Small Catalogs Forum: Computer Gear

When Terry Powers decided to learn how to use a computer in 1991 she was less than thrilled at the prospect of looking at a screen all day. Her quest to make computing fun sparked the launch of Computer Gear, which sells computer-themed T-shirts and novelties.

Powers and several private investors founded Computer Gear in 1993 as a wholesaler of T-shirts adorned with puns such as Byte Me. The shirts came with a registration tag similar to the warranty forms that come with computers and software. Powers knew she had a hit when consumers began filling out the tags and sending them not to the retailers from whom they’d bought the shirts but directly to her. She then grew the wholesale circular into a 16-page digest consumer catalog and expanded the product line to include novelty mouse pads and other computer-related gifts.

By 1996, catalog sales accounted for 60% of the company’s total sales, a figure that still holds. The Website, launched in 96, brings in 30% of total revenue, and the wholesale division accounts for 10%. To grow her buyer file, Powers uses space ads, co-op databases, and kiosks in major malls on the West Coast during the holiday season. The company plans to mail a little bit deeper into the list this year, Powers says.

In the computers are fun theme, the company Website offers a weekly cartoon. Customers can opt in to receive an e-newsletter, which provides gift ideas and promotions, and can sign up for the e-mail gift reminder service. The typical Computer Gear buyer is a male or female gift-giver between the ages of 30 and 45; an individual who no doubt views computers with healthy respect or fear and loathing.

Right now all functions are handled inhouse, except for photography, color separation, and printing. Powers aims to grow the catalog as much as she and her private investors can before selling it to a larger gifts catalog company. Given the omnipresence of computers in daily life, Computer Gear’s niche is as close to a sure thing as exists today.

Computer Gear

Based in: Redmond, WA

Catalog founded: 1995

Annual sales: $1 million-$5 million

Annual circulation: more than 500,000

Number of pages: 48

Trim size: 5-3/8″ 8-3/8″

Target audience: 30- to 45-year-old techies and gift-givers


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