Firing up TransAmerica

Having bought multititle cataloger TransAmerica Holdings in April, former Arizona Mail Order executive vice president Gary Giesler is busy with plans to “enhance” the company. But he’s also been dealing with a more immediate challenge: Just four days after he acquired TransAmerica, one-third of its warehouse was damaged by a fire that ruined most of the apparel stored there.

The loss to the Cleveland-based company-which sells low-end apparel, cosmetics, and accessories to mature buyers through the Anthony Richards, Healthy Living, Windsor Collection, and Beauty Boutique titles-goes beyond the damaged merchandise. TransAmerica is also hurting from canceled orders, a two-month interruption of service until the warehouse was reopened, and the expense of temporarily relocating portions of the facility. Giesler, who won’t supply loss estimates, says he is also calculating how much money the firm will lose due to reducing the page count of its normally 80-page summer Anthony Richards women’s apparel catalog, which accounts for one-third of company sales. Because it couldn’t get enough replacement product, TransAmerica is distributing a 64-page version of the title.

Despite the setback, Giesler is optimistic about sales and income growth. While he won’t quote figures, he claims revenue has grown 15%-20% on average over the past several years, with 60%-70% sales growth in 1997. The 280-employee company mails 55 million books a year, and the house file contains more than 2 million 24-month buyers, he says.

“We have a good management team and a good MIS system,” Giesler says, “and we want to enhance those as we go down the pike.” To do so, Giesler plans to “prune the merchandise” offered and implement more-sophisticated house file modeling.

Noncatalog venture Giesler also intends to grow TransAmerica through a new, non-catalog division. When closing the deal in April, Giesler and former TransAmerica owner and founder Avvy Katz colaunched Nationwide Discount Buying Service (NDBS), a club that gives members discounts on merchandise, hotel rooms, and services for a $59.95 annual fee.

Giesler and Katz are enlisting other mailers to help them sell NDBS to consumers. Participating catalogers can receive a percentage of the sales in exchange for having their phone reps make a 45-second sales pitch for the club to inbound callers. At press time, Giesler claimed to have signed on six other catalogers, but he wouldn’t reveal any names.

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