Profile of Success: All Eyes on the Road
WHAT GOT HIM HERE: A failed retail venture. After a toy store in San Francisco in the late 1980s went under, Bauschinger was left unemployed and virtually broke.
“I was bankrupt, and the only idea I had at the time was, well, ‘there are these little Schuco [international toy manufacturer] cars and a lot of residents,’” Bauschinger recalls. So he took the little money he had left and placed a two-column, 6-inch coupon ad in the western edition of The New York Times to market the remaining inventory of toy cars. Response to the ad was much better than he ever could’ve imagined, allowing his company to raise some money, add products and establish a name.
As for Deutsche Optik, Bauschinger noted similarities between that book and Lilliput, and the comparable customer demographics. So he felt a merger would benefit both. In 2004 he bought the catalog from its founder and owner, Mike Rifkin.
WHAT APPEALS TO HIM MOST ABOUT THE CATALOG/MULTICHANNEL BUSINESS: The direct, immediate interaction with customers that catalogs provide. “I don’t have to stand behind a counter and wait for somebody to come in and buy something,” Bauschinger says.
By dealing in two distinctly niche markets — toy cars and sporting optics — mailing catalogs has allowed Bauschinger to get his products in front of his target audiences. “In any given area, you only have a limited demographic that might be interested in what you do,” he explains. “So brick-and-mortar seemed like the wrong thing for a niche business. Here I have my choice.”
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE AFFECTING HIM AND OTHER CATALOGERS TODAY: “Terminal sameness.” All of the catalogs Bauschinger receives today are the same, he laments, with the same products. To prevent his books from being infected with this malady, Bauschinger travels the world in search of unique products. “Every catalog has new products in it,” he notes. “I spend a good third of the year looking for new products.”
WHAT FACTORS HAVE MADE HIS BUSINESS SUCCESSFUL: Hard-to-find products. His catalogs are popular for their designs and copywriting, but Bauschinger says, “The thing in both cases is that the products are unique. We always ask, ‘Where else are you going to get it?’”
WHERE HE WOULD BE IF HE WEREN'T IN THE CATALOG/MULTI-CHANNEL BUSINESS: There are many possibilities, but Bauschinger doubts he’d be as happy. “I like what I’m doing,” he says. “I get out of the office often enough — I have a house in Hungary and an apartment in Germany. I travel worldwide and have friends everywhere. Things are hunky-dory.”
To read or listen to the full interview, click on the links under Related Content, above-right.