A Chat with Arnie Zaslow, executive vice president, ATD American Co.
© Profile of Success, Catalog Success magazine, March 2007
Interview by Matt Griffin
Catalog Success: When was the catalog established?
Arnie Zaslow: ATD has been around since 1931. We celebrated our 75th anniversary last year. That’s not how long the catalog has been around though. We published the first catalog in 1957. The great thing about that is that last year we were in business for 75 years, and this year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our catalog.
CS: What is your primary merchandise?
AZ: Institutional furniture and equipment for the business, education, and correctional markets. I think our biggest single market is the federal, state and local government market.
CS: What are your main sales channels, and what percentage of sales does each represent?
AZ: One of the things that makes us somewhat noteworthy is what I like to call “mix.” We have a mix of markets, which I’ve described already. We also have a mix of products. We sell textiles, furniture, safety and protective equipment, certain medical equipment. And we have a mix of selling techniques. We sell through our catalog of course, through which we do about 60 percent of our volume. Through the Web, which is comparatively new, about 13 percent. Our outside sales people bring in about 11 percent. The telemarketing team does 10 percent, and we do 6 percent through e-mail solicitation.
CS: How did the company/catalog get started?
AZ: We started in 1931. We started in the retail linens business. And by that I mean bedsheets, pillow cases, all that kind of stuff. We remained in the retail business from 1931 until 1952. In 1952, we started selling to institutions. We still sold primarily through the vehicle of competitive invitations to bid, which were generated by states, municipalities, federal agencies and the like. By 1957, we decided we wanted to automate the selling function. You started to see the beginning of automation in production, automation in accounting, but nobody ever was doing much in the way of automating their selling. The closest thing to automated selling is direct-response selling, where you send out a catalog and that’s the investment in technology. And then orders will come in as a result. We published the first catalog in 1957, and we printed 40,000 of them. It consisted primarily of textile products, and these were for hotels, motels, hospitals, prisons and so forth. But we also dipped in to changing some of our product categories to allow for bigger markups, because the textile field was an extremely competitive field. So we decided to go into allied products in the furniture field. And by that I mean commonplace items such as folding chairs, folding tables, stacking chairs. And that blossomed into business furniture such as desks and some case goods. And then peripheral products: lockers, bulletin boards. So by late 1959, we had a pretty full-scale book, and that continued to grow. Now today, we’re still essentially in the business of selling to institutions. One departure from that is that we own a textile plant in Thomaston, Georgia, where we manufacture bedsheets, but we sell them only to distributors that then sell them to institutions. But that’s the only departure from our core business.