New! Online-Only Preview of September Cover Story
In the upcoming September issue of Catalog Success, our cover story spotlights Hodges Badge Co., a Portsmouth, R.I.-based B-to-B cataloger of ribbons, rosettes, medals and more. As a sneak preview to that article, here’s a portion of Senior Associate Editor Joe Keenan’s interview with Rick Hodges, president of Hodges Badge, on myriad topics that aren’t addressed in the print edition. Be sure to see the full article coming out next week, which contains a fresh look at how Hodges Badge has used a catalog format change, a new creative approach and some experienced talent to spur growth in its 89th year of business.
Catalog Success: What is Hodges’ sales breakdown by channel?
Rick Hodges: Seventy percent of the orders are still coming over the telephone; the Web site accounts for a little more than 10 percent, and about 7 percent of people are e-mailing their orders in. And like everybody else in the industry, we have huge problems tying back. It’s not really the abandoned shopping carts, because we think we’ve got a good handle on the abandoned cart. It’s how many of the people who are calling us on the telephone did the bulk of their research on the Web site before they picked up the phone?
Anecdotally, I think it’s high. It used to take us an average of two calls to get an order. We’re down to just over one. In the old days, the thing you heard from the call-center reps was, “All I ever get is questions.” Now they [customers] seem to be getting their questions answered online, or in the catalog, before they call. But we’re not mailing vastly higher numbers of catalogs, so my guess is they’re getting them [answers to their questions] online. We’re somewhere around 300 visits a day online, with the average visitor looking at almost 17 pages and hanging around for seven-and-a-half minutes. So I don’t know how those compare with industry statistics, but if I can get anybody to look at 16 pages on my site before they leave, I think they’re fairly interested.
CS: You then still attribute the majority of your sales to the catalog?
RH: Yes. If I look at the top revenue sources using Google Analytics, 35 percent of the revenue is coming from people who accessed our site directly; 33 percent is coming through Google organic search, and when I do the tracking back on that, most of them are going to Google and typing in “Hodges Badge,” “Hodges Badges,” “Hodges Ribbons,” “Hodges Badge Company,” “Hodges Badge Co.,” “Hodges Awards.” They seem to know what they’re looking for. Pay per click is 8 percent, so not a huge portion of the revenue. People seem to know what they want.
That’s what’s weird about this business. If I send you a catalog and you’re not holding an event, the chance of you ordering a ribbon is essentially zero. That’s not like if somebody sends you another clothing catalog and you flip through it and go, “Hey, that shirt’s pretty cool. Maybe I could use one of those.” Either people have an absolute need for our product, or they have absolutely no need for our product.
That’s always been the difficulty in sourcing lists. There’s no list of people who recently decided to hold an athletic event. The list that we mail that performs the best for us is all the people who ordered from us last year, who haven’t ordered this year, but it’s at least 45 days before their event. We send them a catalog and a letter that says, “Hey, you ordered from us last year. We thought maybe you could use a copy of the catalog.” That performs better than anything else we mail.
CS: What role does the catalog play in your overall marketing efforts?
RH: The catalog is still very much front and center … because of our difficulty in knowing ahead of time who’s going to be having the event and who that person is who’s going online. Like most other catalog companies, I assume, we’re tying to do that multichannel mix. To make sure the Web site is there, make sure we’re easily searched for what we feel are the appropriate terms, and yet still get the catalog out there and have it be the lead thing to get in people’s hands.
CS: What are the top business challenges for Hodges Badge for the rest of this year and into next year?
RH: Dealing with all the inflationary pressures in the marketplace. Continuing to deliver a quality product at a quality price. A small amount of what we get is coming out of China — some of our medals. That’s the extent of what’s coming from offshore. All of our ribbon is coming from U.S. suppliers; most of the metals are coming out of Providence, R.I.
That’s a market that has gotten better for us with the increase in the cost of fuel, because we now can compete more effectively with product that’s got such a long pipeline coming from China. But yeah, we face the same pressures everybody else is facing — our electricity rates just went up 21.7 percent. I don’t know what we’re going to see for bids when we look at next year’s printing costs. I’m sure they’re going to be up. Everybody wants a raise.