Slipcover maker turns mailer

Inspired by mushrooming slipcover sales, $80 million manufacturer/ wholesaler Sure Fit plans to aggressively pursue the consumer market for slipcover products through its catalog and Website.

In 1997, Sure Fit launched its first mail order catalog (Slipcovers by Mail, circulation 10,000), and its Website (, largely to broaden consumer awareness of its brand. But now the firm plans to expand its direct marketing by mailing as many as 500,000 copies of its 24-page catalog up to four times this year.

As a manufacturer, Allentown, PA-based Sure Fit supplies slipcovers to home products catalogers and retailers. In all, Sure Fit controls about 85% of the slipcover marketplace, according to CEO Bert Shlensky.

To assure retailers that Sure Fit’s direct marketing efforts won’t eliminate the need for middlemen, both the catalog and Website maintain consistent pricing at typically higher levels than retailers offer. “We don’t compete with our retail partners on price. We don’t have sales, and we don’t offer closeouts,” says Liana Toscanini, director of direct response.

Uncovering a niche

Sure Fit estimates slipcover sales to U.S. consumers totaled $77.5 million in 1997, $102.4 million in ’98, and then leaped to $180 million in ’99. The firm projects sales will top $245 million this year – enough to keep retailers’ sales climbing even as the manufacturer grabs a bigger share of the pie.

Nonetheless, Sure Fit’s foray into direct marketing has been cautious. Initially, Toscanini says, “we didn’t support the catalog with any advertising, and we assumed a response rate of around 1%. We didn’t really start advertising the catalog until 1999, and that was mostly space ads in the major shelter magazines.”

The company’s catalog and site draw response rates from 5%-9%, says Toscanini, who estimates 1999 sales for the two at $6 million, and projects $20 million in sales this year. Sure Fit’s high response stems partly from its policy of mailing catalogs only to requesters – who number a whopping 100,000 per month, she says. “Prospecting lists don’t work for us. We can’t afford a 0.8% response.”

Sure Fit’s customers are married women, age 25-54, with a mean household income of $62,000. But Toscanini believes Web buyers are more affluent. She says the Website generates 40% of the firm’s orders, and produces higher average orders – $155 vs. $136 (on an average price point of $109) – than the catalog.