opinion & response

Rosy Deal for Shriver

The latest celebrity to have a rose named after her is none other than California’s first lady, Maria Shriver. The daughter of the Peace Corps’s first director, Sargent Shriver, and the niece of President John F. Kennedy — not to mention a television reporter in her own right — Shriver today is best known as the wife of Austrian bodybuilder/actor/governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Shriver was reportedly looking for a white rose with large blossoms and a lot of fragrance, and Wilsonville, OR-based cataloger Edmunds’ Roses just happened to have such a flower that was in need of a name. Edmunds’ recently added the Maria Shiver rose to its catalog; each rosebush sells for $21.95, with 10% of the proceeds going to a charity of Shriver’s choice. The cataloger vehemently denies reports that a tobacco-colored, cigar-scented Ah-nold rose is in development.

Crate & Barrel Takes a Page from the Personals

Proofing your layouts is onerous enough; now you have to make sure no one is using your catalog to post a personal ad. A photo assistant working on Crate & Barrel’s fall book included his name and number on a message board propping one of the home decor cataloger/retailer’s armoires. The phone number and “dinner with Marc” notation seemed innocuous — until the catalog hit the mail in September, and Marc Horowitz’s phone began ringing off the hook with calls from beguiled bachelorettes. The 28-year-old San Franciscan said he’d expected to receive maybe five calls; he ended up fielding more than 500 in the first month alone. Horowitz subsequently decided to make a three-month, cross-country trip to meet some of his “respondents.” In fact, he had more than 70 dates planned as of early October. We were going to print Horowitz’s phone number here for kicks, but we figure he has enough on his plate for now.

Fruitcake 101

If you insist on sending someone a fruitcake this holiday season, at least have the decency to know the differences among varieties. Don’t know a fruitcake’s darkness from its density? Monastery Greetings spells it out for you in its Christmas 2004 catalog. The Cleveland Heights, OH-based mailer of products from monasteries, hermitages, and other religious communities includes a table that details the differences between its various Trappist fruitcakes, including the type, color, and consistency. For instance, the Guadalupe Abbey fruitcake is made with brandy and has a dark color and very dense consistency, while the Genesee Abbey fruitcake is infused with wine and has a light color with a moderately dense consistency. Monastery Greetings also warns that contrary to popular belief, fruitcakes do not keep forever but only for a few months when stored in a cool, dry place. And that’s only for fruitcakes made with alcohol — those made without spirits must be refridgerated immediately. So if you have designs on regifting a fruitcake, don’t delay.

NOTE: We’d prefer chocolate, but if you must send us a holiday fruitcake, we’ll take the light, moderately dense Genesee Abbey butterscotch brand. Thank you in advance.

Avon Appalling

Parents of students at a Newark, CA, elementary school got an eyeful when their children brought home Avon fund-raising catalogs in late September. The 144-page books included several pages of revealing lingerie, as well as an ad for bust-enhancing cream — with a diagram to show how the cream works. Needless to say, the catalog raised more ire than funds. Following complaints from several parents about the catalog’s racy content, the principal of Graham Elementary School admitted she should have perused the periodical more carefully and called off the fund-raising effort. Indeed, this one gets the booby prize.

Shed Some Light on This, Please

A Catalog Age staffer on Oct. 4 received an e-mail from candles marketer Illuminations confirming that her order had been shipped, complete with the UPS shipping tracking details. Only one problem: The staffer hadn’t placed an order with Illuminations in months. The e-mail referred to an order that the staffer had placed in June that had arrived on schedule. When contacted, the company said it was indeed having problems, with several customers receiving confirmation e-mails for previous orders and that the staffer should just ignore it. While there’s no harm done, we suggest Illuminations comb its system for glitches. Such errors do not inspire confidence in the online shopping medium.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823

Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

Duluth Trading Co. Gets Plumbers Off Crack

At one time or another, we’ve all been exposed to Plumber’s Crack — the pants’ sag that exposes too much of a repairman’s, ahem, assets. Belleville, WI-based woodworking tools cataloger Duluth Trading Co. has been diligently working to stop this syndrome with its long-tail T-shirt. This crew neck T has an extra three inches of length to help keep it tucked securely in place, enabling both the wearer and innocent bystanders to just say no to crack. Since its introduction a few years ago, the item has become one of the marketer’s best-selling and best-known products. In response to the growing demand, Duluth Trading has improved the design and expanded its selection to include long-tail long-sleeve knit shirts, turtlenecks, mock turtles, polos — and even the Crack-Spackle Bucket featuring a T-shirt gift-packaged in a white plastic spackle drum. We know what our handyman is getting for Christmas.

And the Winner Is…Bush by a Mask

According to some people in the costume business, the winner in every election since 1980 has been the candidate whose masks were most popular on Halloween. As of late September, Bush masks were outselling those of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, 57% to 43%, according to BuyCostumes.com. A division of New Berlin, WI-based specialty products marketer Buyseasons, BuyCostumes.com says that the Halloween sales figures from manufacturers, national retail chains, and its own efforts have accurately predicted the winners of the past six presidential elections. The company’s most popular presidential mask was that of former president Ronald Reagan in 1984. But BuyCostumes.com notes that Bill Clinton masks are still a big hit, and masks of Bush cabinet members such as Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell were at press time gaining popularity.

Sharper Image Cover Sports Sexy Sharapova

High-tech gifts and gadgets cataloger/retailer The Sharper Image has been known to solicit celebrities to tout its goods, but this time the San Francisco-based marketer served up an ace. Just two months after Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova won at Wimbledon, the nearly six-foot-tall seventeen-year-old appears on Sharper Image’s November 2004 catalog cover to promote the company’s new Speedminton racquet sport set. (The catalog, which dropped in mid-September, describes Speedminton as combining “the most exciting elements of tennis, squash, badminton and racquetball into a sensational game.”) Sharapova no doubt has a long professional career ahead of her, so good for Sharper Image for getting her first. And did we mention she’s easy on the eyes?

Home Sweet Home

San Francisco-based home furnishings cataloger/retailer Williams-Sonoma had announced in August 2003 that it was developing a high-end furniture spin-off. After more than a year of waiting patiently, we finally got a look at the much-hyped Williams-Sonoma Home catalog — and we’re underwhelmed. Fans of the core Williams-Sonoma kitchenware catalog and its sister Pottery Barn brand will likely suffer sticker shock with the Home title (a $4,200 Montecito Armoire, anyone?). And while the catalog is full of great-looking items, it doesn’t spark the same “gotta have it” urge that, say, Pottery Barn does. When we passed the catalog around the office, most co-workers concurred. “Not worth the wait,” sniffed one. “Most of the merchandise resembles that of Pottery Barn but comes with a much higher price tag.” It probably sounds like we’re just jealous that this ballyhooed book is a bit out of our range…and what if we are?

Shabby Without the Chic

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to celebrate the Ugliest Couch in America, but slipcovers manufacturer/marketer Sure Fit has indeed crowned this year’s disastrous divan. In its 10th annual Ugliest Couch contest, New York-based Sure Fit on Sept. 15 awarded the top (bottom?) prize to Yvonne Cooper of Saint Peters, MO, on TV talk show Live with Regis and Kelly. Cooper’s couch — a blood-red velour number with flowered pillows — was deemed the most hideous of more than 1,000 entries. For this dubious distinction, Cooper received the $5,000 grand prize, plus 10 products from Sure Fit’s complete decorating line. No offense to Cooper, whose couch is indeed an eyesore, but we’ve actually seen worse. We’re just too embarrassed to enter it ourselves.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823

Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

A&F Raises Ire of WV Governor

Apparel marketer Abercrombie & Fitch may have done away with its saucy A&F Quarterly (the magalog that frequently irked parents with its nudie photos and editorial on drinking games), but the company is still making waves. This time A&F pokes fun at West Virginia with a T-shirt that reads “West Virginia, No Lifeguard in the Gene Pool.” But West Virginia governor Bob Wise isn’t laughing. Calling the message cruel, Wise said in mid-August that the state is planning a response. The governor has his hands full in defending WV; this past March he went on national television to criticize another West Virginia humor shirt that read “It’s all relative in West Virginia.” At least A&F T-shirts make fun of other states as well, including Kentucky (“Electricity in Almost Every Town”) and Wisconsin (“Wisconsin Cuts the Cheese”).

Is Chico’s Getting Cheeky with Releases?

You don’t have to be a member of the business press to know that women’s apparel cataloger/retailer Chico’s is doing well. But if you are involved with covering retail sales, the Fort Myers, FL-based company issues releases frequently to make sure you know just how well it’s doing. So we read with great interest when a writer for the financial news Website The Motley Fool took Chico’s to task for issuing conflicting press releases. For instance, a Chico’s release dated Aug. 26 said that “we are very pleased with our current August same-store sales results and the strong reaction we are seeing to the introduction of our fall merchandise.” But a week later, a Sept. 2 release from the company cautioned that “several factors impacted our August sales results. The Labor Day holiday shift, a mailing delay in the delivery of our September catalog, and Hurricane Charley all impacted sales during the last few weeks of August with particular impact on the final weekend.” As The Motley Fool points out, Hurricane Charley struck near Chico’s headquarters on Aug. 13, so the company was “very pleased” with sales 10 days after Charley. Regarding the Labor Day “shift,” the writer asks: “Does anyone buy that it was a surprise and, when realized, paralyzed shoppers on the last weekend of August?” And about the mailing delay, Chico’s August reporting period ended Saturday, Aug. 28, a mere two days after the company was “very pleased” and four days before it was “impacted.” The company, which missed expectations with August same-stores sales growth of 3.6%, is not used to bad news, but perhaps it should relax and lay off the excuses. Many of the major retailers that posted declines in August same-store sales would be more than satisfied with Chico’s results.


Apparel cataloger Boden has attained near-legendary status in its native U.K. — understandably so, judging from its U.S. catalog. With its clean lines and fresh colors and fabrics, the merchandise straddles the line between trendy and timeless. It’s also distinctive enough that you feel the need to order items immediately, rather than try to shop around for similar products at a lower price. The photography, a mix of on-model lifestyle photos and flat shots, shows the texture and details of the clothes to their best advantage. And the copy is among the most informative and entertaining that we’ve read in a long time. Take the description of the Essential Moleskin Skirt: “The moleskin skirt has always been important, verging on crucial, but since we have added the little pockets and given it a bit of ‘swish’ at the hem, we have had to upgrade it to ‘essential.’” Or that of the Correspondent Jacket: “If I was asked to be a character in Tintin and was allowed to select my own wardrobe, this would be my jacket…” Our only beef with Boden: When we tried to order several items from the summer catalog, they were all on back-order for weeks, if not months. Apparently we’re not the only ones who love Boden.

Dolls Marketer Could Use More Diversity

If you hang around tween girls, you may already be aware that American Girl has introduced a new doll. The cataloger specializes in dolls and books representing American girls of different backgrounds throughout the country’s history. The dolls in the flagship line include Kaya, a Nez Perce girl growing up in the 1760s; Josefina, who lives in 1820s New Mexico; and Addy, an escaped slave. The newest doll is Nellie O’Malley, the best friend of the company’s popular Samantha doll. We don’t begrudge a best friend for Samantha, an orphan who lives with her wealthy grandmother in 1904 New Bedford, NY. But Nellie is the seventh doll of European descent. At least one Catalog Age staffer has been waiting for American Girl to introduce an Asian character (Zilan, a young Chinese girl who joins her father in California during the Gold Rush?), or perhaps a character with an Eastern European background (Tillie, who pitches in at her father’s rag-and-bone stall when not helping her mother run their Lower East Side household?). Maybe next year?

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823

Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

Quote Clarification

While I enjoyed Mark Del Franco’s article on list exchanges (“The Dos and Don’ts of List Exchanges,” Aug. 1), I have to take issue with the quote attributed to me in the sidebar story. When I stated that “exchanges are ruining our industry,” reduced list revenue was not the cause I gave. Earning less income is certainly a consequence of exchanging, but it is by no means the reason to sound the proverbial alarm.

Rather, list exchanges, because of the common perception that the names they provide are free, tend to extract creativity from the list selection process. “If I can’t get it on exchange, I won’t use it” is a common refrain among mailers. What if we leveled the playing field and assigned a proper cost to an exchange list because of the forfeited revenue on the list management side? Will that change its performance and overall profitability? Would some previously bypassed rental lists now make the cut performance-wise? Would that open up the door for more testing? Would the list selection process as a result become more aggressive and creative, expanding beyond the homogenous group of names used continuously simply because they’re on exchange, or allegedly free?

When mailers start properly analyzing the true cost of exchanges, and stop going back to the same tired, overmailed lists that everyone else uses, perhaps that’s when we might see an appreciable lift in overall response.
Andy Ostroy
chairman/CEO, ALC of New York

Allocate This

It doesn’t have to be this way! I’m reacting to the Steve Trollinger’s statement that “today companies are doing well to track 60% of the transaction data to a mailed source code” (“Constructing a Marketing Tool Kit,” Aug. 1). And I disagree with his suggestion to potentially allocate orders. The reason tracking has dropped from 90% to 60% is because so many orders are going to the Web, and 99.9999% of catalogers don’t track Web orders from catalogs, and even the list segments, at all. That’s why they’re losing all the “marketing intelligence” Steve refers to. As a direct marketer and developer of software that tracks offline to online, I can tell you that ignoring this problem is a potential recipe for disaster. If you can’t accurately allocate Web orders to postal catalogs, print ads, TV commercials, and other advertising activities, you could easily wind up canceling lists and media placements that are actually profitable.
Irv Brechner
chief marketing officer, SendTec

Vogue to Shill Stuff Online

Vogue magazine’s whopping 832-page September issue is more than the fashion industry’s bible this year; it also makes a nice doorstop. What’s really useful is the edition’s companion Website, Shopseptembervogue.com. Aspiring fashionistas can log on to the site for more information about the season’s must-have makeup, outfits, and accessories advertised in the September issue and be directed to the advertisers’ Websites to make purchases. Shopseptembervogue.com is online from Aug. 24 to Oct. 31; if consumers respond to it, Vogue publisher Condé Nast has said it will continue the feature for future issues. The publisher denies that Vogue is jumping on the shopping magazine bandwagon á lá Lucky and Cargo, but we’re not so sure. Next thing you know Vogue editor Anna Wintour will be hawking furs on QVC.

What ‘Country’ Is This?

We were paging through the Country House catalog looking for quaint rural gifts, home items, and other pieces of Americana when we came across several “Mammy” collectibles. Perhaps we’re being overly politically correct, but we find these figurines depicting an ample African-American woman (just like Mammy in Gone with the Wind) more than a bit offensive. Perhaps it’s the product line, which includes a Mammy scrubby holder for your kitchen sponges and a Mammy syrup dispenser, or the fact that these are reproductions of items manufactured in less tolerant times. It’s one thing to collect the originals, but the fact that companies are seeing fit to make and sell reproductions of some items seems backward to us.

Counterfeit Catalog Dreams Dashed

You’ve seen them set up in the big cities, those apparel and accessories counterfeiters selling designer knockoffs. Perhaps you even own a faux Kate Spade bag (with the logo set just a little off) or sports memorabilia that wasn’t exactly authorized by the New York Yankees or the Chicago Cubs. There may have been a catalog of such counterfeits — if the crafty Chicago police didn’t apprehend an enterprising wholesaler. In early August, undercover police confiscated some 25,000 fake designer purses and professional sports memorabilia from a wholesaler, with some of the phony merchandise found in two loaded cargo bins outside the store. Four people were taken into custody and could face felony charges, including copyright infringement. Police say the store’s owner — who reportedly pleaded guilty to the same offense in 1998 — was in the process of making a catalog of the counterfeit goods. Perhaps it’s best she was busted, as reports says the store’s owner would sell only to those she knew. It would be a little hard to get a catalog business off the ground that way.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823

Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

Military Mailer Supports Our Troops

Whether you’re in favor of or opposed to the war in Iraq, most people try to be supportive of the U.S. soldiers serving there. Count Brigade Quartermasters, which sells military and law enforcement gear and apparel, among the supporters. The Kennesaw, GA-based mailer features more than 10 pages of tribute to the U.S. military in its summer catalog. The special edition, which mailed to more than 350,000 customers in June and July, includes a quote from former President Ronald Reagan; an article by Bill Bennett titled “Remembering Why We Fight”; a story entitled “Something That Didn’t Make the News,” by Bob Lonsberry, which highlights the heroics of Navy Cross Medal recipient Marine Captain Brian Chontosh; and a special mention of Brigade friend Scott Helvenston, who was killed in Fallujah. Brigade Quartermasters also donated an ad from the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund to help raise money for the children of soliders who were killed. This catalog edition proves that the company more than delivers on its mission to “Deliver the Goods to the Good Guys.”

Will the Real Martha Pullen Please Stand Up?

When we reported on the recent sale of sewing products cataloger Martha Pullen Co. on our Website (catalogagemag.com) in July, naturally we went on the Huntsville, AL-based company’s Website. Martha Pullen Co., which publishes the Martha Pullen catalog and Sew Beautiful magazine, was sold to Birmingham, AL-based Hoffman Media, the publisher of Southern Lady magazine. On the Martha Pullen site’s home page, there’s a photo of a woman identified as Martha Pullen, Ph.D. — an elegant-looking lady with a smooth blond bob. But when you click on the “About Martha” link, another photo of Martha Pullen, Ph.D. depicts a woman with a shock of red curls. Now, we’re all for changing our looks every now and again, but these look like two different women. Since the blond Martha also appears in the newsletter, we assume that the redhead photo needs to be updated, and we urge the company to do it ASAP. Particularly since the person pictured is the company’s brand — not unlike another famous Martha with a catalog — it should not risk confusing customers or prospects. That would not be a good thing.

We Thought You Said ‘Easier’

We’ve taken other catalogers to task for shipping too slowly, but a cataloger titled Make Life Easier takes the cake. When a Catalog Age staffer placed an order with the title, one of several owned by Perris, CA-based Starcrest of California, on July 13, the telephone sales rep told her she could expect the order around Aug. 6. That’s 17 business days — and more than three full weeks — for delivery. That sort of service level may have been standard in the 1970s, but it’s almost unheard-of (thank goodness!) now that we’re in the 21st century. Yes, the staffer could have opted for expedited shipping, but paying extra to have a few low-ticket cleaning supplies express-shipped is just as annoying as waiting three weeks for them. It’s no secret that the company emphasizes low prices over service: Make Life Easier is one of the few Starcrest titles that actually have a toll-free number; none of the catalogs have Websites to date. But we should note that the order arrived eight days ahead of schedule. And the shipping and handling was free since the order exceeded a specified amount, so perhaps you do get what you pay for.

Singing a Song of Sears, Roebuck

Unless you’re a long-time Eagles fan, you probably haven’t heard of singer and guitarist Bernie Leadon…but the folks over at Sears should know him. Leadon’s first solo album in 27 years, Mirror, includes a song titled “Sears & Roebuck Catalog.” Leadon, a founding member of The Eagles, has been around since the late ’60s and has jammed with such notables as Randy Newman, Emmylou Harris, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Stevie Nicks. According to the official Bernie Leadon Website, the Sears song is a “wobbly salute to materialism.” The tune’s refrain notes that “if you’ve got money like a king, why, you can order anything in the Sears & Roebuck catalog.” We’re guessing by the lyrics that Leadon has never seen the Neiman Marcus catalog.

My Sweet Unbreakable You

Klutzes of the world, rejoice: A trend cropping up on the home entertaining/tabletop scene is break-resistant glassware. Consumer catalogers such as Frontgate and The Wine Enthusiast now have a line of hard-to-break barware. Frontgate promises that its transparent unbreakable glassware “looks like crystal — but won’t break like it.” A lightweight, transparent polycarbonate gives each piece the look and weight of crystal without fragility. Meanwhile, The Wine Enthusiast’s Tritan stemware, made with titanium and zirconium instead of the traditional lead, possesses “superior surface hardness withstanding heavy-duty use and everyday accidents.” But the cataloger stops short of calling the Tritan unbreakable, opting instead for the “most break-proof crystal glass in the world.” So if you really hurl it into the fireplace, you may hear that delightful tinkling sound after all. Mazel tov.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com
Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823
Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

Getting All Political on Us

While I generally appreciate and certainly learn much from my subscription to Catalog Age, I wanted to bring to your attention my surprise at the inclusion of this paragraph in a recent e-newsletter blurb about tariff increases on Chinese furniture: “The Bush administration’s action follows charges by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry that it has not aggressively enforced U.S. trade laws, especially against China, to keep jobs from moving overseas, according to a Reuters report.”

This paragraph offers no helpful business information and immediately struck me as political editorializing. I do not look to Catalog Age for political opinions, and have generally trusted that you are presenting useful, unbiased information. Jabs like these — no matter what party or politician is targeted — diminish that trust. There are plenty of lobbyists working on various political fronts for the issues affecting catalogers. I would hope that this newsletter and magazine could continue to remain a source of information rather than opinion.
Andra L. Moss

The Spoof! Goofs on J.C. Whitney

You know you’ve made it when satirical news Website The Spoof! makes fun of you. So congrats to Chicago-based auto parts cataloger J.C. Whitney, which according to a Spoof! story in June was said to have unveiled its new JCW-X1 — the company’s first turnkey automobile — to the Detroit automotive press. According to The Spoof!’s report, the catalog’s CEO “B.Q. Whitney” says the production of the pimped ride was a natural progression: “We were setting around one day in my office, and T.J. (T.J. Whitney, brother of B.Q. and Chief Product Manager of J.C. Whitney) laughed and said that he thought we had enough parts in our catalog to make an entire car. We both looked at each other, and I knew what he was thinking…let’s do it…let’s build a car! It was a great idea, I don’t know why we didn’t do it sooner.…” Perhaps in an upcoming edition The Spoof! will investigate reports that New Britain, CT-based medical and surgical supplies cataloger Moore Medical Corp. has been busy in its laboratory working on a creation of “monstrous” proportions.

If You Bus Them, They Will Come

Here’s an idea to steal for your next warehouse or outlet sale. Piggyback your sale on to a local crowd-drawing event and offer bus service to your site. Wausau, WI-based athletic apparel cataloger Eastbay in June rented a bus to take people from a local basketball tournament to its stores for its annual Summer Sizzle Sale. The buses were scheduled to run every half-hour during store hours; Eastbay was expecting up to 5,000 people to hit the sales. Eastbay is used to creating a stir in Wausau: For more than 20 years it held tent sales that attracted more than 25,000 people each summer. But the company says that its Website and Final Score catalog have enabled it to get rid of inventory more quickly.

Achtung eBay!

EBay has become an invaluable tool for marketers to liquidate overstocks, but it’s also apparently not a bad way to unload stolen goods. A postal worker in Germany this past spring admitted to using the site to auction off undelivered packages. The larcenous letter carrier began stashing packages and selling their contents on eBay in the summer of 2003. Although the German postal service was aware that parcels frequently disappeared on this worker’s route, it could not prove any foul play until a consumer gave the investigation a hand. The customer had ordered a mouthpiece for his clarinet that never showed up. When the customer found an identical item on eBay, he bought it and notified the police. The clarinet mouthpiece was found at the postman’s girlfriend’s apartment; a search of the postal worker’s apartment turned up more than 100 missing packages.

Cataloger’s Survey Says: What’s the Beef?

Do you know your prime rib from your T-bone? Many consumers could stand to brush up on their beef knowledge, according to a recent study commissioned by Chicago-based meats cataloger Allen Bros. The survey of more than 1,000 consumers revealed that half of the respondents knew nothing or next to nothing about beef grades and quality. That’s not good, considering that beef prices have hit record highs thanks to low supply (due in part to mad cow disease scares) and high demand (as a result of the popularity of high-protein diets). For the record, the three quality grades of beef established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are USDA Prime, the best grade, which includes plenty of marbling (fat flecks within the lean); USDA Choice, with less marbling than Prime; and USDA Select, a leaner grade that’s uniform in quality. Now let’s fire up that grill.

Road Runner Lends Kids a Helping Hand

Running apparel and gear cataloger Road Runner Sports is helping its customers help disabled kids participate in sports. The San Diego-based marketer is encouraging customers to donate to Athletes Helping Athletes, an organization founded in 2000 to provide handcycles, wheelchairs, prosthetics, and other adaptive sports equipment to children with disabilities. The cover of the company’s Summer Preview 2004 edition that mailed to its Run America Club members promotes the charity with a special offer: For every donation of more than $10, the cataloger is providing a $10 gift certificate for the customer’s next Road Runner Sports purchase. Everybody’s a winner with this promotion — particularly the kids who receive the equipment to get them off the sidelines and into the game.


… or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823
Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

Praise to Pass Along

I enjoy reading every issue of my Catalog Age cover to cover. With each issue, I find myself ripping out articles to pass on to co-workers, tearing out others as reference guides, providing “lead” information to the sales department, and contacting several advertisers for more information on their products or services. In your pages, I have also learned about neat catalogs that I want to receive at home and have gone online to request them.

With more than 20 years in the printing and catalog business, I can’t think of any better business resource for me than Catalog Age. Thank you for an excellent publication.
Karen L. Nolan
production manager, marketing
Baker & Taylor

More Power to the Printers

Here’s an awesome exercise in the impact of various media: I already read some of the May issue of Catalog Age online, but a couple of articles in the print version caught my eye in a way that the same articles online did not. Print on paper still has its place!

I have just recently been introduced to Catalog Age. It’s an impressive publication, in terms of content as well as graphic design.
George Leposky
senior manager-marketing communications
American Welding Society

Ohio Lion Prompts Novel Ts

After a lion sighting in central Ohio in early May, apparel and gifts cataloger Eden Lane didn’t waste any time developing a line of leonine T-shirts. Less than a week after a female lion weighing 330-400 lbs. was reportedly spotted May 3 in Gahanna, OH, the Website of Blacklick, OH-based Eden Lane began selling T-shirts that read “Save the Lion,” “Has anyone seen my lion?” and “I was eaten by the Gahanna lion! I got better.” Although the site says that all proceeds from the shirts will be donated to the Columbus Zoo, at press time there was no price available for the Ts. Perhaps Eden Lane was waiting for the lion to rear its head again. As of late May, she hadn’t been seen since May 6.

Bummer for Big Brown

If your UPS driver seems a bit more harried than usual, it could be due to an Internet hoax claiming that a large number of United Parcel Service uniforms are “missing” and presumed to have been acquired by terrorists. One of the e-mail reports, which recently made the rounds of the Catalog Age offices, says that “there has been a huge purchase, $32,000 worth, of United Parcel Service (UPS) uniforms on eBay over the last 30 days. This could represent a serious threat as bogus drivers (terrorists) can drop off anything to anyone with deadly consequences! If you have ANY questions when a UPS driver appears at your door, they should be able to furnish VALID I.D. Additionally, if someone in a UPS uniform comes to make a drop off or pick up, make absolutely sure they are driving a UPS truck….” The e-mails, which have been circulating since June 2003, have been “thoroughly investigated” by the FBI and local law enforcement, according to a UPS spokesperson, who dubs the hoax “the urban legend of missing uniforms.”

There Was an Old Hippie Who Lived in a Shoe…

Creative kudos to Footprints the Birkenstock Store catalog. The cover of its 2004 Vol. 3 edition features what appears to be a home carved out of a giant desert rock in the shape of a foot wearing a Birkenstock sandal. The catalog claims that some eccentric carved the block of limestone into the shape of the far-out footwear during the Great Depression and then hollowed out a cave to live in. The site became a roadside attraction on Route 66 near Winslow, AZ, the catalog copy continues, but it fell into disrepair after a few decades — though rumor has it that Karl Birkenstock spotted the shoe sculpture while on vacation and was inspired to invent the famed two-strap sandal, which he named the Arizona. We think that Footprints — which says the cover photo is a reconstruction of the limestone sandaled foot “based on vintage postcards the customers have sent us” — is telling a fish tale, but we enjoyed the ride, not to mention the savvy way the cataloger gets readers into its promotion on Arizona Birkenstocks.

Sowing Seeds Packet Art

The owners of Baltimore-based cataloger D. Landreth Seed Co. stumbled upon a brilliant merchandising idea: vintage seed packets. Just after Barbara and Peter Melera acquired America’s oldest seed catalog in September 2003, they came across boxes of seed packages from the mid-1940s. Back in the day — before four-color photos became the standard — many seed mailers kept an artist/ engraver on staff to create fancy lithographs for the catalog and the seed packages. (Considering that Landreth was founded in 1784 and reportedly supplied seeds to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, it’s a wonder the new owners didn’t unearth artwork that’s even more ancient.) An idea germinated: Why not sell the empty seed packets as exquisite engravings that consumers can frame and display? Prices for the illustrated vegetable seeds packets — which the Landreth Website says are “available in very limited quantities” — range from $15 for five seed packets to $50 for 25.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823

Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

Days-ed and Confused

In the April Backword (“You Must Have a Beautiful Baby”), you mention the Pottery Barn Baby of the Month contest. Umm, when did April get 31 days?

Thanks for the chuckle, and for reviving my memories of having to recite “30 days hath September, APRIL, June, and November.”
Janet Katz
database analyst, Linens ‘n Things

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yup, we goofed in not catching this one, as did the Pottery Barn proofreader!

Watch Out, NeedlessMarkups.com

The fur is flying in a dispute involving high-end cataloger/retailer Neiman Marcus Group and animal protection organization The Fund for Animals. Dallas-based Neiman Marcus in March filed a domain name dispute to shut down The Fund’s parody Websites NeimanCarcass.com, NeimanCarcass.org, and NeimanCarcass.net, which criticize the company’s sale of fur products.

The Fund for Animals claims that the disputed domains use the parody “Neiman Carcass” to “protest the retailer’s cruel and unnecessary sale of fur.” Although parody and satire are protected forms of speech, Neiman Marcus’s complaint argues that the “Neiman Carcass” site competes with its business because it provides informational links to other animal protection organizations — some of which sell merchandise on their own Websites.

In a release issued in April, The Fund for Animals president Michael Markarian roared back: “It is laughable that any reasonable person could be confused between a luxury retailer selling fine apparel, jewelry, and housewares, and a nonprofit animal protection organization selling T-shirts and bumper stickers with campaign slogans. Neiman Marcus is simply engaging in ‘cyber-bullying’ to insulate itself from public criticism of its socially irresponsible practice of selling fur.” Meow.

Soaps Mailer Stands Up for Civil Unions

High-end soaps marketer Baudelaire does not understand why so many are in a lather over civil unions. In keeping with its corporate philosophy, “People Who Bathe Together Stay Together,” the Swanzey, NH-based company is offering a two-for-one special to any same-sex couple who faxes it a valid — or invalid — marriage or civil-union license.

And since not all states offer same-sex marriage or civil-union licenses Baudelaire is also extending a 20% discount to anyone who writes “I support committed relationships” in the comments box on the company’s Website shopping cart. The discounts apply to all of the company’s soaps, bath and body products, and accessories and are good through Sept. 30, the unofficial end to the wedding season.

Baudelaire is a long-term supporter of committed relationships, according to a statement by founder Joe Marks: “We don’t care whether you call it marriage, civil union, or simply ‘joined at the hip,’ everyone should be able to do it.” And since the company believes that personal care products are an essential part of any long-term committed relationship, Marks said, “we believe it’s our civic and civil duty to support committed relationships of all kinds, regardless of race, color, creed, or human anatomy.” We hope Baudelaire really cleans up from the new business this promotion is likely to bring in.

Seems Sephora Strung Us Along

Several consumers in March thought that the spring 2004 edition of makeup catalog Sephora had spoiled the ending of reality TV show America’s Next Top Model. And with good reason: Part of the contest’s prize package was the chance to appear on a Sephora catalog cover, and the model gracing the spring book’s cover was a dead ringer for one of the finalists.

The spring Sephora book was in home well before the March 23 season finale of America’s Next Top Model. Many observers noted the cover model’s resemblance to finalist Yoanna House. While Sephora denied that the model was House, the company was cagey about the model’s identity, fueling further speculation that it was House — who did in fact win the contest. Sephora, which claims it traditionally does not reveal the names of its cover models, eventually gave up the model’s name. It’s Cassia Lara, if you’re interested. We weren’t — we didn’t follow America’s Next Top Model. But if Sephora ever spoils the ending of The Apprentice, there’s going to be trouble.

Clearly Abreast of Summer Fashion

Summer is nearly here, which means shorts, sandals, and unsightly bra straps. But don’t fret: Miami-based underwear marketer Bra Straps.com is here to help once again with an offer to make bra straps invisible.

Starting May 1, the company invited women to mail in a set of old bra straps. The first 500 women to do so will receive a free pair of straps made from a comfortable blend of transparent polyurethane. Response to the same offer last year was “overwhelming,” according to a statement from Bra Straps CEO/founder Margarita Reis, with women of all ages — from 15 to 82 — sending in their old straps by the hundreds each week.

For women who don’t own a bra with removable bra straps, a do-it-yourself quick conversion guide is available on the company’s Website. Thanks Bra Straps — we appreciate your support.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com

Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823

Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

Feedback from First Critique Survivor

Thank you for critiquing our quarterly HGH Hardware Supply catalog (“Catalog Critique: A Hard Look at a Hardware Cataloger,” January issue). As is the case with anything worthwhile, the reviews were a little painful, but they will certainly be helpful as we continue to grow as a marketer and distributor.

Last year as we celebrated our 40th anniversary, we produced quarterly “retrospective” fliers highlighting the products, colors, trends, and typefaces of each decade of growth. This year we are showing more new products on our cover than ever before. HGH is held in high regard in the cabinet industry for being the first to advertise the latest products, and our “new for 2004” campaign helps drive this point home.

We also are known for our insert media. I was disappointed that there was no mention — good, bad, or ugly — of the insert media/POP piece, which we all thought was pretty snazzy. In each third-quarter catalog was a three- (actually four- ) panel retail vehicle that the cabinetmaker could set on the counter. The piece was devised so that when the limited-time offer expired, it could be reconfigured to keep selling with longer shelf life. The manufacturer brought to us concerns about showing off its latest products without installing displays, and this innovation fit the bill.

I really enjoy putting our catalog together, creating graphics, photos, and text. With the help of your Catalog Critique, I’m better armed to inform our customers. Thanks for this new column, which I’m sure will become a favorite. Here’s to a year brimming with new opportunities and challenges.
Chris Walker
marketing specialist, HGH Hardware Supply

Get Me Bruno, Pronto!

We love paging through Wisteria, the self-described catalog of “antiques and decorative items for house and garden.” The many gorgeous gifts and home decor products notwithstanding, one of our favorite things to see is on the order form. Under the contact information for the Dallas-based company, you’ll find this message: “If you find yourself steamed for some reason — or really happy about something we’ve done, there’s customer service: 1-800-767-5490. Ask for Marge (happy) or Bruno (steamed). Please. These people are specialists. Make every effort not to request the wrong helper.:)”

Talk About a Gum Shoe

We were eager to look through the spring 2004 edition of shoes catalog Simple, from Flagstaff, AZ-based Deckers Outdoor Corp., but we got stuck on the opening spread. The entire spread is used to introduce the women’s shoes section with a full-bleed closeup photo of a sneaker lifting off the pavement. The wearer has apparently just stepped in chewing gum, a dilemma highlighted by the cataloger’s use of a filter that simulates thermal photography. The artsy effect makes it seem like the pink-soled sneaker is connected to the pavement by a shaft of pale pink light, which is sort of pretty until you realize it’s a wad of spent Bazooka. More icky than edgy, if you ask us.

Are You Joshing Us?

Next time you’re perusing the L.L. Bean catalog and you see yet another photo of a buff outdoorsman modeling the men’s apparel, take note: He’s probably giving you the standard Josh. How do we know that this classic catalog pose has a name? Model Matt Considine recently detailed his experience on a shoot for L.L. Bean’s Christmas 2003 catalog for the Las Vegas Mercury, an alternative newsweekly. Considine describes the Josh as “a midthigh-to-head shot of a ruggedly handsome man who’s turning his head slightly to the right, as if to greet a ruggedly handsome friend who’s just emerged from the timberline carrying some antique snowshoes. Most importantly, the Josh calls for a ruggedly handsome smile that looks as if it could break into hearty laugh at any second.” According to Considine, the Josh is named for model Josh Caldwell, who cultivated the look during his work for the Freeport, ME-based cataloger during the late ’70s. Sadly, Caldwell died of AIDS in 1987, but the Josh lives on in L.L. Bean’s pages.

A Sharp-Dressed Hotel Crew

If you’ve had the pleasure of staying at the tony Charles Hotel in Cambridge, MA, this spring, you may have noticed that the front-of-house staff looks particularly natty these days. That’s because the hotel is now outfitting its front-desk attendants, bellman, doormen, and concierges in “uniforms” from New York-based preppy-chic apparel marketer J. Crew. The outfits include gray tropical wool pants, navy blazers, and yellow, light blue, and pink cotton haberdashery shirts for the men, and lightweight navy pants or skirt suits for the women. It was not revealed by press time who is designing the uniforms for the chambermaids.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823 Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

opinion & response

No Thorn in This Lion’s Paw

The copywriting staff of Drs. Foster & Smith was thrilled to be included in your “top five” for copy in Herschell Gordon Lewis’s January 2004 column, “Sticking My Head into the Lion’s Mouth…Again.” It is a special honor to be acknowledged by the catalog copywriting guru!

We read Lewis’s books and columns for Catalog Age and are delighted to know we are heading in the right direction with our copy. The entire copywriting staff is truly passionate about animals, and we are glad it shows in what we write.

Thanks you again for the honor and for making our group of copywriters smile.
Barbara A. Suozzi, CVT
Copywriter, Drs. Foster & Smith

You Must Have a Beautiful Baby

We know you think your baby is the cutest; now you can send a photo of him or her to the folks at Pottery Barn to see if they agree. If they do, the San Francisco-based home furnishings marketer may feature your child as a Pottery Barn Baby of the Month. A recent edition of the Pottery Barn Kids title introduced Connor, a four-month-old boy from Maryland with “beautiful eyes and a delightful smile.” Parents of babies up to 18 months old are welcome to send in photos of their little bundles of joy, but the contest ends April 31.

Not Eggs-actly Easter Fare

‘Tis the season to be coloring and collecting Easter eggs, but organic farm products cataloger Wood Prairie Farm has another idea: Easter potatoes. That’s right, the Bridgewater, ME-based mailer is offering an Easter Egg Collection of blue, red, yellow, purple, and white baby potatoes. The company suggests displaying the tinted tubers in an Easter basket (though we’re sure they would not approve of any plastic Easter grass propping) or preparing them “just to brighten up your dinner plate on a winter’s day.” We love potatoes, but not in our Easter baskets, please. The whole thing sounds like a “Peanuts” cartoon to us — Linus: “Hey, Charlie Brown, what did you get in your Easter basket?” Charlie Brown: “I got a spud.”

Fashion Shoot on the Firing Line

Here’s a photo shoot location that’s probably not on your creative director’s list: the wall Israel is building along Jerusalem’s West Bank. But Israeli fashion house Comme-il-faut in early March used the construction site of the controversial barrier as a backdrop for its summer catalog. Israel claims the wall is necessary to keep out suicide bombers; the Palestinians argue that the barrier, which will eventually snake some 365 miles around occupied Jerusalem and along the occupied West Bank, would preset the boundaries of a future Palestinian state. Tel Aviv-based Comme-il-faut put the wall to good use on March 3, flanking it with models from Slovenia, Russia, Poland, France, and Israel. Posed in vivid summer outfits, the models stood in stark contrast to the 27-foot-high concrete barriers. Comme-il-faut has six shops in Israel and defines itself as a “house of fashion with a social and feminist agenda,” according to CEO Sybil Goldfiner. Its summer catalog will be ready for distribution this month.

Dubious Valentine Tribute for Lillian Vernon

We wonder if Lillian Vernon was watching Mad TV on Feb. 14. The Fox network’s sketch-comedy show that night included a Valentine’s Day edition of The Lillian Verner Game Show. Contestants on the spoof show win prizes by correctly identifying a catalog copy description with the product name and page number. We don’t doubt that the personalized-gifts goddess has catalog customers almost as fanatic as the contestant on the fake show, so it must have been sort of flattering. Then again, we can’t imagine that the always superbly coiffed Ms. Vernon was thrilled to be portrayed by a man in a bad red wig wearing a cheesy red sweater embossed with Valentine message hearts.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com Phone 203-358-9900 Fax 203-358-5823
Letter 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

Opinion & Response

As you can see from our front cover this issue, Catalog Age has come a long way in 20 years. Not surprisingly, many catalogers have also changed their look over the years, while others seem to remain comfortably the same. We decided to take a look back at just a few of the catalogers that have appeared in our pages since 1983 to see how their covers looked back then compared to today. Of course, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it is fun sometimes — which cover do you prefer?

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mweinstein@primediabusiness.com

Phone 203-358-9900 ▪ Fax 203-358-5823

Letter PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

Opinion & Response

A Site for Sore Eyes

We thoroughly enjoyed your article “Keeping Content in Context” (December). We recently redesigned our Website to make it easier for customers to use. In 1999 we produced our original Website and it worked, but over the next couple of years (after reading many good articles in Catalog Age) we decided to simplify our site and make it easier to navigate and to order from.

Our new site has been up only one month, and we are already getting compliments on how much easier it is to use. Your article was helpful and reassuring that we did the right things in our new site.
Don and Vera Davis, owners
Aunt Vera’s Attic

Wacky Like a Fox

Regarding “Getting Wacky with Dot Whacks” in January’s Backword: Threatening to stop mailing catalogs to someone who has never gotten one before, much less purchased, may sound wacky, but fortunately it isn’t. In the creative-idea file I maintain for my brokerage clients are dozens of covers from many major catalogers, both consumer and business-to-business. For years, they have plastered their covers with real or faux stickers, repeating the same threat.

These catalogs are all mailed to prospect lists. The threat is not only legitimate but also logical. If prospects don’t order the first time they receive a catalog, it will be the “last time” that they get the catalog. Very few catalogers will knowingly mail again to those same nonresponders. I suspect Savannah Candy is pretty savvy. Rather than backfire, those dot whacks will probably fire back…orders!
David S. Swift, senior account manager
Names and Addresses

A Warm Fuzzy from Doctors Foster & Smith

We all know how important it is to retain customers and that a little goodwill can go a long way, but it can be hard to practice what many preach — especially during the holiday crunch time. So one Catalog Age staffer was particularly touched to receive the following e-mail in early December from pet products marketer Doctors Foster & Smith:

“During this special season of giving thanks, we wanted to take a moment to thank you for being part of our growing family of customers. All of us at Doctors Foster & Smith appreciate your loyalty and your trust, and give you our word that we will do everything we can to continue to earn your confidence. Next year we will celebrate our 20th year in business. While much has changed in those 20 years, our commitment to providing you with superior service remains unchanged…” Now that’s a sentiment as warm and sweet as a new puppy.

‘Worst’ Tagline a Winner

Would you boast that your catalog is the “guaranteed worst in town”? Concession supplies and equipment cataloger Cromers does, and we’re betting that the strategy works wonders tempting customers to try the Columbia, SC-based company’s wares. As you might expect, Cromers, which sells “fun foods” (think your favorite carnival fare), promotional products, and party supplies, has a story behind its worst status. In 1935, Julian D. Cromer sold produce, including peanuts, from a stand in downtown Columbia. A competitor across the street began telling customers that his peanuts were the best — and that Cromer’s were the worst. Incensed when he heard about the sneaky strategy, Cromer made a cardboard sign declaring “worst in town” and set it up next to his peanuts. (He later added the “guaranteed” as a flourish.) Intrigued passersby had to stop, then they had to try. Tryers evidently turned to buyers, since Cromers is still going strong 68 years later.

L.L. Bean Chief Goes Back to School

A Catalog Age staffer and Fairfield University alumnus saw a familiar face in the fall 2002 edition of the Fairfield, CT-based school’s Fairfield Now magazine: Chris McCormick, L.L. Bean’s president/CEO. McCormick, who graduated from Fairfield in 1978 with a degree in psychology, had addressed undergraduates at the university’s business school earlier in the year.

The profile details McCormick’s sort of Cinderella story — he spent 19 years working for the Freeport, ME-based outdoor gear and apparel catalog giant before he was named the first non-founding-family chief executive in May 2001 — which is not news to avid Catalog Age readers. But what you probably didn’t know about McCormick is that a) he is the second youngest of six children; b) as a student he ran track and played club football and intramural basketball; c) he starts his day at 4 a.m. with a trip to the gym and arrives at the office at 6:30; and d) he hunts, fly-fishes, and kayaks. OK, maybe that last fact will come as no big surprise.

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mdowling@primediabusiness.com
Phone 203-358-9900
Letter PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242
Fax 203-358-5823

Opinion & Response

Frodo Doesn’t Really Live, You Know

Tying in with the release of the second film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the holiday catalog from collectibles mailer The Noble Collection includes nine pages of swords, goblets, and of course, rings commemorating the fantasy tale. But one description has us concerned about the copywriter’s grip on reality: “Based on the actual ring worn by the Witch King, the leader of the nine Ringwraiths, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Ring of the Witch King has been crafted in solid sterling silver…” We hate to break it to you Ringers, but there can’t be an “actual ring worn by the Witch King,” because The Lord of the Rings is fiction.

A Different Sort of Knock-off

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) has been needling apparel and home goods cataloger Brylane with colorful protests. But recently the union turned up the heat with a mock Brylane “Sweatshop Holiday Catalog 2002.”

The organization charges that the $1.6 billion Brylane has been harassing workers at its two Indiana distribution centers who have been trying to join the union. UNITE, which represents workers at Brylane’s Chadwick’s of Boston apparel catalog warehouse in West Bridgewater, MA, has been organizing with the cataloger’s Indianapolis DC employees since October 2001. Brylane employees are seeking union representation to improve what they claim is a higher-than-average rate of repetitive motion injuries in 2000.

Brylane, a subsidiary of French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute that includes the KingSize, Jessica London, Roaman’s, and Lerner New York catalogs, in August had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a secret ballot election for the Indiana workers to vote on the union. The NLRB denied the petition on Sept. 9; Brylane appealed, but the NLRB denied it again in December.

Brylane’s New York headquarters was visited by the union’s giant inflatable “protest rat” in June; in October, union demonstrators donned Halloween costumes to protest the cataloger. But for our money the Sweatshop catalog takes the cake. The eight-page book features the company’s DC workers modeling Brylane clothing, with headlines such as “One in 10 workers at Brylane suffers from a repetitive motion injury” and subheads such as “Brylane clothes are made in sweatshops.” We will respectfully stay out of Brylane’s dispute with UNITE, but we have to say that the union’s catalog effort was highly creative.


Here’s proof that Bud Plant’s Incredible Catalog deserves its name: Cheech Wizard Vol. 1 appears opposite The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes. If the yin-and-yang nature of those two books of comic art means nothing to you, don’t worry: This catalog targets aficionados of comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, and art books. But its product range is so broad, casual readers of the Sunday funnies are as likely to find must-have items as are die-hard collectors of underground comics or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The copy doesn’t assume that readers are obsessive comic geeks. Instead, it aims to inform, in an enthusiastic but never overbearing manner. Take the description of Milton Caniff: Conversations: “This collects more than a dozen interviews with one of comics’ great luminaries, from 1937-1986 when he was producing Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon…” The copy continues for another paragraph and a half — just about all of the copy blocks are that lengthy, making Bud Plant a pleasure to peruse.

The catalog is well organized, with “Bud’s Best” and new items promoted up front. In addition to a table of contents on page 5, there’s an index of books, magazines, and calendars by title in the back. And to encourage add-on sales and repeat business, for every $100 order, Bud Plant gives customers a $10 merchandise credit. As Cheech Wizard would say…well, we can’t actually print anything that Cheech Wizard would say without losing our jobs, but trust us, Bud Plant is an exceptional catalog.

Getting Wacky with Dot Whacks

Just as with ink-jet personalization, dot-whack messages can backfire if misused. Here’s a classic example: A Catalog Age staffer received a copy of confections catalog Savannah Candy Kitchen with a dot whack stating “We’d hate to say goodbye…but we may have to if we don’t hear from you soon. To keep receiving our catalog, just order from the special edition and take 15% off your order…” An interesting offer considering that the staffer had never received the Savannah Candy Kitchen catalog before. Reminds us of the lyric to a Beatles classic: “Don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello…”

Here’s another: The cover of the a recent Bon Prix catalog sent to another Catalog Age staffer included a faux dot whack declaring “You’re a Great Customer…Take 10% off any purchase.” This staffer has received a half-dozen catalogs during the past year but has made nary a purchase. If the low-priced apparel cataloger thinks she’s a great customer, how does it define a poor customer?

This month in Catalog Age…

Catalog Age marks its 20th anniversary this year. To celebrate, each month we’ll be looking back at some notable headlines from issues past:

  • Mail order tax threat still looms in Congress (December 1985/January 1986)
  • L.L. Bean rolls out 800 service after long test period (December 1986/January 1987)
  • Catalog Clearing House proving to be an effective list builder (January 1988)
  • Privacy bill threatens to close down California market (January 1990)
  • Fax ordering: beyond business-to-business (January 1991)
  • Designing in Quark: Does it help or hurt creativity? (January 1994)
  • No rush to new media alternatives (January 1995)
  • Is ink-jetting old hat? (January 1998)
  • A fulfilling opportunity: Got warehouse space? Fulfill for Web-only merchants (January 1999)

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

Email mdowling@primediabusiness.com

Phone 203-358-9900

Letter PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

Fax 203-358-5823

Opinion & Response

From Dictation to Dick Tracy

Layoffs are no laughing matter, but for some they bring about change for the better. Just ask Margaret Thompson, a former executive secretary at cataloger Newport News turned private investigator. Thompson worked at the company, which was then based in Newport News, VA, for 20 years before parent company Spiegel consolidated the division into its Downers Grove, IL, headquarters and closed the information services department in April 2001. Though Thompson had planned to find another secretarial job, an employment agency had her take a computer program test to match her personality and experience with various jobs, and private investigator was one of the surprising choices. Thompson passed the federal background check and firearms training, and by early spring 2002 her days had gone from fetching coffee and taking dictation to conducting surveillance and digging up dirt on subjects. We’ve always said that working in this industry will prepare you for anything.


They’re called starving artists for a reason: Art supplies are expensive. Easels, pigments, papers, nibs — they add up. With its name, Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff addresses the price issue. But with its creative and product selection, the catalog makes it clear that it’s competing not only on price, but on service and quality as well.

The copy makes a point of differentiating among the various brands of similar watercolors, oils, and pastels. Holbein Artists’ Watercolors, for instance, are “brilliant, wild raucous colors! You just can’t get a more beautiful and unusual assortment anywhere…” while Daler-Rowney Watercolors are “calculated to produce free flowing color, which leaves no hard lines at the edge of the washes.”

Technical tips abound. Ditto inspiring quotes and selections of customers’ artworks. Combined with the photos of employees that appear on the footers of every page and the old-timey serif type (in a large font, for supereasy readability), they create a friendly, knowledgeable source that you want to buy from. And with all sorts of volume discounts (including free shipping on orders of more than $250), Cheap Joe’s makes it tough for promising Picassos and would-be Warhols to stop shopping.

Martha Catalog Now a Me-Too

We almost feel bad about picking on Martha Stewart, considering how the ImClone stock scandal has tarnished her good name, caused her company’s stock to plummet, and forced her to resign from the board of the New York Stock Exchange in early October. But then we received a copy of her revamped catalog. The former Martha by Mail, now titled Martha Stewart The Catalog for Living, is a dead ringer for kitchen products mailer Williams-Sonoma. Gone are the catalog’s light, airy layouts, signature soft color palettes, and grid design. In their place is, well, exactly what Williams-Sonoma does. Gifts and home products cataloger Restoration Hardware has taken a lot of heat in recent months for turning into a clone of William-Sonoma’s sister title Pottery Barn; Martha Stewart should also be taken to task for ripping off the upscale kitchenware bible. Love Stewart or hate her, Martha by Mail perfectly captured the essence of the Martha Stewart brand. Given what’s happened to the brand during the past six months, maybe copycatting a successful rival isn’t such a bad idea. Then again, why shouldn’t shoppers just go right to Williams-Sonoma?

Dessert with a $11,050 Cherry on Top

The 160-page 2002 Neiman Marcus Christmas Gifts Book, which began mailing in late September, features indulgences typical of the upscale marketer — the limited-edition 2004 Cadillac XLR ($85,000), a London taxi with the interior upholstered in Burberry ($58,900), a Balinese bamboo hut ($15,000). But we want to highlight a special gift developed by the company’s former leader Stanley Marcus, who died in January. The Cashmere and Ruby Pousse-Café, designed to resemble the multilayered after-dinner cocktail, consists of a giant hand-blown glass brandy snifter with five layers of pure cashmere sweaters, a 60-in. angora scarf for whipped cream, and a sparkling ruby-and-diamond ball ring as the cherry. The pousse-café, which was created by the beloved “Mr. Stanley” for a store customer, will set you back a cool $11,050. But if you omit the “cherry,” it will cost a mere $1,000.

Cookie Wars Nothing to Smile About

The ubiquitous yellow smiley face icon is causing some frowns among cookie marketers. Eat n’ Park, a Pittsburgh-based restaurant chain, is claiming in a federal lawsuit that cataloger/Web marketer Silver Lake Cookie Co. is infringing on its trademarked smiley face cookie. In the lawsuit, filed Oct. 11, Eat n’ Park says it has had a trademark on the smiley cookie’s design since 1993 and that Silver Lake began selling the cookie in question this past February. For its part, Islip, NY-based Silver Lake claims it’s been selling the cookie for at least 20 years. This isn’t the first time a cataloger has been slapped with a smiley suit. Eat n’ Park sued food gifts marketer The Popcorn Factory in March 2001 after warning it to stop selling smiley face cookies. Lake Forest, IL-based Popcorn Factory did not stop selling the cookies, but it agreed to pay Eat n’ Park an undisclosed licensing fee and ongoing royalties. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

Opinion & Response

Down on UPS

Over the years we have heard and seen how the United Parcel Service seems to do everything it can to show its lack of concern and sheer disdain for the direct marketing industry. Yet we as an industry never seem to talk about fighting back and showing UPS that we are important to its business and that it cannot take our business for granted.

I rarely talk to anyone in our industry who has anything very positive to say about UPS. It seems that UPS only “works” to get our business when some other company is asking for it; otherwise hearing from a representative is rare. At the same time, UPS is the biggest opponent to the postal reform that our industry needs. Think of it this way: If you are using UPS to ship your packages, then you are “donating” to the fight against postal reform.

So why do we continue to support UPS by giving it our business? I would hope that we as an industry could stand together and tell UPS that unless it is willing to work for us and not against us we will find other suppliers that will.

I challenge the DMA leadership (who have said that UPS has very little concern for our industry) to help coordinate this effort. And I strongly encourage all of my fellow direct marketers to take a stand and show your disdain for UPS’s attitude by spending your shipping dollars with shippers that care about your business and the future of our industry.

If we as an industry can’t stand together and fight for our collective well-being, then we could be, and should be, damned to our collective failure.
Mason Young, president/CEO Summit Creek


San Francisco copywriter/teacher EVAN ELLIOT sounds off on copy and copycatting:

If you, like many others, mourn the passing of the “old” Restoration Hardware catalog, I feel your pain.

Until last spring, much of the Restoration Hardware catalog was written by Stephen Gordon, the company’s founder. Often faulty in grammar and shaky in structure, Gordon’s copy was nevertheless smart and daring and funny. In its wake we now see the same slick, slightly snooty, and quietly desperate prose found in nearly every catalog that woos upscale consumers (note the words “deem” and “concurred” on successive pages of a recent edition).

Of course, Restoration Hardware is not alone. Many other prominent companies play it safe with corporate copy, and if this copy sells their products, so be it. But when the catalog world loses the gusto of Stephen Gordon, whose very audacity fueled his company in the first place, it’s cause for mourning.

Fortunately, original voices survive elsewhere in the industry. Most often, these voices spring from the pages of niche-market “microcatalogs” and from the tongues of founder/writers who, like Stephen Gordon, are largely self-taught. These people don’t conduct focus groups. They don’t tremble in the presence of unusual ideas. They’re in business to please themselves and their fellow enthusiasts, and some of them produce terrific copy.

Consider Kermit Lynch. More than 20 years ago, he abandoned his quest for rock-and-roll fame and, using borrowed funds, set up shop as a wine seller. Today, the Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant catalog reaches thousands of customers who appreciate Lynch’s love of earthy wines — and his lively copy.

Instead of writing typical wine-tasting hooey, rich in adjectives and thin on substance, Lynch loads paragraphs with concrete images and humor. A recent copy block on a favorite red: “I should have ordered this wine in magnums, so I wouldn’t have to pull corks so often.” An essay on wine’s natural appeal proposes that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” is not really a story about a doctor who tries to remove his wife’s birthmark but rather an allegory about winemakers who filter their wine, and in so doing destroy the beauty that they seek to enhance.

Lynch trusts his readers and assumes that they’re intelligent. His approach has evidently paid off: Even though he runs one small shop in Berkeley, CA, he has achieved cult status among wine lovers nationwide. His writing even landed him a book deal for a memoir of his adventures in search of new wines from proprietors of small wineries who ignore modern marketing.

Grant Petersen is also an author. About 15 years ago, he wrote two bicycling guides for the San Francisco area. But most of his writing these days appears in mailings for Rivendell Bicycle Works, his small bike company in Walnut Creek, CA. Petersen has written odes to handmade leather bicycle saddles, Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap (“with a strong tar scent that cuts through the stench”), and old-fashioned cork handlebar grips (“Glue them on with 3M Spray Adhesive, Permatex, or Super Glue Gel. If you’re uneasy about gluing them securely, or you tend to fail at things and then sue, please don’t buy them.”).

Next time you find yourself snoozing through a macrocatalog, do yourself a favor. Find a microcatalog in your region, buy something from it, and help to preserve honest copy. In an industry tainted by slick professionalism, these two men are inspired amateurs. In a field marked by safe and mediocre prose, they stand out for their intelligence, their humor, and their courage. I, for one, applaud these two eccentrics, and I hope they never go pro.

Going, Going, Gone!

When is a catalog sale not a sale? When the cataloger decided it’s an auction, and presumably has already done the final bidding for you. Confused? So were we when perusing the Autumn 2002 edition of gifts and home decor catalog Williamsburg. On one spread, for instance, a Delft candlestick lamp that normally sells for $260 has the words “Final Bid! $199” printed in red. OK, so sale prices are actually fake auction bids. Cute. But on the next spread, a Noah’s Ark quilt that normally sells for $85 has “Sale! $59.50” printed in red type. In fact, all the specially priced items on the spread are offered at “sale” prices, not “final bids,” and several other “sale” prices appear throughout the book. (There’s also “Special Value!” pricing on some products — don’t ask.) If the price is right, Williamsburg can call a sale whatever it wants, but we remain slightly puzzled. Even Jefferson would be scratching his head on this pricing.

Dude Looks Like a Lady

What’s under Harvey Fierstein’s housecoat? If the actor is appearing in character as Edna Turnblad in the new Broadway smash musical Hairspray, he’s sporting women’s undergarments from The Vermont Country Store. Before each performance as Edna, the full-figured hausfrau mother of hefty hoofer Tracey Turnblad, Fierstein first slips on a carved foam rubber figure that’s been stitched onto a bodysuit with a corset. Next, the actor dons a bra, a slip, and pettipants purchased from the Weston, VT-based cataloger. Finally, Fierstein is ready to wear one of Edna’s fabulous frocks. To be sure, the 56-year-old Vermont Country Store probably never expected to play a part in helping dudes get dolled up as dames, but Broadway sends its regards anyway.

Ugly Couch Contest Crowns a Real Winner

It’s our favorite time of year: when slipcover manufacturer/marketer Sure Fit, publisher of the Slipcovers by Mail catalog, honors the ugliest couch in the country. And this year’s winner did not disappoint. After an online vote on more than 1,000 entries, the winner of the 8th Annual Ugly Couch Contest, an oversize and fittingly crown-shape beauty, was announced Sept. 18 on the talk show Live with Regis and Kelly. The multihued, mirrored monstrosity, which belongs to Tim Finn of Bullhead City, AZ, boasts a colorful past. Custom-made for the owner of the infamous Reno, NV-based Mustang Ranch, the couch wouldn’t fit through the bordello’s door. Its maker used it to pay off a debt to a man who in turn traded it to Mr. Finn in exchange for a remodeling job. Said Sure Fit president Bert Shlensky about the best in show: “I’m sorry to say that no slipcover will fit this unique couch.”

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Stop Cloning Around

Bravo! I just read the August editor’s letter “Attack of the Clones,” and I couldn’t agree with you more! We have spoken with many catalogers who are constantly comparing themselves to and wanting to look like the “industry leader” in their category. Argh! When they play follow the leader, catalogers only improve the competitor’s standing and hurt themselves. Ever hear of a “cheap” knockoff? Instead, they should be working hard to be the leader and set a standard for others to follow.

The catalogs that held their own last fall were the ones that understood brand positioning and knew how to build authority with unique creative that differentiates. Granted, this is no easy task. It takes a clear understanding of merchandise concepts and services that catalogers provide to their customers, a clear direction on how to communicate that differentiation, and a catalog team willing to become brand zealots. I truly believe that brand insistence comes through brand uniqueness, and what better way to communicate that than with relevant creative — both on paper and online.

Bravo for a great editorial and bravo for being willing to cite a few well-known catalogs that have become Elvis imitators.
Lois Boyle
president/chief creative officer
J. Schmid & Associates

Conflicted About Two Conferences

I would like to respond to a letter printed in the July Backword (“Sounding Off on Show Business”) concerning the timing of Annual Catalog Conference (ACC) and the conflict with the DM Days New York (DMDNY) event in 2003.

Following the ACC 2002 event, Catalog Age and the DMA commissioned a formal survey of our attendees to gain a better understanding of their likes and dislikes so that we could make improvements for ACC 2003.

One of the many questions we asked attendees was their preferred month for the event. Given the choice of any month of the year, 45% of ACC attendees voted to continue holding the conference in June. The month of May received 25% of the responses, while April received only 11%. This is not the first time we have asked this question of our attendees, and it is why the show has remained in June.

Unfortunately, in 2003 our June positioning means that ACC directly overlaps show dates recently contracted by DMDNY for its 2003 event. The ACC dates of June 1-3, 2003, at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco were booked back in September 1998, as advance booking of three to five years is typical for large events. Apparently DMDNY had no choice but to overlap with our published ACC 2003 dates given what dates were available at the Javits Center in New York when it was planning its event in 2002.

Upon learning of the recently negotiated DMDNY 2003 dates, we researched options with Moscone for other possible 2003 show dates. But Moscone had only alternative dates of Memorial Day weekend and the week of Sept. 11 to offer — clearly, poor alternate choices.

Ideally, the two shows would not overlap, and both shows will likely be affected by next year’s scheduling. I’m certain neither show management group is pleased for the sake of our exhibitors, our attendees, and our events.

For our part, we are addressing the challenges of these bicoastal events with ACC exhibitors through creative exhibit options, in the hopes of providing alternatives to ACC exhibitors who are committed to the show and the catalog marketplace, and who understand the value of the show to their marketing mix.
Angela Eastin
group show director, Annual Catalog Conference
Primedia Business Exhibitions

When Upselling Becomes Upsetting

We thought catalogers were trying to reduce talk time with telephone customers, but apparently not J. Crew. A Catalog Age staffer called to place a phone order with the apparel marketer in mid-August. The order was going swimmingly until it was time to provide payment information. The phone rep informed the staffer that she had been chosen as a preferred customer (never mind that it was the staffer’s first J. Crew order) and would receive, among various coupons, sale catalogs, and promotions, a J. Crew credit card. The staffer politely declined the card, to which the rep said, “You don’t ever have to use it — just sign up for it to be eligible for the benefits.” No, thanks. Then the rep said that just for placing an order this evening, the staffer could try three magazine subscriptions for free for two months. The staffer declined once again, saying she already received several magazine subscriptions. “Well, we have more than 300 magazines to choose from…” the rep continued. Hey, J. Crew — how about taking no for an answer and getting your customers to pay for their goods and get off the phone?

NFLshop.com Gets Personal

Ever fantasized about being a pro football player, perhaps a Tiki Barber (no. 21) of the New York Giants or a Brett Favre (no. 4) of the Green Bay Packers? The NFLshop.com catalog knows that many boys and former boys have, and it’s using ink-jet personalization to appeal to their inner quarterback. A relative of a Catalog Age staffer received a copy of the catalog in August; the back cover featured several replica jerseys — one with the last name of the catalog recipient injected above the number “00.” Moreover, a message addressed the customer by his first name, saying “Be the first to own the new 2002 replica jersey…personalize one with any name — any number…” If this creative personalization doesn’t inspire armchair athletes to suit up in style, nothing will.


Most of the time when catalogs scream from their front cover “If you don’t make a purchase, this will be the last catalog you receive from us,” we don’t consider it much of a threat. But A Common Reader is one title that we would order from solely to continue receiving the catalog. The purveyor of hard-to-find, quirky, and just plain interesting books features copy that’s as good a read as the tomes it sells. To wit, the description of The Brontës by Rebecca Fraser: “To pass the poised climate of the world of Jane Austen into the stormy atmosphere of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights is — like listening to Le nozze de Figaro and Lucia di Lammermoor back to back — to get a crash course in the conflicting styles of classicism and romanticism….” And of course, any catalog that sells King Camp Gillette: Inventor of the Disposable Culture, by the brother of Catalog Age’s managing editor, is bound to be a favorite of ours.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

What’s the Deal?…

John Lenser’s August Small Catalogs Forum article (“Finding Gold in Segments of Dross”) causes me to question whether I understand him correctly. He appears to be advocating that mailers pass rented names against house file segments that they have no intention of mailing as a way to reactivate house names. Is my understanding of his advice correct?

If so, I have been under the impression that this practice is unethical. Has the list industry changed its collective opinion on this practice?
George Hague, catalog marketing manager
Annie’s Attic

…John Lenser Replies

You have the right to mail every name that you have rented or for which you have exchanged. Yet in virtually all merge/purges, the entire house file is placed at a higher priority in the merge, effectively making it a suppression file against lower-priority lists. By allowing a “multi” to be created between the customer file and the outside list, you are simply assuring that you mail a name you have paid for. These particular names will be very responsive.

The Direct Marketing Association’s Guidelines for List Practices states: “A list user and its agents may not transfer names or information to its own customer files or recontact names derived from a rented or exchanged list…without prior authorization.” Therefore, while you have the right to mail this “house/outside list” multi at least once, it is unethical to append information to the customer’s name based on this interaction for the purpose of future mailings.

The phrase “without prior authorization” is very important. You can do anything you would like if you first obtain permission from the list owner. Many companies, particularly large companies, score or create house file models based on the interaction of their customers with outside lists. To avoid any allegations of impropriety, it is key to be up front and obtain permission.


Even if you don’t wear ties, the Lee Allison Co. catalog will have you lusting for a four-in-hand. The high-quality paper and pristine reproduction show off the vivid colors and silk textures of the company’s hand-made ties to dazzling effect. And the copy — well, here’s an example: “A Cary Grant classic. This very subtle two-color check is a fabric known as natté — not unlike an oxford weave in a shirt. Super tasteful. From 10 paces it resembles a solid. You could get promoted in this tie. You could get married in this tie. You could even consummate your marriage in this tie (but only if you ignore our Safety Recommendation).” So fabulous are the copy, the creative, and the ties themselves that we love the catalog despite a particularly hideous typo that appears on every spread: “You can also buy online, where you’ll see our entire collection of 120 hansome designs.”

Former ‘Amazonian’ Turns His ‘Time’ Into Art

What do you do when you’ve given the best 27 years (at least in Internet time or “dog” years) of your life to a dot-com during the fledgling industry’s rise and fall? If you’re actor/author/playwright Mike Daisey, you turn the experience into a book and off-Broadway show. Daisey’s one-man show, 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com, ran in New York from May to July; the book came out in June. Daisey, who started at Amazon.com in 1998 as a customer service rep, details the tumultuous times at the Seattle-based dot-com as the Internet frenzy was heating up. Reviews have called the show “raucous and consistently funny” and the book “a brilliant, honest, and side-splitting account of the strangest company the world has ever seen.” We’re not sure how Amazon feels about it, but you can buy the book on its site.

Games in Catalog Receive Nod of Approval

It’s never too early to get your kids hooked on mail order, and children’s furnishings cataloger The Land of Nod has found a way to get them started: a four-page insert of mazes, Nod-O-Grams, and other games. We realize, of course, that Wheeling, IL-based Land of Nod is going after the parents and merely trying to entertain the offspring, but this could be a savvy marketing strategy. Sure, the space could have been used to sell goods, but the insert is printed on newsprint, keeping costs down (and giving the pages an authentic coloring-book feel). Also, the games may increase the catalog’s shelf life, which is always a plus. But most important, children may peruse the catalog in the process of playing and fall in love with, say, the Pretty in Pink English bedding or the Mr. Roboto rug. If the kids want it bad enough, with the right amount of begging/wheedling, some parents might actually cave in and order.

Martha Makes a Mess

Now that gracious-living guru Martha Stewart has been tarred with a brush of bad publicity in recent months following allegations of insider stock trading, it’s no secret that her company’s stock price has taken a beating. Shares in Martha Stewart Living Omimedia — which includes Martha Stewart Living magazine and the Martha by Mail catalog and Website — tumbled from about $20 in May to a low of $6.25 in early August. The big question: Will consumers still be willing to buy merchandise from the überhostess following the scandal? Maybe not, if a survey from Charleston, SC-based research firm America’s Research Group is any indication. Of 1,000 consumers surveyed by telephone in July, 56% had purchased Stewart-branded products. Of those, 19.7% said they were less likely to buy the items again. One small bright spot: 53% of the survey participants said the scandal would not affect their buying Stewart’s goods. That’s sort of a good thing.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Newbie Gives His Props

We just started receiving Catalog Age, and I have to tell you that it’s the most comprehensive magazine serving the retail, Internet, and catalog industries that I’ve ever seen! Every issue is full of valuable information, especially for those of us just getting started in the catalog sector.

Keep up the good work.
Mel Ronick, president
Stacks and Stacks


Andy Ostroy, chairman/CEO of list firm ALC of New York, sounds off against list exchanges:

Nothing in life is free, they say. Why, then, do direct marketers, particularly catalogers, place so much strategic emphasis and financial reliance upon list exchanges? Why has the average circulation plan become prisoner to this mammoth beast?

I’ve spent years decrying the logic of list exchanging, a process that has taken the decision-making and creativity away from marketers and shifted it to the pencil pushers in accounting. I’ve yet to meet a marketer who can logically explain the true bottom-line advantage in exchanging vs. renting lists.

Exchanging owes its existence to the issue of expense — that being, let’s show as little expense as possible. While nothing is truly “free,” most marketers like to believe that the lists they obtain on exchange are free. Of course, that’s not the case. But it is a direct result of what I’ll call selective ledgering. This is a process in which a company opts to recognize one side of a ledger but not the other. We obtain a product but do not attach a cost to that product. Therefore, the product appears free!

The problem gets magnified when companies benchmark this allegedly free product, or list, against those that have a cost. The result? You guessed it: When analyzing performance, the “free” list wins. And these results are erroneously driving so many circulation and marketing decisions right now.

Everything has its cost, including lists. When you exchange with another mailer, you forgo rental revenue that would’ve been generated. Some mailers will exchange 5 million, 10 million, 15 million names a year. On rental, the company would stand to earn an average net of $85/M, or approximately $425,000-$1.275 million in income. But when exchanging, this income is forfeited. Where is the entry for this loss in revenue?

Most alarming is the mantra “I can’t use that list unless it’s on exchange” — the prevailing thought being that the list performs acceptably only if there’s no cost attached to it. But what if we did allocate a cost — specifically, the loss in income from the other side of the ledger? Does this list “perform” differently as a result? Does the profit per order decline dramatically?

Countless times we see quality lists being passed up simply because they’re not able to be acquired on exchange. Some of these lists might in fact perform as well as, if not better than, their exchange counterparts if only the economic playing field were level. My fear is that exchanging has become a crutch and an extremely shortsighted strategy.

What’s more, the time to monitor, reconcile, and maintain exchange balances — and then to use this information in the marketing process — is monumental, which is why our firm now earns the same fee whether we process rental or exchange orders. And how many marketers compare the actual cost of the lists they’re exchanging with to their own to see if the base price and selection surcharges are comparable? We often see a difference of $15/M-$40/M or more in one file vs. another, further evidence that exchanging may be an economic and strategic liability.

I generally close my argument against exchanges with what I call The Spiegel Factor. The general merchandise giant has had for years a strict rental-only policy. Is Spiegel behind the times? Is it remiss in not capitalizing on one of the industry’s greatest secrets — that some lists can be had free?

I tend to think that Spiegel has known all along what many marketers have admitted to me privately: There is no intrinsic economic advantage in exchange lists. Simply put, it may keep the accountants happy (and Wall Street, if you’re a public company), it creates the illusion of higher performance — and it’s just too darned difficult to trash the whole contribution model and start over.

Soap to Keep You in the Pink

General merchandise mailer The Vermont Country Store is using its product-development acumen to help raise awareness of breast cancer. The Manchester Center, VT-based marketer has created a triple-milled rose-scented soap engraved with the breast-cancer awareness symbol, the pink ribbon. The Vermont Country Store is selling the soaps in boxed sets of three for $8.85 in its catalogs, on its Website, and in its Weston and Rockingham, VT, stores. The company will donate 25% of all sales of the soap to support breast-cancer research, education, screening, and treatment programs for those without ready access to healthcare.

Bean’s Big Birthday Bash

It seems like just yesterday that Leon Leonwood Bean was building a better duck boot and selling it through mail order, but it was actually many decades ago — nine, to be exact, as of this month. And to celebrate its 90th anniversary, L.L. Bean is throwing itself a barn burner of a party sure to shake up Freeport, ME. The events planned for Aug. 2-4 include concerts by Livingston Taylor and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, a hot-air balloon display, fireworks, and the unveiling of a 14-ft. sculpture in the shape of — yep, you guessed it — the cataloger’s signature Maine hunting boot.

Like Christmas in July

A Catalog Age staffer received the Late Summer ’02 edition of the CitySpirit.com women’s apparel catalog at home in early June. She was interested in a sleeveless black-and-white sweater, until she read the copy block, which advised, “Reserve now for mid-July delivery.” Since the notice was in the original copy block, as opposed to an overlay or a dot-whack message, we’re sure City Spirit had a good reason for doing this — advance warning of quality-control problems or of manufacturing or shipment delays — but we’re not sure how the strategy worked. Given that by mid-July the mailbox is already overflowing with fall/holiday catalogs — not to mention summer sale books — many customers likely felt it was a tall order to have to wait more than a month for such a seasonal item. Our staffer, for one, decided to pass on the item.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Sounding Off on Show Business

After last year’s Annual Catalog Conference (ACC), one marked with poor exhibit hall traffic, we polled our clients about how they would feel if we stopped exhibiting. We received unanimous approval from them not to exhibit. Next year offers an added element with which to contend: DM Days New York and the ACC in the same week.

June has become far too busy a planning month for many catalogers to be able to send the amount of staff to the ACC that they had in years past. Additionally, much of the information that is culled at the ACC is received too late to be fully employed for fall and holiday mailings. With the demise of the Spring DMA Show, conflicted scheduling with DM Days, and continued poor exhibit hall attendance, surely many mailers and list professionals alike would welcome a date change.

As we did last year with our booth poll, I informally polled clients and colleagues at this year’s ACC about how they would feel if the show were held in April — when mailers aren’t as busy and at a time when mailers could begin planning for crucial fall and holiday mailings well in advance of their current timetables. The suggestion of moving the date to April received overwhelming support.

The opportunity to receive recommendations and insights from colleagues and list professionals in meetings and during sessions well in advance of cut-off dates would surely benefit mailers and exhibitors alike. And perhaps additional time to plan for the most important mail dates of the year would help our industry in the form of better results, better-performing prospect lists, and, ultimately, larger house files.
Brian DeLaite vice president — list management
ALC of New York

Chefs Wear a New Hat: Catalog Model

Chicago-based cooking apparel cataloger Chefwear is serving up a tasty creative twist: using real chefs as models. A recent catalog boasts a host of South Florida-based chefs modeling the manufacturer/marketer’s jackets, pants, caps, and other professional accoutrements for the kitchen; another edition features model chefs from the Big Easy. We think it’s fitting in this era of reality TV that Chefwear is using the real deal to showcase its goods. Cindy Crawford, eat your heart out.

Dude, Check Out Dell’s New Product Line

If you’re a fan of Dell Computer Corp.’s slacker pitchman, Steven, and his trademark tagline, “Dude, you’re gettin’ a Dell,” you’re in luck. The Austin, TX-based company in May began marketing a line of Dude Gear products, such as Dude-branded T-shirts, caps, notebook backpacks, and CD cases, available online at www.dell4me.com/dudegear. Dell, admittedly out of its element, worked with merchandise agency Bensussen, Deutsch & Associates to design the products. We like Steven and all, but does Dell really need to be shilling such schlock? After all, the company’s revenue for the past four quarters totaled $31.2 billion.

Cutting-Edge Promotion

A Catalog Age staff member recently ordered two bathing suits from women’s apparel cataloger Boston Proper. When the package arrived, the staffer was surprised to find a twin pack of Bic’s new Softwin disposable razors designed for sensitive skin in the box with the order. For certain, swimsuits and shaving go together, and the staffer was delighted to receive a sample of the razor. Still, the experience was a little weird — considering there was no reference to the freebie on the shipping slip or anywhere in the box. The staffer was not sure at first if some catalog warehouse worker dropped the razors in the box by mistake — or as a not-so-subtle suggestion.

Silvo Home Cover Seeks Sleuths

We have to give Silvo Home credit. The home products cataloger tried to make its summer 2002 catalog cover fun and interactive by asking, “How many Silvo items can you find?” The answer on page three of the book includes a color-coded map with the Silvo products — and their item numbers — listed. Our only quibble with this concept is that it’s not a very challenging task, considering that all the products on the cover are Silvo’s — except the clothes on the model’s back. And actually, we were somewhat disappointed to find that the straw sun hat on the model was not a Silvo item.

Are Prison Inmates Allowed Lipstick?

Many have said that the beauty industry is an ugly business, but this one takes the mascara cake. The ex-marketing director of New York-based cosmetics manufacturer/marketer Sephora has been indicted on charges of stealing more than $500,000 from the business. Judith Ashley “Tilley” Roberts allegedly stole the money between July 2000 and November 2001 by claiming fraudulent expenses while running Sephora’s retail and direct marketing campaigns. The charges claim that Roberts created false invoices for photography using a friend’s name as a company name and forged signatures to approve payment; the payments were deposited from Sephora into an account she controlled. Sephora unearthed the alleged scam when its marketing projects ended up over budget. Roberts was arrested in late May at her home in Orange Beach, AL, on charges of second- and third-degree grand larceny, forgery, and falsifying business records.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Rightfully Riled About Wrong Number

As I discussed with Paul Miller, who wrote your article “Bass Pro Focuses on Its Channels” (March 1 issue), the sales figure attributed to Bass Pro Shops is not correct. We are a privately owned company and do not share our sales or other results with anyone outside of our organization.
Ronald L. Ramseyer
president of direct marketing, Bass Pro Shops

Half the Magazine We Used to Be?

I received my March 15 Catalog Age magazine today. Since I am in the catalog business and work closely with printers, I thought I would share this with you. My copy of the magazine measures 8-3/8″ wide by 14-3/8″ high [instead of 11″ × 14″]. Obviously this is a poor trim job. I don’t think there is one article you could read in its entirety.
Maggie McCarthy
marketing director, Swanson Health Products

Cartoon Cat Becomes Web Cop

Would you allow Garfield to monitor what your kids are doing on the Internet? The creators of kid-friendly Web browser Garfield Island are betting that you would. In collaboration with Jim Davis, the creator of the curmudgeonly cartoon cat, Golden, CO-based Children’s Technology Group created the Web browser, which allows kids to surf only approved sites. Parents must pay a quarterly subscription (which comes out to about $5 a month) for Garfield Island or a discounted annual subscription rate of $49.95 a year. We’re all for protecting kids from the evils lurking online, but we’re a bit surprised that Garfield is the poster cat for Web safety: We didn’t think the facetious feline much liked kids anyway.

E-Dreams Were Made of These

By now the story of the dot-com boom gone bust is an old tale, but it’s fodder for a recent documentary titled E-Dreams. The 93-minute film by Wonsuk Chin chronicles the rise and fall of Kozmo.com, which launched in 1998 as an online video store. At its height in summer 2000, New York-based Kozmo had expanded into a convenience-store delivery service, employing more than 3,000 people and partnered with such giants as Starbucks. In late February 2001, the company announced plans to drop the “.com” from its name and launch a print catalog; two months later it shut its cyberdoors instead. While we admit we haven’t seen the flick, favorable reviews indicate that E-Dreams does a good job of capturing the thrill of Web victory and the agony of dot-com defeat. Pass the popcorn.

Color Us Baffled

Everybody likes to make fun of color descriptions in catalogs, though we personally have nothing against names such as pond-scum green and overripe pomegranate. Maybe the Color Marketing Group (CMG) is to blame for the poetic license some catalogers take with naming colors. According to the Alexandria, VA-based design/marketing/manufacturing association’s latest color forecast, the top hues for 2004 will be tickle red, moondance white, hope blue, and glassy green. If these descriptions leave you in need of clarification, consider this: CMG predicts that the 2004 color palette “will continue to be dominated by blues and greens with a resurgence of feminine reds and the palest tinted whites.” Why? Global turmoil is driving the consumer to “hive,” marking “a return to yesteryear’s sense of community, culture, and safety.” We’re not sure how slipcovering the sofa in tickle red is going to help us hive, but we’ll give it a whirl.

Double for Nothing

When perusing women’s athletic apparel catalog Title Nine Sports recently, we came across a $42 T-shirt. That seemed a high price to us, and sure enough, the copy block for the Sugar Tee begins “$42 for a tee shirt? Well, we said the same thing…” The copy goes on to describe the shirt’s Flexcel fabric (with a touch of Lycra), which “has a silk feel to it, but then it’s super-dense like cotton.” Sounds nice, but we’re still not ready to shell out $42 for a T-shirt. Until we get to the real sales kicker: “If you’re like us, once you try this tee on, you’ll want at least two. When that happens, just call us up and order the second and the shipping will be on us. Yep, this tee is really that good.” Here’s to Title Nine: If the Sugar Tee is half as good as the offer, we’ll take two now and save you the trouble.

Gaiam in the Bag on Oscar Night

Forget about the gold-plated statuette: The real prize on Oscar night is the gift basket. Valued at $20,000, the booty bag was awarded to 125 presenters and performers at the Academy Awards held March 24. The gift bags included 40 products from suppliers such as Baccarat, Mont Blanc, Birkenstock, and Gaiam. That’s right, the healthy-lifestyle products cataloger got in on the action, providing certificates for its $350 meditation chair. We hope that the Oscar affiliation paid off for Gaiam, but considering that the Academy reportedly told donors to keep a lid on their involvement to downplay the decadence this year, the timing may not have been ideal. At any rate, we’re sure the stars are enjoying the chairs. Perhaps they’re using them to meditate over their outfits for next year’s Oscars.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

A Tribute to ‘Mr. Stanley’

The catalog industry lost a merchandising visionary with the death of Stanley Marcus. The former head of upscale cataloger/retailer Neiman Marcus died on Jan. 22 at age 96. Steve Leveen, president/cofounder of Delray Beach, FL-based reading tools cataloger Levenger, recalls his memories of “Mr. Stanley”:

The soaring I.M. Pei-designed Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas was the setting for Stanley Marcus’s memorial service on Jan. 28. With a seating capacity of 2,069, it was one of the few places big enough to hold Mr. Stanley’s friends and family members — and it nearly wasn’t. The service included the full Dallas Symphony Orchestra (who we later discovered donated their time) and Bobby Short, one of Mr. Stanley’s favorite performers, who flew in to sing three old tunes at the piano. His last was “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” So is our memory of Mr. Stanley.

When my wife and I began Levenger 15 years ago, an experienced manufacturer’s representative asked me if I had any retail background. “No,” I admitted. “Well, if you’re even thinking of going into retail, go out and buy a book called Minding the Store by Stanley Marcus and read it.” I did, and it changed my life.

The book is a memoir and a history of Neiman Marcus, but for me it was far more. It demonstrated that being a merchant could be a noble profession — something well beyond buying and selling merchandise. Mr. Stanley (as his admirers called him, to distinguish him from his father) took retailing to a new level — a level of extravaganza and sensational “his and her” gifts. He created a canny salmagundi of luxurious products mixed with true affection for customers, suppliers, and staff. After reading the book, I knew I had found my calling. I aspired to follow in Mr. Stanley’s footsteps by giving customers more than they expected.

When I wrote him a fan letter, Mr. Stanley instantly wrote back with words of praise and encouragement for our fledgling enterprise. This led to friendship and mentorship beyond my greatest hopes. I soon learned that our good fortune was not unique. It seemed that everywhere I went and talked to people in retail, Mr. Stanley had helped in some way. Nearly everyone knew him, had heard him speak, or had somehow been touched by the merchant prince of retailing.

The thousands of alumni who have attended Mr. Stanley’s informal school of retailing can share such Mr. Stanley-isms as “It’s not a good sale unless it’s a good value for the customer” and “The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.” And a more subtle lesson: High sales numbers are not the most important thing. If a product doesn’t fit in your store or isn’t at the appropriate taste level for your brand, the more you sell of it, the worse it is. We learned this firsthand. In the early years at Levenger, we made what I considered to be very nice T-shirts for serious readers. The shirts were selling well. Mr. Stanley called me to say, “Steve, I don’t care how many T-shirts you can sell, they don’t belong in your catalog.” We never carried another.

Early in our relationship, he invited my wife, Lori, and me to his home in Sante Fe. Lori and I were nervous about meeting this legend. But he and his wife, Linda, immediately made us feel comfortable — especially after he literally broke the ice by spilling it all over the floor while attempting to make drinks. That evening over dinner we talked not about business but about primitive art and the local museum he had helped to found, about the history of the Anasazi Indians, about anthropology and politics.

I once introduced Mr. Stanley for a speech saying, “To give you some perspective, Mr. Marcus was vice president of marketing at Neiman Marcus in 1926.” How rare it was to be able to learn from a man who had been too old to serve in World War II.

I can see Mr. Stanley now, rising not far above the lectern, filling his immaculate suit well, his eyes twinkling, advising us workaday merchants to “create an inspirational selling environment for your customers.” Yet how can we inspire as he has? How can we hope to fill his shoes — this man with a Rolodex as big around as a California redwood and whose volume of correspondence rivals the Department of State’s?

Was Mr. Stanley larger than life? It seemed so. But maybe Mr. Stanley just showed us how large life can be.

Better Luck Next Year, Studs

The image-conscious Academy Awards organization has no sense of humor when it comes to its Oscar statue. In early February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sued Pipedream Products for trademark and copyright infringement, because the gifts cataloger/Web marketer sold anatomically exaggerated Stud of the Year Oscar replicas.

According to the suit, the stud statuettes closely resemble the real Oscar, with both featuring a muscular man holding a sword. The obscene knockoffs, however, depict Oscar in the full monty, if you catch our drift. Shortly after the academy filed the suit, its attorney David Quinto said the Los Angeles-based Pipedream agreed to halt all sales of the ribald Oscar replicas and to hand over its remaining inventory of the items for destruction.

Pipedream isn’t the first marketer accused of trying to tarnish Oscar’s golden image, and it likely won’t be the last: The uptight academy typically files six to eight lawsuits a year to enforce the Oscar copyright and trademark. “We’re succeeding in getting the word out that the Oscar is not a national symbol that’s available for all to use,” Quinto said in a statement. “It’s the academy’s registered trademark and copyright.” If only the academy were so vigilant about policing those long, boring acceptance speeches.

USPS Stamps Out New Jersey

The state of New Jersey gets no respect — not even from the U.S. Postal Service. In the spring 2002 edition of its USA Philatelic stamp catalog, the USPS left New Jersey out of its Greetings from America page. A New Jersey stamp is included in the collection, which consists of stamps resembling vintage souvenir postcards for all 50 states, but the New Jersey stamp does not appear in the picture of the collection. Adding insult to injury, an additional image of the New York stamp appears where the Jersey stamp should be. According to Philatelic editor William Gicker, the error likely occurred during last-minute color corrections, and by the time the USPS was made aware of the error in January, the 2.1 million catalogs were already printed and mailed. Rather than reprint the catalog run, Philatelic in February mailed a flier explaining the error. New York, New York — a stamp so nice they ran it twice?

Plus-Size Consumers Living Large

Maybe it’s a growing trend in women’s apparel: Recent editions of L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer promote the fact that every size is the same price. In other words, plus-size consumers do not have to pay more for larger-size appparel. “Every size, from Petite XS to Women’s 3X, is one price,” reads a cover line on a spring Eddie Bauer book, while L.L. Bean’s Clothes for Women cover proclaims: “Misses’, Women’s Petite and Tall now at the same price.” While it may cost a bit more in fabric to create plus-size garments, jacking up the price on such items is probably not worth the ill will it generates among larger customers. Besides, do petite customers ever get a break for using less material?

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Somewhat Morphed at Us

I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I saw the article “America’s Shopping Mall Morphs into Catalog Group” in the January issue, which was riddled with inaccuracies, misstatements, and damaging misleading information about my company.

To be more specific, please note that America’s Shopping Mall was foreclosed by its secured creditors and liquidated by outside sources. As part of the liquidation I did in fact offer to buy The Female Athlete and Remarkable Products titles from the bank. My offer was subject to better or higher offers from the public. The Catalog Group was formed by me after resigning from America’s Shopping Mall. I was also negotiating to buy several other titles at that time. To say that America’s Shopping Mall was morphed into Catalog Group creates an illusion of succession that is both damaging and inaccurate.

With reference to your statement that I ran into problems with financing, please be aware that the environment for financing was extremely weak in the last four months of 2001 for the entire economy. In fact, I was able to arrange financing to purchase both The Female Athlete and Remarkable Products in October 2001.
Irwin Schneidmill
chairman/CEO, Catalog Group

Thumbs Up to Green Thumb Winners

As we are now in the throes of our own awards competition (that’s the Annual Catalog Awards, but you knew that), we’d like to recognize several industry winners in another contest: the 2002 MGA Green Thumb Awards.

Presented by the Mailorder Gardening Association (MGA), the Green Thumb Awards are judged by an independent panel of garden writers and editors. In the Plants and Seeds division, the winners are: Starry Night Shrub Rose from Edmunds’ Roses, Delphinium “Merel” from Van Bourgondien, Antirrhinum ‘Debutante’ from White Flower Farm, “Cabana” Hybrid Tea Rose from Jackson & Perkins, and Syringa “Baildust” (Fairy Dust Lilac) from J.W. Jung Seed Co.

In the Tools, Supplies, and Accessories division, the winners are: Perfect Balance Custom Fertilizer from Gardens Alive!, Hot Beds from Gardener’s Supply Co., Greenwell Water Saver from Gardener’s Supply Co., Bulb Boost with Rodent Repellant from Jackson & Perkins, and Dixondale Farms Feed and Weed from Dixondale Farms. Congratulations to all — we’re green with envy!

Half-Baked Cover Concept?

According to its tagline, The Baker’s Catalogue from King Arthur Flour sells “fine tools, ingredients, equipment, and recipes for the home baker.” So why on earth does the January edition of this book depict a photo of a family cross-country skiing in the woods? The editor’s letter inside does refer to winters in northern New England, noting that “there’s nothing like a fresh-baked treat to entice family and friends out of the cold, and into the warmth of your home.…” But that’s a big leap from skiing to sifting — especially if the book went to any prospects. Judging solely by the cover, we would have sworn that the catalog sold outdoor sportswear.

Bondage. James Bondage

British luxury auto company Aston Martin — maker of suave spy James Bond’s car of choice — recently withdrew several items from its gifts catalog after parent company Ford complained about the bondage connotation of some products. It appears that one of the 4,000 recipients of the catalog was Edsel Ford, a conservative member of the founding Ford clan, who strongly disapproved of items such as silver handcuff keyrings and belts, perforated leather boxing trunks, and suede boxers. Aston Martin is reprinting the catalogs with 20 new products — presumably more-refined lifestyle gift items. So we guess the Miss Moneypenny dominatrix doll will probably not make the cut.

Punxsutawney Phil Ties One On

Talk about a celebrity cover model. For its winter 2002 edition, Middlebury VT-based bow ties cataloger Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont features none other than Punxsutawney Phil, the shadow-seeking groundhog. (We’ll kindly ignore the fact that Phil boasts more than a passing resemblance to the gopher in the movie Caddyshack.) Having already served his purpose by seeing his shadow, ensuring six more weeks of winter for us, Phil appears to be on to the greener festivities of St. Patrick’s Day: The gentleman groundhog sports a black silk bow tie embossed with bright green shamrocks. Begorrah, now we’ve seen everything.

Sundance Rains on Shopping Parade

We know that Sundance, an offshoot of the Sundance Institute founded by actor Robert Redford, is all about the artists. But we have a bone to pick with the apparel, jewelry, decor, and gifts cataloger. As catalog shopping aficionados, we are used to browsing through home decor titles such as Pottery Barn and Ballard Designs — to name only a few — and being able to buy most any item prominently featured in a shot. So when thumbing through Sundance’s January 2002 edition, we wanted to buy the painting of a horse hung on a wall showcasing a leather sofa. Oops, only a prop. Another horse painting on a page featuring a teak console cabinet: also evidently not for sale. Above a painted iron bed, there’s an interesting cross wall sculpture, but once again, no reference to it. And the vintage Ford Galaxy acting as a backdrop for a woman modeling a goat-suede jacket — how do we purchase that? OK, we’re kidding about the car, and we do admit that most of the items are for sale, But still, there’s propping and then there’s teasing. Note to Mr. Redford & Co.: Don’t flaunt it unless you’ve got it!

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: dpluviose@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

It’s the Savings, Stupid

Whoever took the potshot at the Sierra Trading Post catalog in the January Backword (“Sell Me, Don’t Save Me”) was clever but uninformed. The passage from John has been on the cataloger’s order blanks for years and is not an effort to capitalize on 9/11.

Furthermore, the financial (rather than spiritual) savings on Sierra’s clothing and gear is enormous, the merchandise from the finest manufacturers, the service friendly and trustworthy. I admit to having been put off by the passage once, but now this nice Jewish boy rarely buys outdoor gear or clothing elsewhere. You can keep REI, Bean, Patagonia, and the rest; give me John 10:10b and $200 Ecco boots at $85 any time.
Bernie Libster
freelance copywriter

That’s News to Us

We’re used to people making fun of the catalog industry on TV (remember the Peterman portrayal in Seinfeld?), so we tried to be good sports about a segment on the Comedy Channel’s satirical news program The Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart. The Dec. 6 show featured “Back in Black,” a rant by commentator Lewis Black that focused on the absurdity of some catalog products. Black poked fun at a minibicycle from Hammacher Schlemmer and the ‘N Sync bedding from Brylane Home, among other products and catalogers. Black finished off the bit with this parting shot: “This year we’ve been encouraged to show our patriotism by spending money on things. Well, I can tell you that if you’re buying anything from one of these catalogs, you’re being way more patriotic than is necessary.” Hey, thanks for the ringing endorsement, Lew.

Seen on That Crime Scene Show

Catalogs also made the TV scene on the CBS series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In an episode titled “You’ve Got Male,” which aired Dec. 20, a young woman who loves to shop by catalog strikes up an online relationship with a prisoner who has a job taking catalog phone orders. When the convict is released from prison, he goes to visit his Internet pen pal. We won’t give everything away, but the woman winds up dead. But what you probably really want to know is, what catalogs did the victim shop from, and did the books appear on TV? Lillian Vernon, Pottery Barn, Harry and David, and Yafa Pen were the stars, to name just a few. What we’d like to know: How many of you catalogers employ prisoners as phone reps?

FAO Schwarz Plays Fair

The doting aunt of a Catalog Age offspring ordered a play kitchen set from the FAO Schwarz catalog as a holiday gift for her niece. The customer was told it would arrive within 7-10 days. Ten days go by, no gift, so she calls the company. It turns out that the item was backordered — although when the customer placed the order over the phone, the order rep had said it was available. Moreover, before placing the order the customer had checked the Website, which had also indicated that the item was in stock. The FAO Schwarz customer service rep said the cataloger wouldn’t be sending the gift out until the next Monday, which meant it wouldn’t arrive until after the holiday. Unacceptable, declared the doting aunt, who added that the least the company could do was waive the shipping charges. FAO Schwarz did waive the S&H — and even sent the item out two-day delivery so that the kitchenette arrived in time for the holiday.

Pepperberry Product Proves to Be Hot Pick

In early December a Catalog Age staffer was desperate to get her hands on the glass pepperberry garland in the Pottery Barn catalog. Apparently, so were a lot of other people. A call to the San Francisco-based marketer found that both the catalog and the Website were sold out of the item in all colors — with no more deliveries expected. The staffer braved the holiday shopping crowds to visit her local Pottery Barn store, which was also out of the garland. Calls to five other regional Pottery Barn retail locations were fruitless: “We can’t keep them on the shelves,” remarked a Boston store clerk. Finally, the Albany, NY, store came through. Not only had the store just received a fresh shipment of the garland in the desired color, but it had put the item on sale! The clerk who answered the phone cheerfully did a mail order, and 15 feet of the coveted rope arrived at the staffer’s home in Connecticut two days later in plenty of time to deck the halls. Kudos to the Pottery Barn merchant who picked the pepperberries — you evidently have an eye for winners!

The Seedy Side of Poppy Plants

Are some gardening catalogers aiding and abetting opium fiends? The feds might think so. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it’s illegal to grow or possess any part of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) except the seeds, since the seed heads contain the sap used in heroin. Opium poppy seeds are available in food stores and through gardening catalogs, though the DEA asked seed companies to voluntarily stop selling opium poppies a few years ago. U.K.-based seed mailer Thompson & Morgan, for one, stopped selling the opium poppies in the U.S. in summer 2000 after a customs agent questioned a shipment coming into the cataloger’s New Jersey office. But for the marketers that continue to sell the seeds (and no, we won’t narc on them here), we say bravo. Besides, budding drug lords could always scrape the poppy seeds off their bagels if they really want to start an opium crop.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: ehansen@primediabusiness.com
letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242
phone: 203-358-9900
fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Take a Stab at This Use of Catalogs

You never know what will come up when you type “mail order catalogs” into an Internet search engine. A recent search brought up on an article on Angola, a maximum-security prison in Louisiana that dates back to 1880. The article notes that some of the penitentiary’s history is detailed in a 1975 book, Angola — A Half Century of Rage and Reform, that’s available in the Angola museum bookstore. The book describes “a brutal world of violence and intrigue, political abuse and racial turmoil where a staggering one in 10 inmates would suffer stab wounds annually and others slept with thick mail order catalogs taped to the chest to deflect knives in the night.” Scary and gruesome, to be sure, but no more offensive that using catalog pages for toilet paper in the outhouse.

A Bargain at an Exorbitant Price

If you’re in the market for a diamond-encrusted bra from Victoria’s Secret — and who isn’t? — you’ll have to pay more for it this year. The 2001 diamond-and-pink-sapphire Heavenly Star bra costs $12.5 million, or $2.5 million more than last year’s ruby-and-diamond Millennium bra. But if you want to justify such conspicuous consumption, you can reason that buying the Heavenly bra and panty set will run you a mere $13.25 million, a bargain over the Millennium bra, panty, and belt set, which sold for $15 million. Of course, you won’t be getting the diamond string belt with this year’s set, but trust us, no one will miss it. Besides, there’s a recession going on, and we all need to make sacrifices.

The Dolly Doctor Is In

For Christmas 2000, a Catalog Age staffer bought the Kit Kittredge American Girl doll from the Pleasant Co. catalog as a gift for her eight-year-old sister. Since the little sister took meticulous care of her doll, her entire family was horrified this past September when Kit’s arm fell out of its socket. The Catalog Age staffer called Pleasant Co. to arrange for Kit to visit the American Girl Doll Hospital for repair. The customer service rep told the staffer that the typical length of a doll’s hospital stay is about two weeks, and that if the “injury” was the result of a defect rather than normal wear and tear, there would be no charge for the repair. The rep advised the customer to send a check for $20 to cover the repair and said that if the injury was the result of a defect, she would be reimbursed.

The customer sent Pleasant Co. a check only for the cost of shipping and handling, along with a letter explaining how the injury was clearly the result of a defect. She mailed the doll out via USPS Priority Mail on a Friday; 13 days later the staffer’s sister received a fully recuperated Kit, complete with a hospital ID bracelet, hospital gown, and balloon — just as promised in the catalog. The same day, the customer received an invoice for the repair. There was no charge.

Scents and Sensibility

At the height of the anthrax-tainted mail scare this past fall, a friend of Catalog Age received a Crate & Barrel catalog in the mail that she said had a “fermenty” smell. The customer called the gifts, furnishings, and tabletop items marketer’s 800-number to alert the company to this situation; a customer service representative promised to pass her inquiry on. Ten minutes later, the customer received a call from Nancy Kushman in the company’s catalog department. Kushman explained that the catalog’s odd scent was due to the printing process (something about a rotogravure pressing — we didn’t entirely grasp the specifics) and assured her that it posed no health risks. At a time when consumers are superskittish, Crate & Barrel’s fast response impressed the customer — and best of all, really made her want to shop with Crate & Barrel.

Sell Me, Don’t Save Me

Without question, the tragic events of recent months have boosted interest in spirituality for many people. Still, that doesn’t mean consumers want religion pushed on them. The order blank of the Winter 2001 edition of Cheyenne, WY-based outdoor gear and apparel cataloger Sierra Trading boasts a biblical passage from John 10:10b: “Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’” While many consumers no doubt consider it a lovely sentiment, particularly during the holiday season, the quote could be off-putting to the 16% of Americans (not to mention to the 67% of the world’s population) who aren’t Christian.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: ehansen@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Plane Crazy Publicity Stunt

Some 73 years after Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the U.S., a plucky dentist from Sonoma, CA, re-created the historic flight. Carlene Mendieta left Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY, on Sept. 5 in a 1927 Avro Avian — the same type of plane Earhart used. Though she was grounded six days later in Hobbs, NM, after the terrorist attacks, Mendieta resumed her flight a week later and arrived back at Westchester on Oct. 2. Why are you reading about this in Catalog Age? Because the plane’s owner, Greg Herrick, financed the journey to promote his Historic Aviation catalog. (Herrick also followed Mendieta in a Cessna during the flight.) The lengths — or should we say heights — that some people will go to promote their catalogs.

A Thumbs-up for Anthropologie

Apparel mailers no doubt hate it when customers order a product in several sizes and return the items that don’t fit, but that’s a reality in the clothing catalog business. Trying to avoid that scenario, a Catalog Age staffer took a gamble on the size when ordering a coat from the Anthropologie catalog. The coat didn’t fit quite right, so the staffer called to order the coat in the next size, keeping the first one to see which fit better. When the customer service rep saw that the caller had already ordered the coat in another size, he asked if she had received that first coat. When told yes and that the new order was to determine the proper size, the rep waived the shipping-and-handling charges on the second coat.

Calling All High Fliers

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sparked a serious interest in private planes among the gilded class. So luxury gifts cataloger Neiman Marcus was on the money, so to speak, with one of its fantasy gifts this year: a limited-edition 430 helicopter from Bell. This “awe-inspiring” aircraft’s features are too numerous to list here, but highlights include Italian-leather seats and sidewalls, a passenger refreshment center, two computer outlets, and a Blaupunkt cockpit AM/FM/CD entertainment center with cabin speakers and remote control.

Before you get too attached to this first-class copter, which seats seven including two in the cockpit, we should probably mention that it costs a cool $6.7 million. And since its maximum travel range is about 300 miles, with a top flying speed of 164 mph, you wouldn’t be able to get very far very fast. Then again, with such lush accommodations, getting there would indeed be half the fun.

Big Birthday for Banta

Birthdays are always a cause for celebration — especially when it’s a centennial. Printing giant Banta Corp. is proudly celebrating its 100th year in business. The company has come a long way since George Banta Sr. opened a modest printing shop in Menasha, WI, in fall 1901. Today Banta — a public company for three decades — generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue and employs about 8,000 people. The company is a major printer of soft-cover books, special-interest magazines, direct marketing materials, and of course, catalogs. Many happy returns, Banta!

How Ugly Is It?

So you think you have an ugly couch? New York-based slipcover manufacturer/marketer Sure Fit, which mails the Slipcovers by Mail catalog, recently named the winner of the seventh annual Sure Fit Ugly Couch Contest — and it’s a beauty. The orange-and-brown velour sofa, which has “decorative” chains festooning its arms, was one of three semifinalists from more than 850 entries. The unsightly settee was voted the ugliest couch in America on Oct. 4 by the studio audience of the Live with Regis and Kelly TV talk show. Proud owners Renate and Craig Johnston of Hanover, PA, were awarded the $2,000 grand prize. The couch, which now resides at the former frat house of the Johnstons’ son, did not make an acceptance speech.

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: ehansen@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Offer Article Generates Response

Your October cover article “Making Them an Offer” is overdue and welcome. For many years I’ve worked in direct mail and catalog creative, and the one thing that direct mail folks “get” is that the right offer gets customers off their butts and ordering. Yet it’s been negated and yawned at by many catalogers I’ve talked with. Does it take a recession for them to wake up to this proven concept?

My clients who have taken advantage of this opportunity have improved their response rates and average order sizes far in excess of the cost of the premiums and offers we have used. Republic Home Video went from 5.5% response to 7.5% among its house list, and order sizes rose 50%. The Highlander catalog quadrupled its response and nearly doubled its order size. NFL Films Video doubled its response and increased orders sizes too. And of course, my colleague and former client at Liberty Orchards has been using special offers successfully for years. We have used offers in business-to-business cataloging as well, with good results.

An offer makes the catalog newsworthy and rewards the customer for action — it’s just using human nature as another tool to make your catalog successful. Many catalogers say offers don’t work for them, but they have not tested. It takes patience and guts and imagination and intimately knowing your customer to make offers work, but the results are worth the time.

Those who don’t test because they don’t want to “train” customers to expect too much are missing the point. The reason I spend so much at Talbots every year is that it has “trained” me to expect the best — a twice-annual sale, a free T-shirt for being such a nice customer, a leather keyfob at Christmas.… Talbots has become the one women’s clothing catalog I open when it arrives. This kind of loyalty is not achieved by discounting; it is just good service, good product, and training me to expect some kind of news and offers on a regular basis.

If companies such as Red Envelope and Paragon are not trying promotional strategies because they mistakenly think that discounting is the only way to go, then they get poor grades in the imagination category. There are many ways to provide incentives for a customer to buy without discounting. These guys just need to put on their thinking caps and be determined to find a better answer. In this case, no action is worse than the wrong action.

By the way, a dot whack with an “over 200 new products” is a good idea, but it is not an offer; it is just news. It may get customers looking, but it doesn’t get the ones who are teetering on the edge of “yes” or “no” to say yes. Getting them to say yes is what we want, right? Yes!
Carol Worthington Levy
creative director, Worthington Levy Creative

Old New Economy Poetry

The dot-com crash is old news by now, but some marketers are still looking for the silver lining in the e-commerce cloud. Brian Hyland, an associate of Glen Rock, NJ-based public relations firm Caugherty Hahn Communications, submitted the following verse to describe what he calls the “Public Relations New Economy Lesson #1”:

E-commerce Websites can be tricky
With products that’re hot and pages that’re sticky
But the lessons we’ve learned
About profits lost and earned
Is that it pays to be bricky and clicky

Serena Shuts Out Catalogs

Print and Web catalogers lost a lucrative customer this summer. Tennis ace Serena Williams recently told ESPN.com that she has kicked her remote-shopping habit. Her shopping infatuation peaked in early June during the French Open, when Williams said she would spend three hours a day online on play days and up to six hours a day on the Web during her off days, buying mostly clothing, shoes, and products for her dog. Williams, who started buying online to avoid being recognized when shopping in public, says she is now off online shopping and throws out all catalogs that arrive in the mail. We wonder what she’s doing with her money these days: As of September, the 20-year-old reformed shopper had earned more than $1.3 million this year.

Lands’ End Spots Young Heroes

Kudos to apparel and home products cataloger Lands’ End for its third annual Born Hero Awards. After considering all the nominations sent in by customers, the Dodgeville, WI-based marketer honored three children under age 12 for their efforts in helping people and the environment. The pint-sized philanthropists are featured in the Fall 2001 edition of Lands’ End Kids catalog and on the company’s Website. Better still, Lands’ End has donated $5,000 to causes selected by the Born Heroes.

Swiss Colony Celebrates 75 Years

Given the challenges in the market these days, many catalog companies are lucky to see their fifth anniversary, never mind their 75th. So we are delighted to recognize 75 years of The Swiss Colony, the venerable food gifts mailer. Monroe, WI-based Swiss Colony accepted its first mail order, for a cheese gift, back in 1926. Since then, the company has expanded into savory meats, European-style pastries, candy, fruit — and apparel and home decor: It also produces the Seventh Avenue and Midnight Velvet nonfood gifts titles.

Despite the innovation and expansion, you can see from this opening spread of old covers in the fall book that Swiss Colony hasn’t changed its logo — or its overall catalog creative — much over the years. Through the years, the company has kept the homey, old-timey look it started out with, as well as its “Santa mouse” mascot. And why should it change, since the formula evidently works? So Swiss Colony, we say happy anniversary, and don’t let anyone ever move your cheese!

CONTACT US …or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

e-mail: ehansen@primediabusiness.com

letter: PO Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242

phone: 203-358-9900

fax: 203-358-5823

opinion & response

Pregnant Pause for Baby Catalog Requests

I want to thank you for the wonderful resource you provide via the Catalog Age Website. I am amazed by the amount and depth of reliable, free information available. Having spent the past two months researching the catalog industry, I found your site to be invaluable.

I am launching a Website called CatalogBaby.com to introduce shoppers searching for baby, toddler, and nursing/maternity products to catalog and Internet merchants. Based on my experience these past two months, I am shocked that most of these catalog companies have been able to stay in business for as long as they have.

Starting in mid-July, I contacted 67 companies selling baby, nursing, and maternity-related products (in my wife’s name, not as a business). I contacted them in a variety of ways — phone, e-mail, Website forms, and fax.

By mid-August, I had received catalogs from only 19 marketers — less than one-third of all companies contacted! For the most part, it’s not the little, mom-and-pop operators that have yet to deliver but the bigger, more established catalogs.

Remember, these are companies whose prospective shoppers have very little time to wait. Customers in the baby/maternity market are short on time and need these products now. To make matters worse, within a few months their need for these products has often vanished. What’s the sense of mailing a catalog a month or more after a person requested — and needed — it?

I was disappointed when the catalogs didn’t arrive within a few days. I was shocked after a few weeks. A month later, I was in disbelief. Imagine how an expectant or new mother must feel.
Joe Chapuis
Required Reading for Online Success

Supplier Sings Our Praises

On behalf of all of us at Quality Casuals, I would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to be featured in your publication (“Back on the Shelves,” August). Your professionalism in researching the article is to be commended. The article is very informative and hopefully will help our current and future customers with their quality issues. I’m sure your readers will agree with us about how well written the article was.
Doug Easly
sales and marketing director, Quality Casuals

Infotel Is Alive and Well

In response to Catalog Age’s article “Where Are They Now?” (June), Infotel is alive and thriving! We were a branch of MidWest Micro, which as you stated in the article was bought out by Global DirectMail in the mid-1990s. Infotel was included in that buyout. Global DirectMail subsequently changed its name to Systemax. The MidWest Micro/Infotel division later followed suit and became Systemax Manufacturing. The MidWest Micro sales division has since merged with Global Computer Supplies. Infotel Distributing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Systemax, services the solution provider/VAR markets.

The Infotel computer products catalog remains a free monthly publication sent to customers. It arrives at their door in two formats — one with pricing and one without — so that dealers may show their customers what they offer without losing control of their own profit margins.
Mark Blackford
marketing analyst, Infotel Distributing

opinion & response

Sour on Service

I am a subscriber to Catalog Age and an inveterate catalog shopper. I was also the owner of a mail order fabric business, Jelhlor Fantasy Fabrics, for 23 years and am now president of another b-to-b mail order company.

This past year my catalog shopping has been less than satisfying — in fact, downright frustrating — to the point that I thought I would share my frustrations with you:

  • In June 2000, I placed an order for a set of porcelain dinnerware from the Ross-Simons catalog and received a backorder notice. It took more than six months for that order to arrive.

  • On Oct. 16, 2000, I ordered a Victorian-style mahogany table from Coldwater Creek; I didn’t receive the table until just before Christmas.

  • I ordered two wool blankets on March 21 from Linen Source and received a backorder notice stating that the blankets would be shipped on May 18. When I phoned the company on the morning of June 9, the customer service rep could not give me any information but said she would check the status of my order and call me back before the end of the day. I did not receive a call back. The blankets, which were a gift for a June 16 wedding, finally arrived in late July.

  • On June 7 I received a catalog from The Company Store. In the back of the catalog was a preview of its Company Kids catalog. I called the day the catalog arrived to order gingham sheets from the Company Kids section and was told “Sorry, they’re sold out and no longer available.” That seems very strange that the company would put something in a preview that was no longer available.

Now when I receive catalogs from these companies, I’ll think twice before I order. I don’t want to waste my time when past performance hasn’t been up to expectations.
Lorie Graff
president, WITM Enterprises

Beauty Website Undergoes Makeover

In response to July’s Cybercritic review of Nailco.com, we used your critique immensely to change our site. To ease the ordering process for our clients we have revamped our site. Below, a few features we are adding:

  • a new and integrated database allowing clients to check stock instantly;
  • an instant account history for orders, products, and beauty points;
  • breakthrough tracking system that allows clients to check their order status;
  • 30-second ordering with our Quick List option.

We would like to invite you back to visit our Website in September to see our new and improved capabilities.
Amy Luts
director of corporate communications, Nailco

Steamed at Sweeps Mailers

In the August story “F&G: What Went Wrong” about the Chapter 11 filing of Foster & Gallagher, Mark Swedlund, partner at W.A. Dean & Associates, was quoted as saying “The company’s hard times are good for no one.”

My heart goes out to countless laid-off employees, as well as to the creditors left holding the bag in hard economic times. My heart also goes out to my wife of 38 years who has spent hundreds of hours in recent years trying to protect her 80-year-old father from being victimized by unending sweeps offers. He is not only senile but also naturally gullible. He reads every offer as a bill, and he pays all bills promptly.

As a list broker with 21 years in the business, I have kept my wife from despair as she sees him sign up for one motor-club and credit-card offer after another. Her continuous stern lectures to her father and her passionate pleas to land-investment and continuity-club mailers fall on deaf ears. They keep mailing, and he keeps responding.

Maybe F&G’s demise will encourage some highly promotional mailers — as well as service providers — to rethink the damage we are doing to the elderly and gullible and find a more ethical way of making money.
David S. Swift
senior account manager, Names and Addresses

opinion & response

Consensus on Collage Covers

Regarding your May article “Creating Covers That Captivate,” we actually thought about doing a “collage” cover a little more than a year ago and decided against it. We felt that by making the pictures small enough to fit in a collage format, we would be unable to show the detail — which is what invites the customer into the book. I was glad to read that you also didn’t think it was a good idea.
Si Chen, owner
Gracious Style

A Jewelry Catalog by Any Other Name…

I couldn’t help but smile when I read in the June Backword page Melissa Dowling’s account of her first catalog shopping experience. The catalog’s name is Jewelart, and yes, it was located in Van Nuys, CA. I used to order abalone rings and spoon bracelets from the company when I was in seventh grade, and I used to bring the catalog to class so that my friends could order with me. I remember I always called it Jewel Heart by mistake. Thanks for the memory!
Judy Glock, direct response account manager
Yankee magazine

The catalog you mentioned in the June Backword was Jewelart. I worked at list firm Walter Karl at the time, and Jewelart was one of my clients. If I remember correctly, the owner had died, and the company was being run by his widow and some senior management people. My contact was the 17-year-old daughter of the vice president. They didn’t do much to keep the catalog moving ahead, and it closed in the early ’80s.
Stan Madyda, vice president, list brokerage
D-J Associates

ACC Issue Gets Thumbs Up

I had the chance on the way back from the Annual Catalog Conference in Boston to catch up and finally read the June issue of Catalog Age. I just wanted to let you know it was great and very informative. It obviously took a significant amount of work. I heard similar responses from several industry veterans. Keep up the great work!
Thomas Shipley, president
T. Shipley

opinion & response

Word on the Sheet

In your April Backword (“Sheets Fit Only for a King or Queen”), I found your jab at cataloger Anthropologie for not stocking full- or twin-size sheets a weak argument.

For years, various catalogers have offered wonderful-looking sheet sets only in twin size (designs presumably aimed at children) and received no criticisms for this. And clothing catalogers routinely do not offer certain sizes: no adult sizing in many children’s clothes catalogs, comparable items not offered for men and women in catalogs that carry both men’s and women’s items, and offering limited color choices by gender. But I don’t recall ever reading criticisms about any of these.

Most retailers and catalogers carry the sizes and choices that fit the demographics of their average buyers. I would bet that Anthropologie’s demographics have shown that most of its buyers sleep two adults to the bed and that the bed is most likely a queen size (a quick trip to most furniture stores or mattress retailers would confirm this simple preference).

I am not making this quantum leap to the conclusion you suggest, that queen- and king-size beds are “over the top” or in some way politically incorrect. And I expected something a little less petty from your publication.
L. Lawrence
graphics manager, JAC

Clearing Up Fuzzy Math

In your April cover article “Layoffs: Who’s Getting Hit?” you say that Lillian Vernon laid off 40 employees, or 12% of the workforce. I could not believe a company could mail more than 150 million catalogs a year with a staff of 325. A quick check on the Internet puts the employee count at approximately 1,500. Therefore the 40 people let go represent 2.7% of the workforce, not 12%.

Then on the Backword page, you have a headline about a .003% response rate for an item about a family that received 900 catalogs in one year but had ordered only from three companies during that time. That headline caught my eye because I wondered how anybody could get 33,333 catalogs and buy only once. That is almost 100 catalogs a day in a mailbox! As it turns out, the family bought three times from 900 catalogs, for a response rate of .3%.

I hope in the future you read your magazine with a little bit more care before sending it out to us dumb readers.
David Lawson
Prometheus Digital

EDITOR’S RESPONSE: Regarding the Lillian Vernon statistic, in the text we say that the 40 employees were “12% of its salaried staff.” Of course, we should have added the word “salaried” in the chart as well as in the text for those who skip the copy and read only the chart.

As for the Backword item…let’s just say that several of us here had double-checked that figure, calculator in hand, and never caught the mistake. I guess there’s a reason we’re in editorial rather than accounting.

And Now, We Present Some Seriously Unlikely Bedfellows…

If you missed the Annual Catalog Awards presentation June 6 at the Annual Catalog Conference in Boston, you also missed Catalog Age’s tongue-in-cheek take on industry mergers and acquisitions. Below, our interpretation of the fruits of some not-so-logical catalog M&A deals.