Trolling for customers

Bill Guyre is vice president of the not-for-profit, New York-based Lighthouse Catalog, which sells specialized products for people with impaired vision. Annual sales, less than ñ10 million; annual circulation, 2 million.

Our parent company, Lighthouse International (a not-for-profit foundation that supports advocacy, research, and services for vision-impaired and blind individuals), has a Website. We’ve linked our online catalog to our parent company’s site so that we receive some of the same traffic. We also send catalogs to the names of visitors to both Websites.

In addition, we mail to the names from our donor and information requester lists. For example, an eye care professional may contact us with questions about product research, or a customer may call looking for information about a particular eye disease.

We have done some advertising, too. We usually place the ads at the back of the magazine, near the classifieds. In particular, we received a good response from an ad we placed in Town & Country magazine.

Jill Rockwell is the media promotions manager for International Bible Society, a Colorado Springs, CO-based cataloger of scriptures, Bibles, and Christian-theme books and videos. Annual sales, ñ10 million; annual circulation, 1.3 million.

We have banner ads on the Internet, and we’ve placed space ads for our Website in some publications. We’ve also placed space ads for our catalog in special-interest magazines. At this point, we haven’t yet placed ads in any general-interest publications, though we’re considering it.

The success of the space ads really depends on the publications we advertise in. For example, we placed one ad for our catalog and a product that we offer-a book for junior high school students called The Camper’s New Testament-in a magazine called The Journal of Christian Camping. That was successful.

We have a group from our company that sets up booths and exhibitions at Christian and ministry-related conventions and seminars. The visitors to the booth will often register with us for a raffle or drawing of some sort, and we’re able to use those names for future mailings. The names we receive from the conventions and seminars are the most successful, because they have often already seen and experienced our product firsthand at one of our booths. We’re reaching people who have already expressed an interest in what we have to offer.

Eileen Spitalny owns Fairytale Brownies, a Scottsdale, AZ-based catalog of brownies and dessert gift boxes. Annual sales, less than ñ5 million; annual circulation, 100,000.

A few times a year, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times offer something called a catalog marketplace, a special section of advertising for catalogs. We’ve taken advantage of The New York Times offer during the past three years by placing 2-1/4″ x 2-1/4″ four-color ads in the section. The ads feature a picture of our brownies, the name of our catalog, our phone number, and our Website address. They’ve been effective, so this spring we’re going to run a similar ad in The Los Angeles Times catalog marketplace.

We are listed with Catalog City, which is a Website that offers visitors a chance to request catalogs from a number of companies. About once a month we receive an e-mail with the names and addresses of catalog requesters. We also recently put our catalog in Shop at Home, a catalog of catalogs. Since Shop at Home charges readers ñ2 for our catalog, which we send out free, some people will bypass Shop at Home as a middleman and call us directly to request a catalog.

We have also been listed in card decks-advertising packaged like a deck of cards-sent to gourmet food buyers. Our card doubled as a mail-in request card. It was pretty successful. And we placed a space ad in Gourmet magazine last September, but it’s still a little early to tell how successful it has been.

Andrea Rideout is the president of Garland, TX-based Nostalgic Warehouse, a cataloger of brass hardware. Annual sales, less than ñ10 million; annual circulation, 50,000.

We no longer sell directly to the consumer through our catalog. In the past two years, our catalog has become primarily a business-to-business offer. Because of the nature of our product, consumers aren’t likely to forge a lasting relationship with us; for example, they aren’t going to be replacing doorknobs on a regular basis. But we can establish solid relationships with dealers, such as retail stores and other catalogers. We are currently selling our product through more than 300 dealers, including Sears Great Interiors stores and the Spiegel catalog.

Since we’re now a business-to-business catalog, we place space ads in specialty and trade publications such as “Keynote,” a newsletter for locksmiths, and National Home Center News magazine. The response rate has been pretty good. We have also placed ads in various do-it-yourself publications produced by Better Homes and Gardens, as well as Old House Journal and Old House Interiors. This way, dealers can respond to us directly, plus we say in the advertisements that consumers should go to their local hardware dealer for our product. We’ve probably acquired about 100 dealers because their customers walked into their stores with our advertisement in hand, looking for our product.

We also do our own public relations. I write the press releases, and they usually generate a few stories a month in do-it-yourself magazines and newsletters. Getting press is terrific because we’re a small company without a huge budget, and space ads are costly. Besides, press generates more business than ads. The articles are usually longer than advertisements, so more people read them, and readers tend to believe in the quality of something when it is written about or reviewed.

Other than renting lists, how do you prospect for customers?

Most of the small catalogers we spoke to this month prospect in part by placing space ads in specialty publications. One cataloger also culls names from the list of visitors to his company’s Website, while another collects names at her company’s booth during conventions, and a third mailer receives requests as a result of her listing in a catalog of catalogs. And one cataloger cites media publicity as the best means of attracting customers because, she says, press gives her business a level of credibility that advertising can’t.

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