From the East Bloc and Beyond
To say Sovietski Collection catalog has a unique niche would be an understatement. Indeed, a quick flip through its pages is like taking a whirlwind trip around the former East Bloc.
Its product selection includes militaria, such as Soviet MiG pilot helmets and copper diving helmets, Russian submarine clocks, East German tank commander binoculars and field phones. There’s also hand-crafted Polish sabers and Czech walking sticks, Lomonosov porcelain tableware, Romanian crystal goblets and Russian-made woolen shawls.
The catalog even features a genuine Soviet “Strizh” spacesuit complete with communications helmet and umbilical life-support interfaces.
Sovietski sells merchandise and artifacts sourced primarily from Europe and the central Asian republics of the former USSR, but it specializes in products produced during the Cold War under state-planned economies. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, many of these products came onto the market, and Mitch Siegler, president of the
San Diego, CA-based Sovietski Collection catalog, has brought them to American consumers.
“More than 80 percent of our product offerings are unique to our catalog,” says Siegler, who does double duty as chief buyer. “We tend to avoid products that are sold by the millions.” Instead, he seeks items that often are problematic for other catalogers, such as heavy or bulky merchandise that’s difficult to ship, products that need long lead times and limited-edition items. “Our product selection, no doubt, has helped us remain competitive,” says Siegler.
The catalog’s primary customer demographic is comprised of 35- to 55-year-old men (which means they grew up during the Cold War). In addition, customers are interested in history, and have traveled or served overseas at some point, says Siegler. The housefile, available for rent through list broker Walter Karl, includes 50,000 12-month buyers and 80,000 24-month buyers.
Siegler’s partner, a Moscow-based company, helps him locate and source interesting and salable merchandise from Russia. Siegler also has developed a wide network of dealers from all over the world—and primarily in the former Soviet states—who know what he likes. “They call us whenever they find surplus items in a warehouse,” he says.