A Chat with John Economaki, Founder and President, Bridge City Tool Works
© Profile of Success, Catalog Success magazine, March 2006
Interview by Matt Griffin
Catalog Success: When was the catalog established?
John Economaki: Bridge City Tool Works began with a single space ad in the November/December 1983 issue of Fine Woodworking.
CS: What is your primary merchandise?
JE: A proprietary line of non-powered, precision woodworking hand tools.
CS: What is your annual circulation?
JE: We no longer produce a "catalog" per se. One of the realities we faced post 9/11 was the contraction of our market. Today we mail several smaller 16-to-32 page offers with total circulation less than 1 million pieces.
CS: How did the company/catalog get started?
JE: I had a career as a furniture designer/maker in the 1970s and I was doing rather well. Then all of a sudden I developed double pneumonia and through that healing process, I was told I had to find another line of work. I had made my own tools, designed tools, because I used to teach school, and I designed tools for the kids to make. And I thought, I can't be the only guy who likes to work with well-made tools.
So I took an ad out in a magazine in 1983 for two tools. The ad cost $2,700; it was a one-third page vertical, and I received about $2,700 in orders. I was ecstatic because I was so naive. I thought I had broken even, until I realized I needed to make the things. It was enlightening. I didn't make any money on it, but it was really encouraging to know there were indeed people who were interested in that. As you might imagine, for every order I got, I got 10 requests for a catalog and when you have only two items, it's hard to put together a catalog. So I quickly decided to put together three more things and took the $2,700 I got and reinvested that into a catalog concept, which really, basically, was a card for each tool, which was ridiculously expensive. But the cool thing was that my customers liked it; it was different. We just sort of snowballed.