Pardners in cataloging

Five years after launching a catalog to support its programs, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) handed over operation of its Texas Parks & Wildlife Collection gifts catalog to direct marketing agency Badge Marketing in exchange for 3% of sales (slated to increase to 5% by 2004). “We wanted to put the catalog in the hands of people who can further its profit potential,” says Gene McCarty, TPWD’s chief of staff.

Badge Marketing is best known for developing and sourcing merchandise for marketers and for creating and managing product insert programs for special-interest publications. But the Dallas-based company did launch its own catalog, home decor title Stone Hill Collection, last year.

Badge will mail its first Parks & Wildlife catalog in mid-April. The company will expand the frequency from annually to three editions this year and four in 2000, says Badge president John Himelfarb. “We don’t want the catalog to be a fourth-quarter business anymore.”

TPWD launched Parks & Wildlife in 1993 after the state of Texas approved the nonprofit organization’s proposal to enter into entrepreneurial ventures and use the money generated to support conservation programs, maintenance, and operations. The catalog sells gifts, books, and apparel primarily from Texas artists and companies, though “we’re looking to expand offerings in the better-selling product categories such as children’s and home decorating,” Himelfarb says. Names are generated from subscribers to TPWD’s Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, park visitors, and hunting and fishing licensees. Nearly 80% of the catalog recipients live in Texas.

Privatizing the catalog was always part of TPWD’s strategy, and the only real alternative to folding the book, McCarty says. The catalog didn’t turn a profit until last year, although McCarty won’t cite figures. Catalog sales for ’98 were $860,000, compared to the department’s previous best of $700,000 in 1996.

“There are several things that the private sector can do faster and more cost-effectively than a state-run organization can,” McCarty says. For instance, Badge Marketing can procure catalog products easier and provide faster turnaround on orders. The marketing company also has more flexibility in terms of hiring employees. “Because we’re a state agency we don’t have the flexibility to hire short-term seasonal help,” McCarty explains, “nor the ability to contract out employees.”-SO