Profile of Success: Experimenting with Time
HOW HE GOT STARTED IN THE CATALOG BUSINESS: Burns began his career with another science cataloger, Science Kit. Working in its bid sales group, he handled all the contracts and line-item bids with schools and school districts. Much of the educational market buys its science products via the bid process, Burns notes. (Science Kit acquired Edmund Scientific in 2001, and both are independently operated divisions of VWR Corp.) Following a brief hiatus with an Internet firm, Burns returned to cataloging in 2004 to become the brand manager of Edmund Scientific. He’s been with VWR for 10 years.
WHAT CHALLENGES HE FACED UPON HIS RETURN TO CATALOGS: Stagnant growth. Following Edmund’s acquisition in 2001, Science Kit wasn’t realizing the growth it had anticipated. “So I came in to ramp up growth,” Burns says. “The plan was to shift it from a catalog business supported by a Web site, to a Web-based business driven by the catalog.”
HOW HE HANDLED THIS CHALLENGE: A return to basics. Noting that the catalog's merchandise — telescopes, optics, microscopes, science toys and other items — hadn’t changed much in the past 50 years, Burns returned to what made the brand successful in the past.
“Those product categories have made advances. The technology has changed. But it’s still very similar to the catalogs from 50 years ago,” Burns says. “So I just tried to get back to what the brand always had been about and found new things that would support it.”
WHAT HIS BIGGEST MISTAKE WAS AND HOW HE SOLVED THE PROBLEM: Not having a complete understanding of the customer. Looking for a way to make the catalog more appealing and less dense, Burns eliminated product dimensions (sizes: length, width, height, diameter, weight) from all copy in the fall of 2004.
“I quickly found out that was a mistake,” Burns recalls, and he quickly added the dimensions back to the copy in the spring of 2005. “That’s one of the first things our customers want to know when they’re looking at something — what its dimensions are. So I had to go back and fix all that product copy where I had lifted the dimensions.”
WHAT APPEALS TO HIM MOST ABOUT THE CATALOG/MULTICHANNEL BUSINESS: Childhood memories. Even as a young boy, Burns had a penchant for mail order. “When I was a kid, I used to love mail ordering,” he says. “I’d collect Bazooka Joe comics and try to get the kazoo or the whistle that you got if you sent in a buck and 100 Bazooka Joes. So just the whole idea of mail order was always appealing to me.”
WHO HIS MENTORS OR PRIMARY INFLUENCES ARE IN THE CATALOG BUSINESS: “I don’t know him personally, but Robert Edmund is somewhat of a legend in the direct marketing industry,” Burns says. “Otherwise, I look at old catalogs and listen to what life-long customers say and what industry veterans tell me at conferences, and try to stay true to the brand.”
To read or listen to the full interview, visit CatalogSuccess.com and find Profile of Success (Complete Interview): A Chat with Tim Burns.