Martha By Mail: It’s a good thing

After three years of testing product inserts in the Martha Stewart Living magazine, the domestic goddess committed to mail order last October by rolling out the Martha by Mail catalog. And so far this year, the company, which mailed the March and May issues to approximately 1 million names each, is happy with the numbers. “We’ve had a good response to the catalog and are pleased with the results so far,” says Lauren Stanish, senior vice president of consumer and product marketing at the New York-based parent company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. “It has been a strong spring-better than expected.”

She adds that the company plans to mail the catalog four times a year: March, May, October, and a remail in November. “We haven’t yet decided the final figures for October’s mailing,” she says. (Martha By Mail first mailed last October to 350,000 names-half of which came from Martha Stewart Living’s 1.8 million-name subscriber file, while the other half came from rented lists.)

Eighty-five percent of Martha’s catalog customers are college-educated, home-owning women in their 40s with an average household income of $70,000. Almost three quarters are married, with about the same number working, says Stanish. “Our book’s demographicsare similar to those of our magazine readers,” she says.

While the first catalog sold primarily kits and gifts, Martha By Mail added gardening and bedding items to the 38-page March catalog, and the 42-page May book included two new spreads selling housewares such as baskets and laundry boards. Prices range from $4 to $495, with an average price point of $40.

Martha’s strong sellers include her cake and cookie decorating kits and accessories, such as green glass cake stands and butterfly cookie cutters, Stanish says. “Most of the products are specialty items, sourced domestically and produced internally, and many are products Martha has chosen and used herself.”

Of course, even Martha Stewart had a thing or two to learn about the catalog business-such as forecasting and inventory control. Martha By Mail initially had inventory problems for several items. While Stanish claims the snafus weren’t a major problem and have since been resolved, she admits that “It’s difficult to predict demand for every item with any new launch.”

Stanish would not reveal the response rate, but says the book’s average order is $85. “We are still testing names, and the way the lists perform from our March and May issues will determine the final mailing numbers for our October issue.”