Orvis: Old Dog with New Tricks

Having been around since 1856, Orvis could qualify as an antique. But to prove that it’s anything but dusty and dated, the cataloger/retailer has spruced up its catalogs and even launched a spin-off, The Dog Book.

The Manchester, VT-based company, which sells outdoor sporting gear, apparel, and home decor, “has always done well with dog products,” says vice president of mail order Tom Rosenbauer. In fact, during the past 15 years, one of its best-sellers has been its Dog Nest beds for canines.

Rosenbauer describes Orvis customers as “distinctive country people” who typically love animals. And by conducting surveys over the years, the $257 million marketer learned not just how important dogs are to their customers, but even the most popular breeds (think retrievers).

So the debut edition of The Dog Book dropped in mid-October to an undisclosed number of house file and rented names. A smaller drop mailed the following month. In addition to devoting nearly three spreads to Dog Nests, the 44-page book sells training aids, food bowls, grooming kits, and dog treats. For the canines’ companions, the catalog includes decorative accessories and apparel adorned with dogs.

As far as response, Rosenbauer would say only that Orvis is “extremely pleased” with The Dog Book’s performance and that it will increase the book’s circulation in the fall.

The Dog Book sports a single photo on the cover, above which the Orvis logo and tagline (“Sporting Traditions Since 1856”) stand out against a pristine white background. Inside, the pages follow a subtle grid accented with unobtrusive rules. This design is now used for all of Orvis’s catalogs, which include Men’s Clothing, Fly Fishing, Women’s Clothing, and Gift & Home.

The goal behind redesigning all its catalogs was “to unite our entire organization — across all product categories, distribution channels, and customer touchpoints — to convey a singular brand message,” says director of advertising Bill Eyre. “Growing in a niche market is all about striking a unique yet familiar chord that resonates with your customers and builds a relationship. It’s about consistently delivering on a promise, and that promise is your brand.”

Last year Orvis hired Concord, MA-based Toth Brand Imaging to “reveal the brand Orvis already is,” Eyre says. Hence the single lifestyle image on the covers and additional lifestyle photography inside the books; the prominence of the tagline; and larger photos bleeding off the inside pages.

Orvis began testing the new design of its catalogs in the fall and found that they were outperforming the old-design catalogs that had dropped at the same time, Rosenbauer says. All of the spring 2002 Orvis books feature the new design. Although he won’t disclose figures, “we are pleased with sales as well as with the design,” Rosenbauer says.