andersson
Bridge City Tool Works HearthSong
Chadwick’s of Boston Hold Everything
The Company Store Road Runner Sports
Doctors Foster & Smith J. Crew

Congrats to these multichannel merchants on celebrating 25 years in business!

Pick up the Pope’s scent

Pope Benedict XVI may be an unlikely poster boy for cologne, but not to Monastery Greetings. The cataloger of monastic products, such as gifts, music, books, soap and foods made at abbeys, convents, monasteries and hermitages, unveiled The Pope’s Cologne a month before the papal visit to the U.S. in April. The saintly scent is made in the U.S. from the private formula of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878). A 2-oz. flacon with a gift box that tells the story of the cologne costs $29.95. So what does the Pope smell like? According to the Cleveland-based Monastery Greetings, noted perfume critic Marie-Helene Wagner said in a review: “Judging from the cologne itself, it shows a man of refined taste who obviously valued subtlety, elegance, and even the rare. The scent has an ancient charm about it, especially when the floral notes start being felt, that is quite remarkable…” Amen to that!


Let us know how we’re doing. Send us any comments on recent articles or issues, or perhaps a multichannel shopping tale you’d like to share.



Phone: 203-358-9900
Fax: 203-358-5823

Letter: 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907



Game not on for

A Multichannel Merchant staffer recently ordered the board game Blokus Trigon from, the Website of bookseller Barnes & Noble. When she received her order, the staffer was disappointed to find she’d been sent the wrong version of Blokus. (It was a gift, so save the nerd jokes!)

At first it seemed like a warehouse pick/pack mistake, since all of the order paperwork was right. But the problem turned out to be the incorrect barcode sticker affixed to the product’s box. In other words, the Barnes & Noble sticker on the box had the right barcode and label for Blokus Trigon, but it was placed on the regular version of Blokus. That meant that had the staffer tried to exchange the item, she probably would have gotten the same version back again if a picker scanned the barcode sticker. For this reason the customer service rep suggested the customer simply return the game rather than exchange it — which is no way to salvage an order gone wrong.

What’s more, the staffer really wanted the right item, and thanks to a coupon code, got a good deal on the game so she didn’t want to return it and buy it elsewhere. The rep was able to locate a nearby Barnes & Noble store that carried the game, so the staffer did exchange it. Not exactly a shining example of multichannel synergy — plus, dealing with store personnel, who wanted nothing to do with the order, was a nightmare. A week after this fiasco, a visit to indicated that none of the Blokus games were available, so hopefully that means the company was working on a game plan to correct the problem. We hope so, as the snafu could prove incredibly annoying to customers — and highly expensive for the merchant.

Abercrombie magalog swings into London

Abercrombie & Fitch is hoping that its saucy magalog will get a warmer reception in the U.K. than it’s had in America. The apparel retailer’s A&F Quarterly will be for sale in Abercrombie’s London flagship store starting this month — nearly five years since the title was discontinued in the U.S. amid protests from family groups and politicians.

The quarterly magazine-catalog hybrid periodical was launched in 1997 and featured articles about college life, photo essays by Bruce Weber, and advertisements for Abercrombie’s clothing. But its semi-nude photos and content covering new drinking games for college kids and sex tips had parents up in arms. Protests in 2003 from religious organizations and women’s rights activists prompted the company to pull the Christmas 2003 issue from stores; it then announced that it would discontinue the publication altogether.

Now that it’s revived the A&F Quarterly for the U.K., will it play in Piccadilly? The company says the new A&F takes a more sophisticated, intellectual approach, with articles on travel, dining, and trendy neighborhoods. That’s nice, but we suspect (perhaps from our upbringing on Benny Hill reruns) that the nudie photos will be more the market’s cup of tea.

Scrubs cataloger has queer eye for the medical sty

Medical uniforms mailer Scrubs & Beyond is getting involved in a different type of surgery: the messy office makeover. The St. Louis, MO-based merchant is inviting medical offices to apply for a makeover contest. Applicants must complete a form detailing why the group or practice should win the contest, and then send it to Scrubs & Beyond with a picture of their group. The winner will be featured on the company homepage and receive a customized makeover by Scrubs & Beyond medical scrubs specialists. The deadline for submitting an entry is March 28; form and rules are available at Not being in the medical field (though we sometimes perform major surgery on copy), we’re probably not eligible. But trust us — our office is a mess!


Let us know how we’re doing. Send us any comments on recent articles or issues, or perhaps a multichannel shopping tale you’d like to share.



Phone: 203-358-9900 Fax: 203-358-5823

Letter: 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907



Maine twosome ticked off at L.L. Bean’s use of state tartan

L.L. Bean may be a Maine mainstay, but a Plymouth, ME, couple is charging that the cataloger used the Maine state tartan without permission. Jane and David Holmes, who hold the copyright to the tartan, in November filed a lawsuit against Bean, alleging that from August 2005 through April 2006, the Freeport, ME-based mailer sold a men’s Americana Tartan Shirt with a pattern identical to the Maine tartan. Designed by a Canadian in 1964, the tartan incorporates light blue for the sky, dark blue for the water, green for the forest, and red for the bloodline of the people of Maine. The Holmeses acquired the rights to the design in 1993 and since then have overseen the manufacturing of the tartan cloth in Scotland. For its part, L.L. Bean defended its use of the pattern, arguing that the tartan is in the public domain because it is widely recognized as the state tartan of Maine. We’re not sure who’s right here. But while we wouldn’t want to go up against the $1.5 billion Bean, we’ve seen Braveheart enough to know that the Scots are passionate about their clans and their tartans, and you don’t want them on your bad side.

Short-sheeting on thread counts?

Speaking of lawsuits, LinenSource is being sued by a customer who claims to have paid $300 for a 1,200-thread count queen sheet set when the actual thread count was 400. That’s a pretty big discrepancy, which can be blamed on the calculation of the thread count — the number of horizontal and vertical threads in one square inch of fabric. The Tampa, FL-based linens cataloger says its Asian suppliers sometimes braid two, three, or four cotton fibers, or plies, before weaving them instead of using single-ply threads. LinenSource counts each of these fibers as a separate thread, while other entities, including the National Textile Association, count each braid only once, regardless of the number of plies. LinenSource claims many manufacturers count each individual ply or fiber as a thread; the National Textile Association has asked the Federal Trade Commission to weigh in. A 1,200-thread count does indeed sound too good to be true, so we understand why the sheets customer is fit to be tied.

Our kind of makeover show

As further proof that print and Web catalogs are taking over the world, cable network Fine Living in late April premiered a program titled Mail Order Makeover. The premise of the show has two designers competing for the winning design of their client’s room; all the furniture and accessories for the redo must be ordered via catalog or the Internet. Considering that many designers on home-makeover shows turn to catalogs or online merchants, the concept is hardly a stretch, but we like it just the same. Sadly, though, we don’t get Fine Living, so we’ve never seen Mail Order Makeover. But maybe that’s good: The last thing we need is more temptation to shop from catalogs.

The Guild gives budding artists a boost

American Idol isn’t the only one combing the U.S. for talent. Madison, WI-based gifts merchant The Guild, which produces The Artful Home catalog and Website, hosted the “Art of Inspiration” competition in search of images that inspire. Artists from the U.S. and Canada entered more than 600 images, from which a jury selected 10 finalists. The finalists’ images went live on the Artful Home Website on May 1; people had 15 days to vote. The winning image, which will be produced this fall as a signed and numbered edition of art prints, will be announced in the fall catalog, out July 30. No word on whether fallen Idol contestant Sanjaya submitted an image.


Off with their heads!

Looks like Modern Postcard is preaching “do as I say, not as I do.” When you go to the home page of the Carlsbad, CA-based mailing products and services provider, there’s an image of a woman holding a postcard. Because only the woman’s torso is visible, the headless photo is a bit jarring. Just for kicks we did a search on the company’s site for “womans head.” Under the resources banner there’s a link to “marketing ideas” and a reprinted article titled “12 Techniques That’ll Turn Good Ads into Great Ones.” What’s idea number 10? “Be kind to your models. Have you seen ads where the layout severs an arm or amputates the model’s head? Well, anything like this savages response. The best response? Photos of smiling people looking squarely at the camera….” Tsk, tsk, Modern Postcard — that’s no way to get ahead.

Seed mailer is 100 years Jung

All businesses begin with some sort of seed, but the J.W. Jung Seed Co. actually sprouted from, well, seeds. John William Jung started his mail order seed business from his family’s farm, printing catalogs on the kitchen table. Today the Randolph, WI-based company — which mails more than 8 million catalogs a year, operates five garden centers, and employs more than 400 people — is run by Jung’s grandson Richard “Dick” Zondag. In addition to offering special heirloom varieties of seeds and printing a commemorative booklet, calendar, and cookbook, Jung Seed is celebrating its centennial with parties ranging from a Founder’s Day in April to Jungfest in July. We’re not sure what happens at Jungfest, but if you’ve been around 100 years, you can celebrate any way you want.

Ogle this edgy optics book

Who says science catalogs can’t be sexy? Certainly not Edmund Optics, a Barrington, NJ-based optical instruments mailer. A recent catalog cover depicted a woman in a tight red skirt, visible cleavage, and flowing blond hair posed in front of an optical device with the heading “Check out our new red hot mechanics.” Now, you’d think science geeks holed up in a laboratory all day would welcome some intelligent eye candy, but not so: The cover drew complaints from scholars at Harvard and other institutions. Granted, many of the complaints were likely from managers concerned about discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, but really — lighten up. For its part, Edmund Optics has said that the model is its trade show manager and that six of the company’s nine optical engineers are women. Very hot women. (Just kidding!)

An occasion to get pi-eyed

Speaking of geeks, did you know that March 14 was Pi Day? We didn’t either — it falls way too close to St. Patrick’s Day. But Computer Gear, the Redmond, WA-based technology-related gifts cataloger, capitalized on the occasion by creating a Pi Day Shop on its Website selling pi apparel and accessories. Why pi? A Computer Gear spokesperson says the company aims to make math fun by “celebrating the naturally occurring number pi on its special day.” If you recall from school (and we couldn’t at first), pi is roughly equal to 3.14, hence the holiday’s date. Even with Pi Day, we still think there’s nothing fun about math. But we give Computer Gear credit for trying, and maybe next March 14 we’ll celebrate by buying a new calculator.


E-mail: Phone: 203-358-9900 Fax: 203-358-5823 Letter: 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907 or visit us on the Web at


Cuddledown in bed with Priscilla Presley

Priscilla Presley, best known for her marriage to rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis, has picked bedding cataloger Cuddledown to introduce her Inspiration line of luxury linens to the U.S. market. Presley, who collaborated with Austrian designer Bruno Schiavi, president of design firm Jupi Corp., on the line of upscale bed fashions and home goods, launched the collection in the U.K., Australia, and Canada last year. The line of 400-count 100% cotton sateen with “elegant blue piping and embroidered embellishments on a crisp porcelain-white background” was adapted from a design in Presley’s vintage clothing collection. We didn’t know Priscilla Presley even had a line of vintage apparel, and we don’t know how she hooked up with Portland, ME-based Cuddledown. But we wish these strange bedfellows well.

When it comes to T-shirts, crack is not whack

Foundation-repair company The Crack Team sold its 10,000th branded T-shirt near the end of last year. That’s quite an accomplishment for a service provider that never intended to be in the apparel business. But thanks to the popularity of its mascot, Mr. Happy Crack, and his slogan, “A dry crack is a happy crack,” the St. Louis-based company now has a retail division selling items such as T-shirts, boxer shorts, hats, and toilet paper. Looks like we already have our grab-bag gift for next year — thanks, Mr. Happy Crack!

Camping World gears up for NASCAR

Cataloger/retailer Camping World is teaming with racing facility Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) to be a sponsor of NASCAR’s Busch and truck series. Specifically, Camping World will sponsor the No. 33 Busch Series Chevrolet for 11 races and KHI’s second Truck Series entry, the No. 2 Chevrolet Silverado, for 12 races. Not being NASCAR fans, we barely know what any of that means. But since Bowling Green, KY-based Camping World, which celebrated is 40th anniversary last year, is planning to open 14 new stores in 2007 — bringing its total to 78 — the NASCAR sponsorship can only accelerate the merchant’s brand awareness and drive both retail and Web traffic.

Mid America Motorworks’ top suppliers are true winners

It’s no secret that some suppliers are better than others. To reward those who are doing a great job and perhaps encourage others to step up their game, car parts and accessories marketer Mid America Motorworks has started the M-Curve Quality Supplier Award program to recognize its supplier partners who excel in providing the marketer with superior product and support. At its M-Curve Quality Supplier Summit at its Effingham, IL, headquarters in late January, Mid America presented 24 companies with awards. But the big winner was Mr. Gasket Performance Group, which received the first M-Curve Quality Supplier of the Year Award. In conjunction with the award, and on behalf of Mr. Gasket, Mid America will donate $4,000 to the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) Memorial Scholarship Fund. We weren’t at the Jan. 27 formal banquet ceremony where the award was presented, but we bet that unlike most Miss Americas, Mr. Gasket did not start crying.


E-mail: Phone: 203-358-9900 Fax: 203-358-5823 Letter: 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907 or visit us on the Web at


In-flight institution gets mauled

Pretty much everyone has made fun of SkyMall at some point. After all, who hasn’t been stuck on an airplane with nothing to read but the venerable in-flight shopping magazine and wondered, “Who orders this stuff midflight?” Now the Phoenix-based marketer has been parodied by the comedy troup Kasper Hauser in the book SkyMaul: Happy Crap You Can Buy from a Plane. With items such as Reality-Canceling Headphones, an Adultery Detector, and the Pepper Self-Spray (“to stop yourself from doing something stupid”), SkyMaul is chock full of merchandise we frankly wish we could buy. Okay, maybe not the Crack Pipe Chess Set, but we could use the Hitler-Turning-into-Werewolf Nightlight. We also appreciate SkyMaul’s “tell it like it is” copy. In describing Our Worst-Selling Motocross Boots! the book admits “…The shoes have been a real albatross in our stockroom and we cannot sell them.” Now that’s a catalog that will really make time fly by.

Lobster Gram turns 20

Since Dan “The Lobster Man” Zawacki founded Lobster Gram in 1987, the company has shipped more than 1.2 million live Maine lobsters and about 500,000 filet mignons. Last year the Chicago-based food gifts mailer spent more than $2.1 million on a custom lobster processing and distribution center in Biddeford, ME. The state-of-the-art DC includes temperature-controlled tanks for the live lobsters, computerized packing systems, and a freezer that can store 350,000 lobster tails. Zawacki got the idea for Lobster Gram when as an electronic-controls salesman he delivered live Maine lobsters to his best clients in hopes they would reorder. They did want to reorder — but the lobsters rather than the electronic controls. Twenty years later Lobster Gram has clawed its way to the number-one live-lobster gift delivery company in the U.S. Now that’s reason to celebrate — let’s have lobster!

Break out the bubbly?

Did you know that Jan. 29 was Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day? Neither did we, until its creator, Sealed Air Corp., sent us a press release. We do like how the Elmwood Park, NJ-based manufacturer commemorated the day: It announced the winner of the first Bubble Wrap Competition for Young Inventors. Grayson Rosenberger, a 15-year-old from Nashville, TN, beat out nearly 800 other students in grades 5 through 8 who were challenged to come up with creative inventions that incorporated Bubble Wrap. Rosenberger’s winning invention, which used the cushioning to create a low-cost cosmetic covering for prosthetic limbs, earned him a $10,000 savings bond and a trip to New York. You know, we tried to make our own plans for Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, but they had no pop.

Harry & David chocolates top taste test

Valentine’s Day may now be a dim memory, but it’s never to soon to prepare for next year. Check out the February issue of Money magazine, which ran an independent consumer survey of chocolate brands. The taste test involved boxed chocolates in different price categories; women were aked which brand they enjoyed most. The big winner? Harry & David‘s $29.95 Grand Collection, which delivered the most bang for the buck in terms of taste, packaging, and value. You can buy the Grand Collection on the Medford, OR-based merchant’s Website or in its 134 stores — we did not see it in the January-February edition of the print catalog. We already know what you’re thinking: “Harry & David wins everything!”


E-mail: Phone: 203-358-9900 Fax: 203-358-5823 Letter: 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907 or visit us on the Web at


Peeved at Pier 1 catalog prop

We were so excited to finally get a look at the Pier 1 Imports catalog, which the Fort Worth, TX-based furniture retailer launched this past fall. We were even more excited to find a coffee table inside the book that we liked. Just one problem: There’s no product name, item number, or price for said coffee table. The table looks like a Pier 1 piece, so we don’t think it’s a prop, but why wouldn’t the company include information on how or where to buy it? If it’s a retail-only item (which we probably wouldn’t have put in the catalog), the copy should at least direct us to the stores. And if the coffee table is in fact a prop, well, that’s just wrong — particularly for a furniture merchant. We know you’re new to mail order, Pier 1, but we expected more.

Lions and tigers and skunks, oh my

We’ve been holding on to a copy of the Whatever Works catalog for months in hopes that spring would arrive. Now that it’s finally here, we might get around to ordering the yard protector that appears on the cover. The yard protector, which uses ultrasonic sound to keep away animals, caught our eye thanks to the subhead “Guaranteed To Keep Out…” which appears above photos of a lion, a tiger, and a rhinoceros, while “And Smaller Pests Too! See Page 19” appears below the photos. When you turn to page 19, the product head reads: “Chase Away Lions, Tigers and Rhinos…OK Maybe Not!” We appreciate that the Brooklyn, NY-based cataloger, which sells garden, home, and pest-control products, has a sense of humor. (The headline for an electronic rat zapper is “Take That, You Dirty Rat! James Cagney 1935”; another head proclaims “Hey Termites: Eat This And Die!”) We’ll be even more amused with Whatever Works if we do spring for the yard protector and it keeps away the pesky deer that gobble up our flower bulbs.

Horchow hits the high seas

The spring catalog from tony gifts merchant Horchow has a truly extravagant offering: An insert promoting the Dallas-based marketer’s “favorite autumn destinations” with Crystal Cruises. The Crystal fleet includes the luxury liners Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Where might you set sail this fall with Horchow? How about New England, the Mediterranean, and the Carribean. As you might expect, anything associated with Horchow doesn’t come cheap: The trips start at more than $2,000 per person and go up considerably from there. But can you put a price on a penthouse suite stateroom with a veranda? Well, Horchow can, but we didn’t even bother to find out how much.

Nothing says love like a can of bees

It’s never too early to start shopping for your holiday gifts — especially for valued clients. For some advice on what not to give, we refer to a survey conducted last year by The Creative Group, a Menlo Park, CA-based agency specializing in marketing, advertising, creative, and Web staffing services. The survey of more than 250 advertising and marketing executives asked respondents to describe the most unusual premium items they’d ever heard a business distribute. Among our favorites: live snakes, umbrellas with holes in them, candles that smell like burning rubber, toy outhouses, a cannon, and a can of bees. We suppose sending a can of bees is one way to create buzz. Just don’t try it with us.


Home Decorators outfits “The Apprentice”

St. Louis-based Home Decorators Collection has a supporting role on the fifth season of The Apprentice with Donald Trump. The merchant contributed several home decor items to the NBC reality show in which wannabe moguls compete for an apprenticeship with the New York-based billionaire developer. The new Trump Tower Suite will include Home Decorators’ Glenwood Cast Iron Bistro outdoor furniture, wool area rugs from the Antoinette Collection, and Crystal One-Tier Chandeliers in the powder room. We’re not sure that Home Decorators Collection is going to see a boost in business from its role on the show, but it’s always fun to be on television. And considering Trump’s fixation on picking the best of the best, the association is, as his former rival Apprentice host Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

Fishing for phone sex?

All-American outdoor gear, apparel, gifts, and home goods merchant L.L. Bean is the last company one would associate with pornography. But a misprint in the Freeport, ME-based mailer’s spring 2006 fishing catalog may have directed some fishing enthusiasts to a phone sex line. At the bottom of the first page of the catalog, letters were swapped in the 1-800-FISH-LLB phone number, so that callers were directed to titillating talkers. Try explaining that one to your wife! Bean, which has used the vanity number for years, was aware of the phone sex operator with the similar digits and had unsuccessfully tried to buy the number. Reeling from the un-PC PR, the cataloger sent postcards and e-mails to customers who had received the books with the fishy phone number, and a replacement catalog was due to mail in March. We feel bad for Bean, but there is a connection between fly-fishing and phone sex: Both aim for a live one on the line.

A nice Scheiny smile

Healthcare products and services provider Henry Schein is helping to bring a smile to underprivileged children. The Melville, NY-based merchant partnered with the American Dental Association (ADA) for the fourth year to support Give Kids a Smile Day, a program that provided free oral-health services to nearly 1 million underserved kids in 2,000 communities across the country. This annual one-day initiative from the ADA enlisted some 40,000 dental team members, including more than 12,000 volunteer dentists, who on Feb. 3 provided free educational, preventive, and restorative dental services to children from low-income families. Schein-Sullivan Dental, the company’s U.S. dental division, served as the exclusive distributor of products for Give Kids a Smile Day — with a little help from its friends: 47 of Henry Schein’s vendor partners donated products to the program this year. Cheers to Schein, the ADA, and all the other program participants for giving kids another reason to crack a smile.

In love with Lilly

Do you love Lilly? Not catalog legend Lillian Vernon, but posh/preppy Lilly Pulitzer, the purveyor of pink-and-green prints. The King of Prussia, PA-based company in March kicked off Lilly Lover Days, a month-long celebration of parties, teas, luncheons, and other events to honor its fans. Lilly Lovers were also invited to submit stories and photos — presumably about their Lilly-clad adventures — for a chance to win one of three prizes. With one of the prizes, the winner’s story and photo will be in included in an upcoming Lilly Pulitzer catalog. We guess this is an honor for serious Lilly fans, but since you can’t order from the book (though you can order online or from a store) it’s not like it’s a real catalog. Lime green was never our color anyway.


Bass Pro reel committed to troops

Outdoor products cataloger/retailer Bass Pro Shops is doing its part to support the troops. The Springfield, MO-based merchant has hooked up with the USO for its “Reelin’ It in for the Troops” campaign, through which customers can purchase donation cards, valued at $1, $3, and $5, at any Bass Pro Shop retail location. All proceeds from the sale of the cards will support Operation USO Care Package and other USO programs for military personnel and their families around the world. This is the third year in a row the merchant has joined forces with the USO. Since 2003, Bass Pro Shops has raised more than $500,000 to sponsor care packages filled with toiletries, snacks, and other items that the USO delivers to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other overseas locations. The company, which also helps the men and women of the armed forces by offering a military discount on most items at its stores, will host various events throughout the year to support the program. A 21-gun salute for Bass Pro’s efforts!

Happy birthday, Orvis

As the oldest cataloger — or certainly one of the oldest — in the U.S., The Orvis Co. hits the big one-five-oh this year. That’s right, it was back in 1856 that Charles Orvis opened his fishing-tackle shop in Manchester, VT. Today the $250 million outdoor sporting goods, apparel, and home items merchant has 44 stores in the U.S. and U.K., more than 500 dealers worldwide, catalogs and a Website, fly-fishing and shooting schools, and the Orvis Travel program. Orvis never forgets its roots: In the past 10 years alone, the company has donated more than $10 million to fish and wildlife habitat conservation nationwide. Congratulations, Orvis, and many happy returns.

Hello, Barcode Kitties

Who knew that an initiative to unify global barcodes could spawn the next big thing in cartoon kittens? Preparing to meet the Jan. 1, 2005, deadline for the Sunrise Initiative — which required companies to change their barcode systems to the global trade item number (GTIN) standard — inspired Yiji Tanimoto to come up with the Barcode Kitties. According to a release, Tanimoto, CEO of Japanese packaging company Seikodo Corp., “began to imagine a fantastical world of adorable, mutant felines born with barcode woven into their whiskers and manes, and able to scratch barcode into any product…” The Barcode Kitties (there are nine of them, and some bear a striking resemblance to Japanese pop icon Hello Kitty) live in Barcode City and “do their best to discipline their unusual talents to help meet the Barcode City’s efficiency goals, scratching barcode into every product in the world. They also try to keep a mischievous gang of mice — the Glitches — at bay…” It sounded like a joke to us too (or like Tanimoto had been nipping at the saki), but fashion accessories embossed with the frisky felines are taking off with girly girls everywhere. Accessories retailer Claire’s has been selling the Kitties line for nearly a year. Who says operations can’t be pretty?

How green was my paintbrush

Sundance Catalog wants you to paint your home green. Not the color green, but with its new Prairie Paint line of “postconsumer” recycled paints. Prairie Paint takes gallons of leftover interior latex paints from decorators and other bulk users and blends them into “fresh color formations” that the company says results in paint that’s less toxic to the environment. Available in six “trend-conscious” colors — Hemp, Moss, Sky, Wheat, Wine, and Moonlight — Prairie Paint costs $25 for a gallon or $5 for 250 ml.; a set of six samplers that includes one of each color costs $28. That’s not a bad price for specialty paint, and we try to do our part to save the earth. But we’ll have to see if “wheat” walls are going to clash with our “oat” sofa.


E-mail: Phone: 203-358-9900 Fax: 203-358-5823 Letter: 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907 or visit us on the Web at


Grin and bear it

You know you’d better dial the partying down a notch this year if you received one of Vermont Teddy Bear Co.’s new offerings as a Secret Santa gift. The Holiday Party Animal bears a distinct resemblance to the life of the office party: Not only does the tipsy teddy don a red lampshade and tote a martini glass, but it’s also holding a photocopy of its “bear butt.” Treading further into the waters of bad taste, the Shelburne, VT-based marketer on Dec. 1 launched to promote the boorish bear; the site encouraged people to post their wildest office party photos, videos, or stories through Christmas, offering daily prizes for the best — or perhaps worst — post. While embear-assing the office overimbiber is always fun, a $69.95 stuffed animal is a kind of expensive way to go about it. We find that Polaroids work just as well.

Queer eye for the office sty

Despite our best intentions, we’ve found that we can’t be bothered to try to get into shape for 2006, but Delray Beach, FL-based office supplies giant Office Depot has come up with a fitness plan that doesn’t involve diet or exercise. “The Office Depot Five-Day Office Makeover Plan,” a new office fitness regimen developed in conjunction with Office Depot professional organizer/author Stephanie Winston, promises to “help business professionals achieve dramatic results — slimming down their piles, increasing their file-finding flexibility, and toning up their organizational muscle — in just 30 minutes a day for five days.” The free service, available on the Office Depot Website, aims to enable small businesses to take control of their work life by organizing their offices to reach maximum productivity with minimal stress. A guide takes professionals through a five-day workweek by offering one “to-do” task a day and suggesting tactics for avoiding potential productivity perils. It also outlines Winston’s top product recommendations for achieving “organizational wellness.” We’re not sure what organizational wellness is, but judging from the state of our workspace, we probably don’t have it. So we’ll happily sign up for an office overhaul — and then get back to our coffee and donuts.


A ha-ha at Hanna’s expense

If you’ve ever perused apparel cataloger Hanna Andersson‘s holiday editions and wondered what kind of dysfunctional family would pose for a photo wearing matching long johns, you’re not alone. We were amused at the following November post on “I got the latest Hanna Andersson catalog this afternoon. The cover features a family wearing coordinating long underwear, which is a signature look of Hanna for kids. But a grown man in brightly striped long underwear? I have to be honest it makes me laugh so hard to imagine my husband in a set of these pajamas, I’m almost tempted to buy him a pair and force him to wear them long enough to get a picture… Tell me, do you know any grown man who wears striped Hanna pajamas? Someone must be buying them since they’re in the catalog every time, who is it?…” Interesting enough, while a few readers in the follow-up posts copped to owning the matching long underwear, and a few others said they’d never wear them (or rather, that their husbands would never wear them), the majority said they would actually buy Hanna’s long underwear for their men if it were more affordable. One poster noted that seeing her husband in the striped suit would be a riot, but “not $74 worth of riot, plus shipping.”

J. Crew shedding its fur

After a barrage of antifur protests, petitions, and letters to the company spearheaded by animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), apparel cataloger/retailer J. Crew Group announced on Nov. 30 that it will no longer sell products made with fur. PETA, which began the campaign on Sept. 12, says it targeted J. Crew because the marketer sources its fur from China, where no laws protect animals on fur farms. PETA held a series of “die-ins,” protests outside J. Crew stores that included nearly nude PETA members covered in fake blood. Perhaps the final straw was PETA’s Nov. 25 “Fur-free Friday” in Norfolk, VA, which involved protesters holding posters showing skinned animals and handing “J. Cruel” literature to passersby. For its part, New York-based J. Crew said in a statement that it had made the decision to ditch fur about a month before for business reasons and that the move was not related to PETA’s campaign. That sounds like Pee-wee Herman saying “I meant to do that” after he fell off his bike, but whatever — we wouldn’t want to be on PETA’s bad side either.

Ode to George

Consultant Mark Amtower, founder of Highland, MD-based Amtower & Co., pays tribute to George Mosher (below) of Milwaukee-based mailer National Business Furniture. Mosher, who cofounded National Business Furniture with his wife, Julie, 30 years ago, recently sold it to Germany-based Takkt and is retiring as of Jan. 2.

My history with National Business Furniture dates back to 1994, when I spoke at my first Direct Marketing to Business conference and two of its staffers attended my session. A few months later the company signed on as a client. While I was on the first of many trips to Milwaukee, George took me aside and told me not to take offense but that he would be working with me for only one year. This was based on his theory about consultants: Every consultant has three ideas, and at the end of a year you’ll have them all. But we ended up working together for eight of the past 11 years.

George never seemed to stop thinking or doing, tinkering with one of the more profitable b-to-b catalog firms around, and he was always looking at the processes. The result was usually a more profitable operation. On one visit, I saw that everyone had a printout from the customer database. The marketers had printed the entire customer file for a manual dedupe, and everyone in the company, from receptionist to CFO, got a chunk of the data to dedupe. When I walked into George’s office, there was a chunk on his desk too, with a yellow highlighter on top, dupes properly noted. He explained that this was not simply a good way to dedupe but also a great way for his employees to familiarize themselves with the customers.

George Mosher is his own man, defined by his own terms. He was driven more by curiosity than anything else. I have profited from our relationship in so many ways it is hard to find a simple way to say thanks, so I will say this: Godspeed, my friend, and may all havens be welcoming and safe for you and Julie.


Yeah. We need that

Who says office supplies catalogs aren’t funny? OK, most people, but perhaps they need to take a look at Stooples, a parody catalog of the office supplies giant Staples. The catalog of “office tools for hopeless fools” promotes corporate problem-solving products, such as the Expense Account Lie Detector Kit, the Spinoff Dreidel (“Your subsidiaries are all turkeys, so which one should you spin off?”), and the Conference-Call Sense-Maker. We’ll say one thing for the folks behind Stooples: They did a decent job crafting fake catalog copy. A few of our favorite copy blocks:

Pocket Shredder: “Inconspicuously lets you destroy sensitive documents even while lawyers are present. Clip-on device attaches inside trouser pocket, empties down pant leg into sock….”

Middle-Finger Conference Call Detector: “Who hasn’t participated in an audio conference call and believed some of the participants were being less than respectful?… Also picks up eye-rolling, extra-long tongue extensions, even mooning!…A must for those who demand information they can do nothing about.”

Annual Report Crossword Puzzle: “Perfect for companies in Chapter 11, hides losses while amusing shareholders. Our clever staff of wordsmiths finesses your difficulties into a series of horizontal and vertical puzzles. Pass them out at annual meetings with no. 2 pencils and duck embarrassing questions…”

TV’s first daughter a Posh Tot

ABC’s new hit series Commander in Chief, which stars Geena Davis as the first female president, wanted to outfit the set of the fictional first daughter’s room with an elegant but all-American look. So the show’s production designer turned to Richmond, VA-based upscale children’s decor cataloger Posh Tots for pastel-hued furnishings such as chenille chairs, rose lamps, and other “ultra-girly” accessories. Posh Tots is no stranger to Hollywood, counting long-running sitcom Friends and the film Stuart Little 2 among its credits; the company also boasts a host of real-life celebrity clients. Good for Posh Tots, but we think it would be great if the cataloger could one day count a real female president among its customers.

Beer shirts a buzz-kill for J.C. Penney

Perhaps times have changed since we were students, but T-shirts with beer logos are no longer considered back-to-school items. In fact, Plano, TX-based general merchandiser J.C. Penney was besieged with angry letters from alcohol-industry watchdogs and parents after one of its sale catalogs promoted beer-logo-embossed Ts as back-to-school fare. Even some of the beer companies that turned up in the catalog distanced themselves from the marketing. For its part, Penney admitted that advertising the T-shirts as back-to-school items was a mistake. “We certainly understand parents’ concerns, and we don’t want to associate ourselves with promoting alcohol to youths,” said Penney spokesperson Daphne Avila. Addressing concerns that parents had also discovered the shirts displayed in the young mens’ departments of Penney stores, Avila said that the company’s 1,020 stores had been instructed “to reposition the shirts more within our mature men’s department.” We’re not sure that wearing a beer shirt means kids will drink beer (or that grown men who wear beer-logo Ts should necessarily be classified as “mature”), but we support whatever it takes to keep students off the sauce. Remember, kids: Drinking beer did not make Bud wiser.


E-mail: Phone: 203-358-9900 Fax: 203-358-5823 Letter: 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907 or visit us on the Web at


A not-so-casual male

Ever page through men’s apparel catalog International Male and ask, Who wears this stuff — and where do they wear it? We’ve often wondered what would happened if we donned some of the cataloger’s more garish getups, and now we know, thanks to an intrepid reporter for Radar magazine. An article in Radar‘s September/October issue details how the writer put International Male’s togs to the test on the mean streets of New York. Among his ensembles: a pastel rainbow pinstripe seersucker suit (worn to Yankee Stadium of all places), a ruffled poet shirt paired with tight black leather trousers, and a black sparkly cape. Surprisingly, no one beat up — or really even hassled — the Dapper Dan; in fact, he said he received much better service in the posh boutiques of the Upper East Side wearing the poet shirt than he does in his pedestrian clothing. So we guess it’s safe for us to order that London Opera Trenchcoat we’ve been eyeing.

Mailers join forces to arm troops

It’s not easy for U.S. troops to get decent knives while serving in Iraq, but Sevierville, TN-based Smoky Mountain Knife Works is helping to change that. The cataloger’s Knife for a Soldier program, founded this past June, lets customers buy knives for soldiers at a discounted price or donate money for knives that will be shipped to active soldiers. Smoky Mountain has a network of partners helping with the program: Ten of its suppliers are providing two types of knives at a reduced cost, and United Parcel Service is donating its services to ship the knives to Brigade Quartermasters, which sells military and law enforcement gear and apparel. The Kennesaw, GA-based Brigade Quartermasters includes one of the donated knives in each order shipped to an APO, along with a letter and the name and address of the donor. Smoky Mountain CEO Kevin Pipes learned about the soldiers’ lack of good knives from David Randolph, a friend’s brother who had served in Iraq as a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard. Randolph, who returned to Iraq under a government contract to help clear Iraqi missiles and bombs, was killed in November 2004 when his convoy was attacked in Fallujah. For more on Smoky Mountain’s knife program, visit

DeSantis says, watch this

Gentlemen, when you’re dressing for success, do you ever wish that your shirt cuff showed off a little more of your watch? Men’s apparel cataloger DeSantis Collection is now making its Watch Cuff option available for all its custom shirts. The Watch Cuff — for which DeSantis has a patent pending — has an opening in the sleeve cuff that exposes and frames the watch face. The Boca Raton, FL-based mailer has been offering the Watch Cuff design for a few seasons but only to select clientele; it made the option available to all this past May. You may not be interested in tailoring your shirts to expose your timepiece, particularly if your tastes — and budget — run more Timex than Touneau. But for the flashier fellows out there, we guess if the Rolex is real, you must reveal.


Filson finds out it’s really a gift merchant

Do you know who’s buying your merchandise, and why? You may not even care, just as long as they’re buying. But Seattle-based upscale outdoor apparel cataloger Filson was surprised when research recently revealed that more women are buying its goods and more customers are buying Filson products as gifts. Until just a few years ago, most of Filson’s customers bought its duster coats, hunting caps, and field boots for themselves, but the research shows that the percentage of purchases as gifts rather than for personal use has doubled. And while a decade ago nearly all Filson orders were placed by men, today an increasing number of women are snapping up the products for the well-heeled sportsmen in their life. We are Filson fans, but considering that very few products in the catalog are priced at less than $100, it probably won’t become our primary gift source. But we will look simply fabulous in the cover cloth field jacket this fall.

Yessir, that’s my baby’s name

While some parents get more “creative” than others when naming their offspring (who hasn’t snickered at actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s choice of Apple for her daughter?) many appear to pick from a pool of trendy baby names. One astute observer posting on, a Website for new fathers, even suspects parents are shopping for names in catalogs — the Pottery Barn Kids catalog to be specific. The poster pointed out that the monikers monogrammed on items in the Summer 2005 Pottery Barn Kids edition make for a good barometer of baby-naming trends, from Andy and Thomas for boys to Aimee and Taylor for girls. The cataloger also uses popular children’s names for its products, such as the Madeline bedroom furniture, the Allison bookshelf, and the Dylan Chindi rug, so it provides no end of “in” baby names. We, of course, didn’t need to stoop to shopping for names in Pottery Barn for our precious child. And little William-Sonoma is doing just fine, thanks.


There goes the neighborhood

Middleton, WI-based dolls marketer American Girl can’t get a break. Critics have said that the company’s core collection of dolls lacks diversity. Although girls can choose dolls with an array of skin and hair colors, all but three of the nine characters in the core American Girls Collection (Nez Perce girl Kaya, Mexicana Josefina, and escaped slave Addy) are Caucasians of European descent. But earlier this year, when the company came out with Marisol, a limited-edition doll with a storyline that chronicles a young Mexican-American girl’s love of dancing, the Chicago community of Pilsen was up in arms. In the book that comes with the doll, Marisol lives in predominately Hispanic Pilsen, until her father decides to high-tail it to the suburbs because Pilsen is “too dangerous.” American Girl says that danger referred to in the book was the city traffic, but some Pilsen residents were smarting at the portrayal of the section as unsafe. (Although crime in Pilsen has been falling, it was known as a hotbed of gang violence just a few years ago.) You just can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, American Girl, but keep trying.

German catalog giant targets die fetten kinder

It’s comforting, in a schadenfreude sort of way, to know that Americans aren’t the only nationality getting too fat: German cataloger Neckermann a few months ago launched the country’s first catalogs specializing in plus-size kids’ clothing. Like the U.S., Germany has a growing obesity rate, especially among children — one in three kids is reportedly classified as overweight in Germany. Because plus-size children’s clothes in Germany tend to be available only in specialty stores — and at higher prices — many parents buy their overweight children garments that are several sizes too big. Neckermann’s plus-size line is correctly proportioned for a better fit, so maybe little Hans and Gretel won’t be teased as much on the playground. While we’re happy that Neckermann has addressed this large — and growing — market, we’d rather see both countries work harder on slimming down their children. And their adults, for that matter.

Habitat event a big hit

In our May 1 issue, we reported in “Backword” that Harrison, NY-based cooperative database firm I-Behavior had teamed up with nonprofit Habitat for Humanity International on a project to kick off the 2005 Annual Catalog Conference. Nearly 200 I-Behavior clients and friends, along with volunteers from the community and employees from General Electric, participated in the May 22 Blitz Build, in which the frame for a single-family home in Osceola County, FL, was built. According to I-Behavior CEO Lynn Wunderman, the feedback has been so positive that a Blitz Build may become an annual event. What’s more, several of the participants expressed interest in getting involved with their local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The Americus, GA-based organization builds and sells homes at no profit to families who do not qualify for conventional financing. Cheers to I-Behavior, Habitat for Humanity, and all the volunteers who pitched in to help build a better future for some family.


Merchants mad for Martha’s poncho

When lifestyle guru Martha Stewart was released from a West Virginia federal prison in early March after serving five months for lying about a stock sale, all eyes were on…her poncho. The crocheted coverup, hand-knit for Stewart by a fellow inmate, sparked a feeding frenzy of sorts for the poncho’s pattern. Savvy knitting products marketers including Lion Brand Yarn and rushed patterns onto the market to capitalize on the craze. Lion Brand got there within a week of Stewart’s release, posting a poncho pattern and knitting instructions on its Website; more than 600,000 users downloaded the pattern, and Lion Brand’s sales reportedly jumped 39% in the two weeks after the design was posted. Too bad Stewart, founder of New York-based media and homemaking empire Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, folded her own catalog in February — she could have made a bundle on her own poncho pattern. It remains to be seen if Stewart will make electronic-monitoring ankle bracelets all the rage, however.

Austrian mailer’s massive misnomer

BauMax, an Austrian housewares merchant, needs either a proofreader or an historian on its staff: The company’s summer catalog features a tool shed called the Mauthausen, the same name as a Nazi concentration camp. The catalog came out in March, but the controversy didn’t heat up until late April, when a local newspaper reported on the complaints of anti-Nazi activists. For its part, BauMax blames the gaffe on the company’s decision to name models on towns and cities where it has branches. The model named for upper Austrian province of Mauthausen will now be known as the Linde, or “linden tree.” Ironically, the shed controversy broke less than two weeks before survivors and antiwar activists were scheduled to gather at the Mauthausen camp to mark the 60th anniversary of its liberation by U.S. troops at the end of World War II.

Anthropologie gives shout out to Sri Lanka

Apparel and home decor cataloger/retailer Anthropologie shot its summer book along the southern coast of Sri Lanka just a few days before the tsunami in the Indian Ocean devastated the region. The cataloger devotes the inside back page of the summer edition to the people of Sri Lanka, in particular to those its workers met in the town of Galle and a nearby fishing village called Unawatuna. Anthropologie has been in regular contact with the people it worked with there and reports that “thankfully, they are safe and working to rebuild their lives.” Anthropologie put its money where its mouth is: Employees raised money to donate to the locals, and the company matched contributions and donated the profits of some of its items to tsunami relief efforts. Way to give back, Anthropologie.


Yule tie one on with the tie tree

Perhaps taking a page from Neiman Marcus’s over-the-top holiday gifts, buttoned-down apparel cataloger/ retailer Brooks Brothers has its own extravagant offering this year: a $12,500 tie tree. Fashioned out of 250 silk ties draped over a 7-ft. wire frame, this is not your father’s tie tree (unless your father is Donald Trump perhaps). The New York-based marketer says a similar holiday display in the window of its flagship Madison Avenue store — which attracted crowds and prompted several customers to call Brooks Brothers to try to buy one — inspired the product. Brooks Brothers is promoting the tie tree for use at holiday office parties and fundraisers, but if you want one for your living room, the company will customize the tie colors to match your home decor.

…And your little dogs, too

G.W. Little just launched in August, but the cataloger of outfits and accessories for dogs weighing 25 lbs. or less is already hobnobbing with the stars. Thousand Oaks, CA-based G.W. Little on Nov. 9 held a fashion show at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles featuring celebrities such as actress/singer Haylie Duff and Lacey Chabert of the movie Mean Girls catwalking alongside their own dinky dogs. Okay, so maybe these aren’t exactly A-list celebrities (unless you’re a teenage girl), but it’s still nice exposure for a new mailer. And speaking of B-listers, we’re guessing that Paris Hilton and Tinkerbelle were not available for the gig.

One-a-day plan

We’ve been touting chocolate as a health food long before the so-called experts ever caught on; now candy merchant Bissinger’s is boosting our theory with the introduction of Spa Chocolate. The St. Louis-based company claims the Spa candies contain ingredients “linked to improved cardiovascular health, lowered risk for certain types of cancer, a reduction in body weight and a slowing of the aging process.” The candies are made with dark chocolate, fruits, and nuts — ingredients found to provide some health benefits. But before you gorge yourselves, there is a catch. For one, the Spa Chocolate comes at spa prices: $15.95 for a box of seven pieces. Why are there seven pieces, you ask? There’s one for each day of the week. That’s right, only one chocolate allowed per day. Hey, if we could stop at one piece each day, we wouldn’t need to buy “healthy” chocolate.

A few of our favorite things

The holiday season is typically when catalogers put their best foot forward, or rather, their best covers. We’ve seen several super catalog covers this season and narrowed the selection down to our top three:

  1. Urban Outfitters

    Well, who doesn’t love Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist, from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, not to mention the Abominable Snowmonster? It doesn’t hurt that the holiday TV staple — created using stop-motion AniMagic animation — celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2004.

  2. Grizzly Industrial

    You may not expect this “Purveyor of Fine Machinery” such as drum sanders and tile cutters to get overly creative with its covers, but Grizzly is no Grinch. The cover depicts a sleigh laden with heavy machinery, with Santa Claus explaining to four reindeer, “Sorry, fellas, Grizzly tools were on everybody’s list this year!”

  3. Sturbridge Yankee Workshop

    Take three charming knit stockings, hang them on the mantle, and fill each with an adorable kitten. It’s a no-brainer.


We Win Some…

My company, MidwayUSA, a cataloger mailing about 5 million pieces a year, has been subscribing to Catalog Age for many years. I enthusiastically skim each and every issue looking for topics of interest.

The addition of Jack Schmid’s column, “Catalog Analysis,” has made a terrific impact on how we analyze our customers and our prospecting efforts. Please keep this column and expand your offering of hands-on technical columns that give good how-to detail.

While I appreciate the news you report, I believe the real value in your publication lies in its ability to help each of us improve the way we go to market, thus enabling our companies to be more successful and the catalog industry to prosper.

I really appreciate your efforts and thank you for a job well done.
Jeff Larkin
marketing communications manager, MidwayUSA

…And We Lose Some

I have to say I am really disappointed in the redesign of Catalog Age.

Catalog Age has always been one of my favorite magazines. The material in the articles has always been very interesting, and the format, readability, and general first-class feel to the magazine made it a pleasure to receive each month.

I can live with the cheaper paper, but cutting the type size to an almost unreadable size is a major disappointment.
George Moser
president, National Business Furniture

Catalogs We Love

Rolli Moden is not the first cataloger of apparel for wheelchair users, but we think it’s one of the best. The 16-page spring edition features shoes, accessories, and plenty of basics such as sweatpants, shorts, khakis, and jeans, all designed to “fit while you sit.” The book uses “real people” models, while lie-down photos and copy detail product benefits. In addition to casual wear, Rolli Moden also sells more-tailored apparel for men, such as suits and sportcoats. Our only problem is that it doesn’t carry any dressy or work clothing for women. Maybe next time?

A .003% Response Rate?

Did you ever wonder how many catalogs you receive in a year? One Florida family that decided to keep track was shocked by the results. Anne and Rick Haskins of St. Petersburg began saving every catalog they received from Dec. 26, 1999, through Jan. 31, 2001; the result was an 8-ft., 355-lb. stack of some 900 catalogs. Talbots was the most prolific mailer, sending 49 catalogs; Lands’ End was next with 38; and Coldwater Creek came in third with 30. These numbers may not seem staggering to the seasoned mail order shopper, but the Haskins feel they had good reason to be shocked: They had ordered from only three catalog companies during those 13 months.

A Properly Outfitted Workout Program

Women’s apparel cataloger Boston Proper is making its small-screen debut — or at least its line of workout wear is. The cataloger is wardrobing the workout experts on Body Electric, a nationally syndicated weekly television series on PBS. Boston Proper, published by Boca Raton, FL-based multititle catalog company The Mark Group, debuted the line in its fall catalogs and on its Website. The high-tech workout duds are made from suede-finished materials that resist stains and fading, and from moisture-wicking microfibers that boast such properties as breathability and lint resistance. Body Electric’s hosts will wear items from Boston Proper’s collection in 26 episodes of the 2001 season. We’ve always preferred our ratty old sweatpants, but if you’re going to feel the burn on TV, you might as well look your best.

Sheets Fit Only for a King or Queen

So much for catalogers providing a wide range of sizes. A Catalog Age staffer in March received the summer 2001 edition of the Anthropologie catalog of funky relaxed fashions and eclectic home furnishings. She was interested in buying the Nantucket cotton bedding from Portugal but found that the sheets and duvet covers came only in queen or king size. In fact, all of the high-end linens in the catalog were available only for queen- or king-size beds, and a call to the Philadelphia-based cataloger confirmed that Anthropologie does not stock bedding in full or twin sizes. In this era of “supersize” meals, gas-guzzling SUVs, and over-the-top McMansions, we can understand why Anthropologie might think that everybody sleeps in an enormous bed. But the fact is, not everybody does, and the cataloger just lost a sale.


Not feather, leather In our August issue, we reported that apparel trends were driving home decor styles (see “Fashion dressing up home,” page 6). And sure enough, when we received the upscale bedding catalog Turiya (from Hanover Direct), we were hardly surprised to see such apparel trends as butterfly motifs, designer labels, Asian influences, and an overall emphasis on luxury translated to linens and home decor. One fashion-trend-turned-home-item did surprise us, however: leather bedding. Turiya features a black leather coverlet with matching pillow shams (dry-clean only, please). We’re all for innovation – and luxury-but leather bedding seems a mite impractical to us. What’s next, fur towels?


An e-mail service star After shopping around for a watch for months, an employee of Catalog Age’s parent company finally found one she wanted in a spring J. Jill catalog. She waited a few months to order the watch, however, and then she couldn’t find the spring catalog. Since the watch did not appear in any of the more recent catalogs or on the Website, she e-mailed J. Jill’s customer service department about it. Though she first received a response saying she would have an answer within 24 hours, she got a response in one hour. What’s more, the e-mailed response included pictures of the watch she described (which the company re-sent three times when the customer had problems opening the files). The customer was impressed with J. Jill’s online service efforts – and yes, she did buy the watch.


A call for online fraud protection Are any industry organizations lobbying on behalf of merchants conducting business online to build greater protection against fraud by consumers? Of course, Visa doesn’t seem to be issuing a set of guidelines to protect merchants (see “Visa issues new Web rules,” page 7), because when a merchant experiences fraud, Visa doesn’t pay for it. The merchant suffers the chargeback.

A growing concern for those of us whose businesses are conducted primarily through “card not present” transactions is the increasing prevalence of sophisticated ways that consumers find to obtain goods fraudulently. Consumers are starting to expect merchants to share shipper tracking information for online purchases (and it is good customer service, so we do it), but sharing this information opens the door to certain fraudulent schemes. For my particular company, such fraud is not so common that it causes alarm, but other merchants we know are besieged daily by such schemes, and they need to be ever-vigilant to catch them, or else experience significant costs. The potential for fraud seems to vary depending on the types of products sold.

Many of us would like to add our voices to a movement to build greater protection for merchants. Smaller catalogs and online merchants in particular don’t have individual clout, but we can participate in a larger organization’s initiative. I’d be interested in hearing if any groups are tackling the issue.


A questionable reply We’ve all been hearing about how important it is to provide good customer service – especially in the relatively uncharted waters of e-mail correspondence. But you have to wonder if some imerchants even read the e-mails they receive, based on the replies they send to customers.

For instance, a Catalog Age staffer saw a pair of shoes by Chinese Laundry in the Macy’s by Mail catalog that she wanted in another color. She went to the company’s Website but still didn’t see the color she wanted, so she sent the following e-mail:

“I saw a pair of the Kelley shoes in Macy’s in turquoise. Is that shoe available in a fuchsia or hot pink? If so, please let me know where I can get a pair, as your site only offers black or pewter. You can respond to my work e-mail address [listed below]. Thank you.”

The company’s response: “Hi! You can call 310-838-2103 to place an order. Thank you for your interest in Chinese Laundry & On Your Feet Shoes.”


Victoria’s real secret If you’ve ever perused the women’s “career” clothing in the Victoria’s Secret catalog, you’d be hard pressed to find something appropriate to wear in most offices. Well, you most certainly couldn’t find anything to wear if you worked in a Victoria’s Secret store. The Smoking Gun Website, which specializes in public-record information on famous people and companies, recently posted Victoria’s Secret’s dress code for retail employees, and it’s much more conservative than you might think. The vixens in its catalog couldn’t get a job there in the clothes they’re modeling. For instance, the dress code instructs that “clothing must not be excessively short, tight, or revealing.” (Huh? What about the micromini suit and plunging-neckline halter top that we just bought from the cataloger?)

Furthermore, all professional attire for men and women must be predominately – in fact, 95% – black. And it’s not just the outfits of employees that Victoria’s Secret is concerned about. Store workers must go easy on the accessories, with “no more that two rings per hand or two earrings per ear,” and body piercings and tattoos must be covered with bandages, makeup, or opaque hosiery. Needless to say, fishnet stockings – featured prominently in a recent catalog – are not permitted.


Pip, Pip, hurray! If you’re a regular customer of pet products cataloger Doctors Foster & Smith, you might have seen Pippi on the cover of its January edition. Thanks to a weight-loss system for dogs, there’s now less of Pippi to see. The cataloger’s 2000 Vol. 00-19 edition reports that after two months on a weight-reducing system, the elderly dachshund has lost 3 lbs. and went from a 23″ waist to a 21″ waist – a 15% reduction thus far. As dog lovers, we like to see any type of success story with pets, so we appreciate the update; it also probably helped sell the system to other owners of corpulent canines. But given that the photo above is Pippi after losing the weight, we think she still needs a few turns on the treadmill.


Bean keeps it brief OK, by now we all know that the 88-year-old L.L. Bean is a mail order master. But a recent shopping experience with the venerable marketer of outdoor products and apparel was so efficient that we must give the company its due. A Catalog Age staffer called Bean one night in late July to place an order. A customer service rep picked right up and, when told that the caller wanted to place an order, asked for the item number. The CSR then verified the caller’s name and shipping address, which he was able to access immediately, thanks to caller ID. He then asked for just the last four digits of the customer’s credit card number, on file from previous orders; gave the customer the total charge with shipping and handling; and said the order would arrive by Federal Express within three business days. The whole process took about 40 seconds. And, of course, the order arrived on schedule.


Something fishy about this paper When we got our hands on the chic catalog from L’Occitane en Provence, a high-end toiletries marketer from the south of France, the heavy-duty paper stock was a real tactile treat. As it turns out, L’Occitane’s paper is a whole lot more. A small mention on the inside back cover specifies that the book is “printed on paper using seaweed harvested from cleaning the Venice lagoon.” This new technique, the catalog says, “entails removing excess quantities of algae, which, if left to proliferate, cause ecological imbalances in the sea.” We give L’Occitane two thumbs up for its paper, which is also acid- and chlorine-free. Just one question for this French company: How about paper made from cleaning out the Seine?


Georgia on their minds For certain, it’s getting harder and harder to find new catalog products. Now it seems mailers can’t even count on local heroes to become unique product heroes. Case in point: a replica of the “Savannah Bird Girl” statue, which appears on the spring catalog covers of both home decor mailer Ballard Designs and gifts cataloger Charles Keath. Each of the Georgia-based catalogs-Ballard in Atlanta and Charles Keath in Norcross-probably thought it had hit a product home run with the bird girl. But it’s hardly a unique item-heck, even an out-of-state cataloger, St. Paul, MN-based Signals, features the statue on its spring cover.

P.S. Good luck trying to buy the bird girl from Ballard Designs. Though the cover claims that the item is sold on the order form and on page 10 of the catalog, it isn’t. For shame!

Saffron diplomacy? Dealing with merchandise suppliers in third-world countries can be precarious, but most catalogers don’t share their importing horror stories with their customers if they don’t have to. Penzeys Spice catalog, however, lays its cards on the table. In the president’s letter of the spring edition, William Penzey tells readers that the $45,000 the company wired to suppliers in Kashmir to buy saffron “seems to have disappeared into the fabled black hole of India.” Penzey writes that he is not sure if the money disappeared, if the saffron disappeared, or if the shipment is just incredibly late, but he vows that “one way or the other we will resolve this, but it will require diplomacy, and it is hard to predict how long it will take.” It’s possible that the saffron situation has been resolved by now, but if not, the letter specifies that Penzeys customers seeking the Kashmir Mogra Cream red saffron ($8.45 per gram) will instead receive the Spanish saffron ($6.49 per gram) and a refund for the difference.

Setting out to become the of the pharmacy industry isn’t easy, but it certainly helps to have the actual on your side. online pharmacy startup of which Amazon owns 40%-turned to the book marketing behemoth for help in several online areas, such as the best way to catalog a database of 16,000 drugstore products ranging from aspirin to Zantac. Amazon management suggested that the fledgling cyber-pharmacist enlist Electronic Scriptorium Ltd., a company that hires monks and nuns to create databases. Only one problem: The nuns balked at inputting data regarding a shipment of condoms. Secular employees now handle the keying in of such items.

Bean there In its 25th anniversary issue in March, People magazine spoofs venerable outdoor gear and apparel cataloger L.L. Bean with its “L.L. Been There” catalog of once-hot products. Among the items featured in this “guide to fads that went pfffft! and habits that became history” are press-on nails, Cabbage Patch Kids, Baby on Board signs, leg warmers, and pet rocks.

What a great idea-a catalog of products nobody wants! Let’s call it J. Peterman (ouch)!

Correction In the New Lists section of the March 15 issue, we failed to source Media Marketplace’s “Jet Set” list of 657,839 buyers and inquirers of airline reservations and travel-related services for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, and Canada. The list is from McCord Consumer Direct, a travel management company.


Alternatives to alternative media I read the article “Best bets for prospecting” by Jack Schmid in the April 15 issue twice and liked it both times. I felt that some comments were appropriate, however.

During the past 15-plus years, our company and many of our competitors have offered package inserts to catalogers as a way for them to obtain new customers. Many of these catalogers are now multimillion-dollar companies, with much of their growth funded by using inserts.

With the advent of the Internet, “alternative media” has taken on several new directions, which tends to confuse many of us. What is, for instance, the correct name to be applied to Web advertising? This seems to have promptly been satisfied by the term “new media,” leaving inserts and alternative media to seek a new definition, which I have proposed to be “alternative print media.” Alternative print media incorporates all nontraditional print-generated media-inserts, card decks, co-ops, sampling, blow-ins, bind-ins, etc.

What catalogers need to hear is the success to be obtained by using alternative print media as part of their prospecting tools. But with a few exceptions, catalogers do not publicize their success using media other than lists. With a predilection toward seeking new lists, catalogers overlook the obvious and less expensive but equally effective other, or alternative, media.

Hitting a menopausal nerve Editor’s note: In our May “Backword,” Editorial Director Laura Beaudry complained about prematurely receiving the As We Change catalog, which sells products for women “in midlife and menopause.” Below, the catalog’s founders have their say.

As one of the founders of As We Change, and one who had menopause at 39, I am most interested in the response from the women for whom the catalog is created. Your response-“indignant,” “snarling,” and “personally offended” to have received the catalog-says more about you than it does about the catalog. I took note that, despite your response, you “have to admit I ordered a few things.”

Some sensitivity, please, on your part. This is not about list rentals or direct mail target audiences. This is about millions of women of all ages who don’t know what is available to them for menopause, whether they need it now or later.

We first identified a need for informational, emotional, and product solutions for women in their middle years, including those anticipating or experiencing menopause. In years past, menopause was viewed as overwhelmingly negative. Part of our mission is to help women reclaim the middle years as a time of extreme productivity, excitement, energy, and new beginnings.

We knew that in the most “targeted” sense, the specific physiological changes surrounding menopause more often occur to women between the ages of 45 and 55. Since we determined early on that we would maintain women’s privacy by not looking to “menopause” or “medical” databases, mailing to prolific catalog buyers seemed a good way to reach the women who could benefit from our offering. We have since learned that we have many “secret” customers in their 30s and early 40s; midlife issues extend well beyond the attention-getting symptoms of menopause itself.

Our mission is to try to help shift public perception toward a more enlightened view of menopause-certainly a more positive view than the one you reflected in your letter.

While you’re right that many women don’t like to think of themselves as older than they are, the fact is that baby boomers have radically changed every phase of life through which they’ve passed, and the women of this age group have been particularly effective in making aging look good and feel healthy.

Our catalog appeals to women of all ages because our fundamental message is to take care of yourself-women are very good at taking care of others, but rarely do so for themselves. This is one reason we don’t do age selects on our list rentals. Those infrequent times when we’ve made someone mad are far outweighed by the women who are thrilled to get the catalog or pass it on to someone they know who might benefit.

Regarding your (I think) unfair slam of our Collectors’ Choice Music catalog copy in the May “Backword,” I personally wrote the copy block you criticized because, as I listened to the collection of Ronnie Lane solo sides cited, it struck me that both he and Brian Jones lent their respective bands the pastoral side to their music. It also seems to me that to isolate one sentence out of what is, I think even you will admit, the most complete and authoritative music catalog on the marketplace smacks of a journalist with a large ax to grind and an ego to match. After all, what other catalog would even carry the Ronnie Lane items in question?

Congratulations and best wishes to industry pioneer Lillian Vernon Katz, who tied the knot with salon owner Paolo Martino in New York on June 24.

As you may have heard or read somewhere before, the bride founded the Lillian Vernon gifts catalog from her kitchen table more than 30 years ago. (Question for the wedding guests: Weren’t you a little nervous about selecting the perfect gift for this master merchant?)


In putting together our Cataloging 2001 theme issue, we hit up many catalogers, consultants, suppliers, and other industry experts for their professional opinions on where cataloging is headed in the next few years.

That’s not to say that as trade journalists, we don’t have a few ideas of our own as to the near future of the catalog business. Below, our inhouse prognostications for 2001:

Sherry Chiger, managing editor Having used my dog’s name to request a number of catalogs, I predict that by 2001, she’ll be receiving more mail than my husband will.

Melissa Dowling, features editor There’s going to be a tremendous home products backlash, causing consumers to heave all their high-ticket linens and fancy furnishings into landfills in favor of plain straw mats and folding chairs. Angels and candles will endure, however.

Paul Miller, senior news writer Profits will remain the name of the game over the next three years. In particular, all the big catalog conglomerates will continue to push the profit envelope over the next several years. With the economic outlook remaining so strong, I see no reason these catalogers can’t continue to make money come 2001. Other big mailers should benefit as well. Even Spiegel should begin to turn around by then!

Shannon Oberndorf, writer/Website coordinator I predict that on Jan. 1, 2001, I’ll be sitting on my couch, and thanks to my Internet-accessible television with high-speed bandwidth, I’ll be simultaneously watching my favorite soap opera, participating in a business video conference, and ordering my spring wardrobe from online catalogs. What’s more, I’ll get my new clothes before the day is through-without any extra cost in expedited delivery.

Mark Del Franco, writer After leaving office in disgrace, former pres-ident Bill Clinton “secretly” will start a direct marketing consulting business specializing in “privacy issues”; his company’s ad in a 2001 edition of Catalog Age will read “Specializing in document shredding, obstruction of justice, and general obfuscation.” In a related story, Clinton will be pardoned by President Fred Thompson.

Yvonne Moran, writer In 2001, all men will be house-husbands, buying from mail order catalogs in greater numbers than women are currently. They will be purchasing all-kinds-of-everything, both for themselves and their working-till-midnight Significant Others.

Sophia Burke, editorial assistant Though Internet catalogs will not replace print, we will no longer have a need to save and file all the print catalogs we get at Catalog Age, because they will all be available online. As the current filer of the catalogs, I am desperately looking forward to this turn of events.

Peter Girard, special projects manager I asked my 95-year-old grandfather, who has seen more trends, fads, and advancements than I (or most other people), to ponder merchandising trends that will affect the catalog industry as the next millennium nears. He made three predictions:

1. Computers. Mark his words: Computers will be big in the 21st century.

2. Red in, blue out. He says that as evidence of the universe’s perpetual expansion mounts, the astronomic principle of redshift (where objects moving away from Earth appear red, while those moving toward Earth appear blue) will color most visible heavenly bodies red. As a result, consumer tastes will gravitate toward all things red and away from blue-something catalog merchandisers must be ready for.

3. No cardigans. My grandfather remembers sudden blizzards that piled snow past the first floor of his house, and for this reason he has always stockpiled cardigans, which can be buttoned up for warmth at the first sign of a sudden blizzard. But as the global climate warms, he believes the need for cardigans has diminished to the point of absurdity. He fears that the button-down sweater will disappear from catalog pages by 2001.