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War Stories: Color House Tales
June 1, 2001

Midnight. Six people are huddled around a sink in the women’s restroom. Except for me, all are men. In this vast printing plant—ablaze with sulphur, neon and mercury lights—one pathetic 60-watt bulb is the only incandescent light we can find. Is my Christmas catalog cover green in ordinary room light (as intended) or silver? My sales rep peers through the gloom at a just-printed sample in my hand. “I could convince myself that’s green,” he says. Color-correct lights aren’t always the best for viewing color. They do ensure that everyone in the industry views proofs and printed samples under similar lighting conditions.

Lillian Vernon: Merchandising Maven
May 1, 2001

Lillian Vernon began selling personalized belts and handbags with a black and white ad 50 years ago. Now, the company offers more than 6,000 items through nine catalog titles and a growing Web business What do Katie Couric, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hillary Clinton all have in common? It’s not their political affiliations. Think porcelain Easter baskets and personalized bean bag chairs. Now you get the picture: These celebrities are among the 23 million people who have shopped the pages of Lillian Vernon’s catalogs. The namesake business Lillian Vernon launched in 1951 on the kitchen table of her small, Mount Vernon, NY, apartment has

Case Study: Road Runner Sports Keeping Pace
April 1, 2001

The very thought of 235,000 running shoes is enough to make a runner swoon. I have known runners who keep a running shoe closet—when opened, no fewer than 20 pairs of shoes tumble out. Runners are a strange, quirky, masochistic bunch—knowing how to speak their language is crucial to making it in the mail-order running shoe business. But you really only have one person to consult—Mike Gotfredson. He is the founder and CEO of Road Runner Sports, the world’s largest running store, catalog and online business—and an avid runner. Gotfredson began Road Runner Sports in 1983. He had a wife, four

Apply the Rules You Already Know
April 1, 2001

Here’s a breakthrough idea for enhancing your Web site to make it perform more effectively: Apply the catalog rules you already know! After all, catalogs are a visual medium and so is the Web. When you’re selling products, the product picture and other graphic elements are kings. Though good catalogers already know the key rules of catalog design and merchandising, for some reason these rules are not being applied consistently to even the best Web sites. Let’s focus on a few of the key catalog rules you should be applying to your e-commerce site. Maximize Your Hot Spots. We know that a print

Selling Sports Equipment
April 1, 2001

When teenage slackers want to get hooked up with the “dopest” gear, they have quite a selection of catalogs from which to choose. One newcomer is attracting attention. Monsterskate.com is created with flippant copy, detailed product specifications and hundreds of branded skating products. The mission of Monsterskate.com is to produce stellar Web site editorial, photography and entertainment that is leveraged to create a direct mail piece that has long shelf life and the ability to sell. Monsterskate is the sister publication of Swell.com and Crossrocket.com, which serve surfing and snowboarding customers, respectively. Swell.com is the company’s flagship publication. “Swell.com started in January

A Fulfilling Holiday
April 1, 2001

The guarantee was to take, fulfill and ship all orders the same day for delivery the following day, right up until 3 p.m. EST on Christmas Eve. The offer was 25 roses if customers didn’t receive their orders the following day. Ashford.com, a luxury gift e-tailer, sent just 400 bouquets. Considering the volume of orders and the fact that Ashford delivered on its promise regardless of why the late delivery occurred, the number is remarkable. Ashford.com offers a wide variety of high-end products: diamonds, more than 20,000 styles of new and vintage watches, jewelry, fragrances, leather accessories, ties, scarves, sunglasses, writing instruments, home and

Just Puttering Along
April 1, 2001

According to estimates, there are about 650,000 active licensed pilots in the United States, including about 100,000 who work for airlines. So, by any measure, the market for catalog companies selling supplies to individual, recreational or hobbyist pilots is not very big. But this market, known as “general aviation,” is potentially lucrative, owing to the upscale demographics of the target group. How well are general aviation catalogs marketing their wares? How good is their overall strategy and positioning? We shared a number of general aviation equipment catalogs with renowned direct marketing guru Estin Kiger. We wanted to get his viewpoint on what these

Case Study: Brooks Brothers on the Cutting Edge
March 1, 2001

Just before I sat down to write this, The New York Times reported the death of yet another beloved—albeit little known—boutique institution, Gorsart Clothes. The downtown Manhattan men’s clothier had served the Wall Street community since 1921. In the words of Times writer Sherri Day, The last straw may have been the advent of casual Fridays—and Thursdays and Wednesdays—which eliminated much of the need for the crisply tailored suit and the power tie. Where Gorsart was unable to change with the times, another great New York men’s clothier, Barney’s, changed too much—only to be taken over by its creditors in 1996. Founded in

Merchandise: Bathrobes Remain a Classic
March 1, 2001

Bathrobes have been a wardrobe staple—as well as a catalog staple—for years. There are few people who don’t like cuddling up in a warm, soft robe after a hot shower, or coming downstairs for their morning cup of coffee wrapped in their favorite terry cloth robe. Robes are an ever-popular gift item, evidenced by the number of holiday and gift catalogs that featured them this past winter. The Norm Thompson gift catalog, Sundance gifts, Talbots gift collection, the Lands’ End holiday catalog and the Cuddledown of Maine holiday catalog are just a few of the books that presented robes as wonderful gift ideas.

Haute@Home Delivers Delectables
February 1, 2001

At a dinner party, a chef must blend flavors and textures masterfully to create something that a group of diverse people will enjoy. Likewise, the Haute@Home catalog mixes different selling propositions to form a cohesive shopping experience for everyone from novice entertainers who can only boil water, to seasoned cooking and restaurant professionals. Florencia Palmaz, creator and president of Haute@Home, exemplifies the busy entertainer who wants casual elegance delivered quickly to the table. Her mother and business partner, Amalia Palmaz, comes from a more formal entertaining tradition in which the hostess prepares everything from scratch. Both women, who hail from Argentina, are experts on

Building Bandwidtch Means Building Everything
February 1, 2001

Sergio Zyman and Scott Miller echo something I’ve been saying for a while: “It’s no different in the world of clicks than in the world of bricks-and-mortar. It’s business. It’s about selling stuff and making money. Brands today and tomorrow will be built the way they were yesterday: They will be built on the basics.” Amen. So why should catalogers read “Building Brandwidth: Closing the Sale Online?” At first glance it appears Zyman, consultant and former chief marketing officer at Coca Cola, and fellow co-author and business partner Miller wrote this book primarily for the dot-coms. But “Building Brandwidth: Closing the Sale Online”

War Stories: Managing a Photo Shoot on Location
February 1, 2001

E-mail to client: “I must strongly recommend against the proposed photo shoot location, on the grounds that one or more of the crew members could plunge 150 feet down the sheer cliff face to their death.” E-mail reply from client: “Life is risk.” Managing a catalog photo shoot on location is harder than it looks. In fact, a key part of a good project manager’s job is to make the job look easy, because a jittery project manager upsets the crew and slows the work. Whatever happens, as project manager your job is to take it all in stride, consider all your options and

Merchandise Spotlight: Books
January 1, 2001

The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts: monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again and yet live on. Still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts, of the hearts of men centuries dead. —Clarence Day Clarence Day was the main character of the great Howard Lindsay-Russell Crouse family comedy, “Life With Father,” that ran on Broadway all through the dark years of World

Migrating Merchandising from Catalog to Dot-com
January 1, 2001

As successful catalog merchants, you’re using merchandising techniques every day to deal with issues such as “can’t touch it, can’t try it on.” Let’s face it, returns are a hassle. When it comes to selling products online, familiarity with these issues is just one advantage you have over both Internet-only “pure-plays” and store-based, bricks-and-clicks e-tailers. Pure-plays have the formidable task of simultaneously launching and marketing a new brand, sourcing and perhaps stocking product, creating visual assets, implementing technology, handling fulfillment and developing a customer service component (no wonder so many have failed!). Bricks-and-clicks players have their branding and merchant skills in place, but

What’s In Your Catalog’s Future?
December 1, 2000

For the past two decades, I have written and spoken worldwide on the future of the catalog industry. My position has always been to challenge conventional thinking, and I have been right on some things and wrong on others, but hopefully always provocative. My early thoughts on the future of the Internet (1994) and its influence on catalog and direct marketing have been, for the most part, accurate. I predicted the growing importance of e-mail marketing, permission-based databases, proprietary databases and the surety of dynamic pricing as an outgrowth of self-directed, online commerce. In 1997, I was correct in my assessment of

Beauty Breakthroughs
November 1, 2000

Beauty products have long been located at the center of the department store. Elaborate displays of glimmering containers piled high on shiny counters hold promise of a more beautiful person. Now that beauty products have taken hold of the American consumer, luxe powders, shadows and creams are coming to the front door. In the past few years, beauty products have been making their way into major catalogs, such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Saks and Henri Bendel. Lower-end beauty suppliers have made their way into catalogs too. Cover Girl is currently targeting teens through the popular Alloy catalog. After several years of

Creative Cut: Motherwear
November 1, 2000

Mothers who nurse their babies do so for an average of two and a half months—so a catalog of specially designed garments for breastfeeding moms would seem to have a small window of opportunity in which to sell. But customers of Motherwear in Northampton, MA, nurse an average of 16 months. Why? Partly because they love the clothes so much, according to what they tell company President Jody Wright. In the first three-quarters of the year Wright and her husband Prakash Laufer started producing the catalog, sales growth topped 350 percent. Prior to taking over the helm of Motherwear in 1986, Wright had

Merchandise: Children’s Furnishings Catch On
September 1, 2000

Kid culture is becoming the new money maker for home decor catalogers. Following on the heels of fashion retailers such as The Gap, The Limited and Talbots, which in the mid-1990s began offering children’s clothing that mirrored adult fashions, kid-sized products are now filtering into the bedroom and playroom. In the past several years, Neiman Marcus, The Company Store and Pottery Barn have all created catalogs for kids. These new catalogs are chock full of endearing offerings for kids—furniture, bedding and housewares—at adult-sized prices. Home Furnishings: Catalog Magnet According to data released in 1999 by Banc of America Securities, consumers spend an average of

BlissOut Catalog’s Perfect Marketing Makeup
September 1, 2000

Goops and scrubs, loofahs and lipsticks. All presented in bright colorful layouts. Seductive copy (“it’s more than treats the eye”) makes you want to buy this stuff so you, too, can feel good. And then there’s BlissGirl. She may not be perfect, but this illustrated character sure has fun living the spa life and trying out all the latest products the beauty world has to offer. Founded just four years ago, BlissOut catalog has come a long way in such a short time, due in large part to the vision of Bliss spa founder, Marcia Kilgore, and the know-how and enthusiasm of the catalog’s

Merchandise Spotlight: Down Comforters
July 1, 2000

Ooh, pretty—that’s the feeling one gets leafing through bedding catalogs. All the linens look crisp, fresh and inviting. But, from synthetic to the real stuff, nothing evokes the desire to crawl in and curl up quite like a down comforter. So it was surprising that several of the catalogs reviewed this month do not show their down comforters on a bed. And with the broad array of weights, materials and colors available for today’s down comforters, it was odd that only two catalogs of those surveyed offered the comforters in colors other than white. James Padgitt, president and chief catalog consultant of