Using Alternative Media to Build a List
The genesis of a catalog can follow several creative paths. Some catalogs begin as concepts, springing forth full-grown from an entrepreneur’s forehead. Some spin off from retail stores or other catalogs. Others grow organically, often from space ads or a single product offering.
Design Toscano took the last approach. For founder Michael Stopka, “alternative media” isn’t really alternative at all; it’s part of a core strategy for finding prospects for a niche market and converting them into loyal buyers.
Since placing its first space ad in 1990, Design Toscano has grown its revenues to $25 million per year, its house file of buyers to 380,000 and its total inquiry list to 1.3 million. Stopka expects to mail 12 million catalogs in 1999.
Michael Stopka began the catalog, which specializes in garden statuary and European reproductions, with his wife Marilyn while he was finishing up a graduate degree in management information systems in the early 1990s.
“I started basically as a hobby,” he says. “I would go to Europe every year, and I saw that there was a market among Americans for European reproductions.”
A friend of his owned a statuary company, and Stopka began marketing his statues in the backs of magazines and newspapers: Metropolitan Home, House Beautiful, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Traditional Home. He requested $5 per catalog from inquirers, mostly because he was using his friend’s 40-page wholesale catalog rewrapped with his cover at the hefty cost of $3 each.
At first, the company sold all different types of statues, but it became evident that certain product categories—medieval gargoyles, Victorian angels and classical reproductions—made up the bulk of the business.
“In 1993 I hired an agency to put together a catalog that was directed toward the hotter areas,” says Stopka. “We had our first offset job with a print quantity around 300,000.”