Profile: Building a Catalog From the Ground Up
BACKGROUND: In 2000, Kassie Rempel started her own financial planning business, working with five affluent families. In 2002, “One family asked me to work with it full time and help the spouse set up and run an exercise studio and day spa in the D.C. area,” she recalls. The next year, she transitioned out of financial planning and into cataloging.
“The topic was always shoes,” says Rempel, who in ’04 founded the SimplySoles shoe catalog. “I found that I was doing more shopping personally through catalogs and via the Internet,” she says. “I decided that if that’s where I saw myself doing most of my shopping, why not create something that I see myself shopping from?”
BIGGEST INITIAL CHALLENGE: “Educating myself about printers, paper, mailing lists, postal rates, etc.,” she says. “I didn’t realize when I set out to start a catalog just how many hats I would need to wear. Most people tell me that it’s so much easier and cheaper to start a catalog business than to open a bricks-and-mortar store. All of us in this business would beg to differ.”
HOW SHE DEALT WITH IT: Expert advice. She’s tapped her printer, Kaye Sutterer at RR Donnelley, her list broker, Tom Jordan at Jordan Direct, Terri Alpert at gift catalog Uno Alla Volta, and Andrew Newsome at home furnishings catalog, Wisteria.
“I sent Andrew a letter complimenting his catalog and asking for advice on how to start my own,” she recalls. “And he sent back a three-page letter that served as my blueprint.” Meanwhile, Alpert helped Rempel learn the types of financials needed to run a catalog business. “She’s a sounding board, a coach and a cheerleader, and is a large reason for our success.”
CURRENT CHALLENGE: Determining which direction to lead the business and how big to grow it. “Many in the D.C. area have asked me to open a D.C.-area store,” Rempel says, “but I’m not sure if it’s really in the company’s best interest or the right direction. … I’d need to find retail space that has a storefront for our local customers, and with enough square footage to operate all the catalog operations.”
Rempel also is contemplating bringing in investors. “If I want to add new catalog titles, which I think makes sense,” she says, “I’ll probably need to find partners or investors.” She sees complementary accessories as an obvious choice to help the company grow, offering them in a separate catalog spin-off or on additional pages in the existing book.
WHAT ABOUT THE BUSINESS APPEALS TO HER: “I wanted to build a company, not just a store,” she says. “I love the diversity of the responsibilities of owning a catalog. You’re not doing the same thing every day. There’s always a new focus; I never know how my day is going to shape up. I’m a consummate multitasker, so it’s perfectly suited for my personality.”
HOW SHE KEEPS THINGS FUN: Hiring well. “The people I’ve hired … are great at connecting with other people, so we all have fun working together. I confess that we also only have women who share my passion for shoes on staff. It’s not intentional but intuitive, since women seem to be the most interested applicants in working for a company selling women’s shoes.”
Catalog established: September 2004
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
Primary merchandise: designer women’s shoes
# of employees: five — two full-time, three part-time
# of SKUs: 65
Customer demographics: females, ages 30-95; wealthy baby boomers
For the complete interview, click here: Profile of Success (Complete Interview): A Chat with Kassie Rempel.