A Chat with August’s Profile, Chris Harris, director, direct response marketing, Becker Group Direct
Catalog Success: Where’s the company headquartered?
Chris Harris: It’s in Baltimore, Maryland.
CS: What’s your customer demographic?
CH: It’s a B-to-B client, which is primarily indoor malls, interior designers, the hospitality industry and retail chains.
CS: What’s the primary merchandise offered in the catalog?
CH: We sell commercial-grade holiday and theme décor. If you’re decorating an indoor mall or storefront, you’re going to want to buy around Christmas time or Easter or any holiday … you’re going to want to buy our theme décor products.
CS: Do you strictly sell to businesses?
CH: No, we do sell B-to-C. But certainly the customer expectations, or the buying expectations, change dramatically. We deal with a higher volume order when dealing with the business clients. And we’re just, while we could probably handle a much more significant B-to-C client base from a fulfillment standpoint, we’re really not geared towards that. And our product tends to be a little more expensive because it’s commercial grade.
CS: When was the company founded? Did it mail catalogs right away?
CH: The company was founded, I think it’s 1953. It’s a very interesting story. A fellow started the business, Gordon Becker, hence the name Becker Group, and he actually founded it to help put himself through school — make some extra money on the side. And what he was doing was he was dressing up as Santa Claus and being hired by kind of local merchants and retailers around Christmas time. And he’s a very outgoing, personable guy, and he did very well as Santa. And they said, “Gordon, you’re fantastic, do you have some friends? Can we hire more Santas from you?” So he started hiring more Santas. And then next thing you know they were saying, “Gordon, can you start building a little scene around Santa?”
It just so happened that the indoor mall industry was kind of growing up and taking off at the same time. So Gordon was kind of in the right place at the right time. And he was very good at what he did so he built this whole business. Essentially, kind of the whole indoor mall holiday décor industry built up around Gordon Becker.
The indoor malls that you go to where there’s a Santa Claus probably has its lineage going back to Gordon Becker in some way. What happened was the indoor malls would start buying a Santa set and then it would become a winter wonderland, decorating the entire mall, and then they would say the next year, “Gordon, we love your stuff, the problem is when we were storing it we kind of broke some of the ornaments or the lights, or we need more of them.”
That’s where the catalog side started. It started off as kind of a replenishment division or department. It kept growing and growing and then, because there are a limited number of indoor malls, they started saying, “OK, we need to bring someone in who is a direct marketing professional to take us from being a kind of a replenishment division into becoming a direct marketing division.” And that’s when I came in, which was at the end of 2005.