Profile on Plow & Hearth--Reaping What You Sow (2,623 words)
Plow & Hearth covers high-end home and garden turf. Its product line overlaps with L.L. Bean Home and Camp, Eddie Bauer Home, Alsto's, Sporty's and Gardener's Supply, although none is a direct competitor. For example, while Plow & Hearth still carries garden supplies, the catalog also sells grape arbors and teak porch swings instead of rototillers and organic compost. And while it still offers items for wood stoves and fireplaces, many of the hand-forged tools, screens and andirons are as beautifully decorative as they are practical.
A Database Kindles Growth
After reaching a circulation of 15 to 20 million in 1994, the next stage in Plow & Hearth's growth wasn't increasing the quantity of mailings, but improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the books it did mail. The spark? Database management.
"I came on board as the company started to hit its stride from a merchandising standpoint," says David Hay, director of database management for Plow & Hearth. "There were several factors that led to growth."
Hay began working with Plow & Hearth's upscale Charlottesville, VA, retail store when he was a student at the University of Virginia. He came into the burgeoning database department in 1994, a momentous year in the progression of the company.
"In 1994, we developed an in-house marketing database and promotions reporting system that gave us a good handle on the business," says Hay. "That same year, we were one of the original beta test sites for ModelMax," predictive modeling software from Pittsburgh-based database software company ASA (Advanced Software Applic-ations). "In conjunction with our database, ModelMax helped us really manage our buyer file."
In 1998, the company mailed about 30 million catalogs—not an astounding increase, but Plow & Hearth's sales topped $60 million in revenues, showing improved profitability. By taking control of data, Plow & Hearth has concentrated on the half-million 12-month buyers in its 1.5-million name house file. It also has developed sound models to take better advantage of co-op databases and other prospecting efforts.