A Chat with Eduard Bjorncrantz, Vice President, Direct Marketing at Day-Timers, Inc.
Interview by Matt Griffin
© Profile of Success, Catalog Success magazine, September 2006
Catalog Success: When was the catalog established?
Eduard Bjorncrantz: Well, the history goes back to Dorney Printing, which started in 1938. Bob and Bill Dorney were two guys who worked in the business, and they started a mail-order branch of the business selling birthday calendars. In 1942, Dorney Printing was registered as a business, but the Day-Timer business started with a man named Morris Perkin. He was an attorney who invented Lawyer’s Day, which was an appointment, calendar, scheduling, and to-do list system. In 1952, he brought Lawyer’s Day to Dorney Printing to produce. As they built that business, they created other lines such as Accountant’s Day and Engineer’s Day. Eventually the business was bought by Dorney Printing, and Day-Timer was formed. In the 1960s, they formed the Day-Timer time management system. Eventually they were bought by Beatrice Foods, and then acquired by American Brands. One of their subsidiaries was ACCO World Corp. They were an office products division of American Brands. We were then a subsidiary of ACCO. ACCO now is a publicly traded company, spun off of Fortune Brands last year. So we are now a subsidiary of ACCO Brands. We distribute products primarily direct, but also through office product superstores, contract stationers, independent and wholesale office product dealers. The primary product is the DAY-TIMER® planner.
CS: What are your primary customer demographics?
EB: Professionals from a wide range of industries. People who lead busy lives at home and/or work. A lot of people try to manage both with the same planning vehicle. They’re people who seek to manage their time more effectively, who might be looking for a better work/life balance, more success, less stress, more peace of mind.
CS: How many employees do you have?
EB: Approximately 400. They’re involved in manufacturing, because we do a lot of our own printing of the Day-Timer product. We also have our own fulfillment, IT, telemarketing, merchandising, advertising, marketing and administration. We have more employees than your average direct marketer because we are both manufacturers and marketers.
CS: How did you get into direct marketing/cataloging?
EB: My first involvement was in 1968. I ran the catalog sales office in the Arlington, Va.-based Sears store, which had its own telephone reps and pick-up counter. It involved customer service and telephone ordering, and was a significant part of the store’s business, probably about $15 million a year. I left the Sears retail store management program to get an MBA from the University of Virginia. After graduating from UVA, I went back to work for Sears in Chicago in a product management program. After a series of different assignments there, I was made assistant catalog marketing manager for bedspreads and draperies. The catalog marketing manager of the department had his own personal problems and was basically on leave for most of the time I was there. So, de facto, I was the catalog marketing manager for the largest catalog department in Sears. I did well in the assignment and it was a big break for me. That’s when I really got interested in catalog, because in catalog we would make our decisions, present our plan and it was done. In retail we would finalize our plan at headquarters, then go out and re-sell the program to the retail field. So it was up to the 13 different regions in the country as to how they were going to implement the plan that was already approved in Chicago. I liked catalog marketing because we built the plan, implemented it and evaluated it. Whereas in retail, you never knew how it was going to be executed.
Following that assignment in bedspreads and draperies, I had assignments in retail marketing and human resources. I was then promoted to the group catalog marketing manager for four different merchandise departments. I basically did the merchandising for those departments, which included business equipment, sporting goods, toys, and food, which involved seasonal books, targeted catalogs, as well as the big books. As part of a reorganization of the company, I was promoted to national manager responsible for the Sears catalog planning, market development, database, catalog production and distribution.
CS: What was your biggest challenge at Sears?
EB: The biggest challenge I had was after Sears brought in an outside consultant who concluded that there was little synergy between Sears catalog and retail. I really disagreed with their conclusion: the decision was made to split the catalog business from the retail business. Spinning off and eventually abandoning the catalog business was akin to a catalog company spinning off their e-commerce business. They lost the impact of being multichannel marketers. So I left Sears and went to Lab Safety Supply. That was 1990. Lab Safety was an entrepreneurial organization. Decision making was fast. They were on a growth curve. It was an exciting business. After three years there, I accepted the position of vice president at Moore Medical, and general manager of their Professional Division. We were marketing medical products to office-based physicians, surgical centers, occupational health professionals, schools, correctional facilities. Moore had identified the Professional Division as their primary growth opportunity. In many respects it was a turnaround situation. It required a repositioning of the company: upgrading the quality image, redoing the packaging, bringing in new direct marketing disciplines, changing the whole advertising and production process, and developing a plan. It was a real chance to build a business and see the results. It was pretty exciting.
CS: Over the course of your career, what do you think was the biggest challenge you had to face?
EB: I think the biggest challenge has been how to generate profitable growth. In some situations, it has been relatively clear-cut, and the plan for growth depends more on blocking and tackling than in redefining the strategic direction. In most situations, however, it’s much more complicated. The strategies and tactics for growth differ with each situation. The competitive situation is different. The positioning of the company is different. The available resources and the customers all are different. Day-timers has the resources and the infrastructure to support growth. That was one of the attractions for me to come to Day-Timers. They want to grow the business, and I think I can help them do that.
CS: If you can pick out one thing, what’s the biggest business mistake you ever made, and how did you deal with it?
EB: I’m not sure it’s a catalog mistake, but a management mistake. Trying to do too much. You develop a plan, then as opportunities come along, you add more to your plate. I think I learned fairly early on that you have to focus on the plan you’ve got and stick to it. Otherwise you’re overtaxing your staff, and you’re confusing them as to what the priorities really are. Build a plan and make sure it’s fully integrated across the entire organization. Yes, there will be changes, but they can’t be frequent, and they can’t destroy the basics of the plan you already have in place.
CS: What are some key points to your success in cataloging?
EB: I’ve been involved with a number of companies at a senior management level - Sears, Lab Safety, Moore Medical, Quill, J.C. Whitney, my own consulting business, and now Day-Timers. While there are many factors that contribute to catalog success, I think having an intense customer focus and an in-depth understanding of the market is essential. You can’t be effective in managing a catalog business by just having exceptional direct marketing skills, but you clearly need to understand the specific market of which you’re a part. I think one of the mistakes that Sears made is that if you were a buyer of tires, you could be just as good a buyer of women’s foundation garments. And that’s just not true, because you have to really understand the market inside and out. With an intense customer focus, you not only understand what they’re buying, but why they’re buying it.
Secondly I’d say a key to my success has been in developing a plan - one that involves innovation, creativity, that focuses on sales and profit drivers, and that seeks the input of the entire organization.
The third key to my success has been in communicating the plan to each person that plays a part in the implementation of the plan and that is impacted by its success or failure.
And the fourth key to my catalog success has been leadership. You can have a plan sitting there, but if you don’t get it done within the organization, nothing’s going to happen. The ability to achieve success within a specific company depends on a lot of variables: resources, receptivity to change, teamwork, culture. But customer focus, planning and communication capability, and leadership are critical.
CS: What about the catalog business appeals to you?
EB: Catalogs need to be viewed in the context of multichannel marketing. I’ve liked the catalog for years, but when the Internet came along, it really made it more exciting. It’s a much more complicated and higher potential business now that there are more channels to integrate the catalog with. In and of itself, I like the catalog because you can sit down and plan, and measure and make your next plans. But it’s more than just liking the catalog business. I’ll refer back to what I really like about direct marketing; identifying growth opportunities, developing plans for growth and not just tweaking the dials. If I’ve been in positions that are more in a maintenance mode, I really don’t get the emotional charge that I get if I’m trying to rebuild or build a business. You’ve got to be emotionally involved if you’re in a leadership position.
I like coming up with new ideas, and I like working for people who let me do that. If I get a micromanager that doesn’t give me the freedom to act, I haven’t had what I would call a successful working relationship with them. If you want to have that kind of environment to work in, there are some places where you just won’t fit, and that’s happened to me on more than one occasion.
CS: Have you had any mentors in the business?
EB: You don’t work at Sears for 20 years without getting a number of them. I’d say Robert E. Wood II and Gene Harmon. Bob Wood was in administration, marketing, and merchandising, and Gene Harmon was in human resources. I worked for both of them. Their integrity, thought processes, brilliance, and guidance made them exceptional. They were just incredible guys. Within the direct marketing industry, I’d list Bob DeLay, former president of The DMA and Jonah Gitlitz, former president of the DMA. Actually, I served on The DMA board of directors under both of them.
I’ve been involved in The DMA in many aspects. Been on the board twice, a couple of task forces; recycled paper, new media, hall of fame committee, government affairs committee. I think if you’ve involved in the industry, you’ve got to give back to it. Serving on some of those committees certainly gives you a way to do that. I’ve always tried to be innovative, creative, and come up with new ways of solving problems. I guess that’s why I like the business.
CS: Do you have any advice how people can give back to the industry?
EB: They should get involved in some of The DMA councils, some of their local groups, such as the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing, Philadelphia’s got one, New England’s got one. I would say start there. But also, if the company is a member of the DMA, get on one of the councils. That’s where they do the grunt work, that’s where you meet a lot of people, do a lot of networking. You’re not going to start out on the board. But regardless of the level you’re at, I think you learn more, you trade ideas. I think it’s important that the people who work for me get involved with the DMA or other direct marketing organizations. That’s my life story.
CS: You’ve moved around a lot, working for Sears in Arlington, Va., working for Sears in Chicago, but where did you grow up?
EB: Evanston, Ill.
CS: So coming to work for Sears was a homecoming of sorts.
EB: Oh yeah, it actually was. My wife got a job at Northwestern, in Evanston, so we ended up here. That was after going to school in upstate New York at Colgate, then working in Virginia for a couple of years, then back to Chicago. A couple of positions, including the one I’m in now, involved commuting. Now I’m often between Chicago and East Texas, Pa.
CS: What are some of your hobbies?
EB: I like golf and platform tennis. I try to excel at those, with declining success. But I’m very involved in building affordable, barrier-free housing for people with disabilities. I’ve been on the board of a group called the Over the Rainbow Association, which builds and manages apartment buildings, primarily for people who use wheelchairs for mobility. We have two buildings currently, one in Chicago, one in Evanston and three that are being built. One in Waukegan, Ill, which should open up by the end of the year. One in Matteson, Ill. and one in Rockford, Ill.
CS: When did you become involved in that?
EB: In 1996. A friend I used to work with at Sears, whose son has cerebral palsy hooked me into it. He convinced me that I should be chairman when the previous chairman left.
CS: What is platform tennis?
EB: It’s an outdoor game, you play all winter. It’s half the size of a tennis court, with a screen around it. Sort of a hard-core foam ball, with paddles; some people call it paddle tennis. It’s a doubles game, basically. You play off the screens. It’s a great way to pass the winter. I used to play raquetball a lot, but sooner or later your knees start going, but with platform tennis you can get a good partner and let him do most of the work.