A Chat With May’s Profile, Suzanne Vlietstra, president of Hobby Horse Clothing Co.
CS: What’s the catalog’s circulation?
SV: About 130,000. But remember those catalogs really drive sales into our stores, too. We have about 130 stores. We have this dealer network that we do a lot of marketing for them. A lot of consumers get our catalog and then go trotting into their local retailer to buy it. So compared to a pure-play cataloger that mails catalogs and gets the orders, we know that we drive a ton of sales into our stores. But we can’t prove it. One thing we’ve done when you talk about cataloging creativity … we have a clever little thing that we’re trying to do to prove that we’re driving those sales in. All of our garments that we sell have hang tags, all those things you rip off the sleeves. We have a contest [done online] on our hang tags that says, “Register the garment to win a $250 dollar gift certificate every month.” We don’t get a lot of entries, but it’s proving we can now close that loop and prove that we mailed a catalog to Jane Doe, Jane Doe went to Bobby’s Western wear and bought the shirt. And then Jane Doe registered the shirt she bought at Bobby’s Western wear, registers it with us, we can prove that our catalog mailing drove that sale.
CS: In essence, a matchback process?
SV: Yes, but it’s like a physical one out of a store. It’s a tiny sampling, but it’s a start. And again, for a company our size, we could’ve never done stuff like that before the Internet. It’s so automated for us. I mean, we’ve got eight people. We don’t have people asking or taking phone calls on where you bought your shirt?
CS: What do you like most about the catalog business?
SV: Well, I’m pretty much flabbergasted that it works. To me it’s fun. Because I do kind of feel like Lillian Vernon sometimes. When I was a little kid I’d always send off for stuff from Boxtops and it was so exciting to get something. And I still mail checks out for stuff. I’m not that digital. And for me it’s a fun way to do commerce. We get a ton of consumer feedback — we call them “Hobby Love Letters.” I get them almost every single day with somebody saying, “Thank you for offering this product,” “Thank you for making plus-size show apparel.” Remember those demographics I gave you for our clients, not only are they getting older and richer, but they’re getting bigger. We do a pretty good job of accommodating that larger woman and helping her feel stylish in her sport.
We get a ton of consumer feedback. I’m very hooked in to what people are saying about us, even when they yell at me. And I find that it’s a lot of stimulation and verification. It’s really enjoyable. It’s very different than if you were just sending your stuff out to the stores. The consumers talk to us a ton. I love seeing our products help people compete in their sport. That’s really enjoyable.
And in fact I have a little fable on that. People ask me sometimes, like on an airplane or something, “What do you do?” And I look at them and I say, “I sell magic feathers.” And they go “Oh,” and kind of move away. Then usually people say, “Well, what do you mean?” And I say, “Well, I have a little manufacturing business and we make Western wear for people that compete in horse shows.” And it’s kind of like the Disney classic movie “Dumbo” where we know elephants can’t fly but Dumbo believes that if he held the magic feather that Timothy the Mouse gave him, if he held that magic feather he could fly. And the products that we make help the people that use them believe they can really compete and fly in their sport. And it’s very, very rewarding.