A Chat with John Economaki, Founder and President, Bridge City Tool Works
CS: You've said you don't think of your books as traditional catalogs, but how many mailings are you doing per year?
JE: We do about six of those "sneak preview" books every year. I don't know how familiar you are with the math in direct marketing, but we look at the economies of scale on a modern printing press, with eight-page signatures. It only take two pages for us to sell a dead-blow mallet, but when you look at what it costs us to send two pages versus 12 pages or 32 pages, you realize you need the longer book. We still have a product line we like to keep in production. So, while we don't have a big book in production any more, we created this 24 or 32 page book, 80 percent of which is proprietary products, and the rest at the back is just cool stuff that I like. And my customers over the years have come to find out that I don't recommend junky stuff.
As a side story, I'll tell you that in 1972, I was watching "60 Minutes" and Morley Safer interviewed this guy and his son who invented this paper airplane that flew like no other paper airplane. And Morley Safer launched this airplane in Central Park in New York City, and when his seven- or eight- or 10-minute piece was over, the plane still hadn't come down. So I thought, "Wow!" He said that after the commercial break they'd show us how to fold it. So, I'm a 22-year-old guy, and I got a whole bunch of paper, but it went way too fast. And that was that. But then in 1988, I was in a bookstore and I see this paperback book called "The Paper Airplane Featured on 60 Minutes." I thought that was the most genius title I'd ever seen. So I bought it, and it was that airplane and it worked great. I said, I'm going to put this in my catalog. We sold 25,000 copies.