Service Merchandise Tests Comeback Catalog

The late, lamented catalog showroom retailer Service Merchandise is making a comeback of sorts. The success of a Service Merchandise jewelry Website launched in December has led to the test-mailing of a print catalog.

Jewelry catalog syndicator Seta Corp. in early May dropped a 60-page Service Merchandise jewelry book to 150,000 of the company’s former customers. In addition to its own Palm Beach Jewelry catalog, Boca Raton, FL-based Seta produces jewelry sections and catalogs for Army Air Force Exchange Service, Newport News, and Chadwick’s of Boston, among others. Seta is working with former Service Merchandise chairman/CEO Raymond Zimmerman, who in November bought the rights to the Service Merchandise name.

Seta licensed the name from Zimmerman for the Website, Although he won’t disclose specifics about the Website’s sales, Zimmerman calls them “surprisingly good.” Products in the catalog, which is cobranded with Palm Beach Jewelry, range from $15 costume jewelry to a $1,000 gold-and-diamond bracelet. The book will offer 800 items from among the Website’s 8,000 SKUs.

Zimmerman left Service Merchandise in the mid-’90s. The company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 1999, closed its last stores in early 2002. In addition to discounted jewelry, both fine and costume, Service Merchandise sold appliances, home decor, and consumer electronics. At its peak in the early 1990s, it was the country’s largest catalog showroom merchant, an all-but-dead form of retail in which the company would send out big-book catalogs to drive traffic to the expansive showrooms. Mail order accounted for less than 10% of Service Merchandise’s sales, which at its height passed $1 billion in sales.

Zimmerman, who founded Boca Raton, FL-based discount retailer 99 Cent Stuff in 1999, works just three blocks from Seta Corp. “I had been talking to [Seta president] Joe Seta back when Service Merchandise was still in business about having Seta operate the Service Merchandise Website,” Zimmerman says.

Should the catalog prove a hit, Service Merchandise could expand once again into retail. “It’s still a name people like and respect that has some value,” Zimmerman says.

For the new catalog mailing, Seta bought the Service Merchandise database from Montreal-based online jeweler and proceed to enhance and clean the file. “We’ve done a lot of work to prepare for this mailing,” Joe Seta says. Although the 12.5 million-name database consists primarily of retail buyers, “we did a lot of overlays to identify known jewelry buyers who have a propensity to buy through the mail,” he explains.

In addition to finding those buyers most likely to place mail orders in a new Service Merchandise catalog, Seta is partnering with a credit company, the partner’s name of which Joe Seta won’t reveal, to offer a proprietary monthly installment payment plan.

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