Case Study - Chinaberry Catalog (2,875 words)
Chinaberry's winning combination:
soft on the outside, savvy on the inside
By Donna Loyle
Imagine for a moment that your catalog company's main competitors are book-selling giants Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The grueling price wars—behemoths battling for market share tend to inflict that on their industries—are driving the smaller
players in your space either to bankruptcy court or to the arms of consolidators.
But through it all, your niche catalog company continues to enjoy annual sales growth of about 13 percent—for 10 years running. And, in all but one of those years, your company recorded healthy profit margins.
Chinaberry, a cataloger specializing in books and other products for children, women and families, combines a carefully selected merchandise lineup with warm customer relations—all layered over a savvy business acumen. The result is a fascinating case study of a successful niche cataloger.
Once Upon a Time
In 1982, Ann Ruethling, a new mother living in Oregon, went scouting for children's books suitable for her 2-year-old daughter. She sought content that was nurturing and uplifting, but what she found left her disappointed. Violence and even abuse ran as undercurrents through many story lines, including Mother Goose classics.
In her ongoing quest for more appropriate reading material, Ruethling visited area libraries and subscribed to children's literature publications. When she found books she liked, she carefully recorded the information on index cards for her own future reference.
"By the time my stack of index cards was several inches high, I realized there were probably a lot of other parents who could greatly benefit from this information," she says.
At first, Ruethling thought of offering the data for free to other parents, but realized they may not have easy access to the books. So she started a catalog company and began selling the books she found. For years, she ran the company out of her home, filling orders from her kitchen table, her children playing at her feet.