Catalog Doctor: How to Grow Your Small Business This Year
PATIENT: "Doc, my small company needs to grow — even this year. But I don't want to branch out recklessly and try to be all things to all people. How can I grow my company, remain relevant, but not lose focus of our unique brand?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "It's possible for a small company to grow, even in today's economy. Look at expanding into new programs while improving existing programs as well. Here are prescriptions for both."
Try selling new services or products to your existing customers first. If your customers want them, it's more likely new prospects will, too — likewise if your customers don't want them. Do the same when upgrading existing programs.
To get an idea of what your customers want, ask them. Surveys are easy and inexpensive nowadays. Try them on the web at checkout, by email or with reply postcards in outgoing orders. (If you survey through the mail, have customers use their own stamps — you'll still get a surprisingly high response.)
Useful questions/comments to research:
- What three new products would you most like to see us offer?
- What are five favorite magazines you regularly read? (Customers' favorite magazines are a good source for design, color and copy treatments for your catalog.)
- List three things you like best about our website.
- List three things you'd most like to see changed on our website.
Build on Uniqueness
Begin any growth program by defining your company's uniqueness. What's the essence of your brand and unique selling proposition? Your unique products, your brand's look and feel, and your set of services are what attracted your customers in the first place. Use your brand as the standard to judge new ideas. Asking, "Is this true to our brand?" will help keep new programs on track.
You don't need to launch a whole new channel to grow. So before you take a big risk in an unknown arena — like building a new brick-and-mortar store — look around. You may find easy and inexpensive opportunities right in front of you. Consider some of these examples:
- New products: Bundle existing products — into a gift basket, for example — or line-list discounts on three-fers: "Save $5 on any 3 colors of this T-shirt."
- Top customer phone line: Do you have an in-house call center? Give your top 50 or 100 customers a direct line to your best customer service rep for special, personal service. Track sales over time for the 50 who got the number and the 50 who didn't, and see which performed better.
- Personalize: Talk to your printer. Many catalogers find that personalization lifts response, some- times significantly.
- Test email frequency: Many companies worry about overemailing, but the right timing can increase sales and delight your customers. Some email delivery providers make it easy to divide your list and test frequency (twice a month vs. weekly, weekly vs. twice weekly, etc.). Optimizing frequency to each customer group is a win-win.
- VIP mailings: Try catalog cover wraps, or 9˝ x 12˝ mailers with a catalog, or a #10 letter mailing. For content, consider a special thanks to your best customers with special offers or services, or volume discounts to get high rollers to buy even more.
- Email append: Do you have many customers on your mailing list without emails? Consider appending email addresses to your list. As a rule of thumb, expect a 50 percent append hit rate and about half the sales response of your regular email names. Follow your email append firm's aggressive opt-out recommendations — don't email names who say "no."
If something's fast, easy and cheap, it's worth doing, even if it lifts response only a fraction of a percent.
A catalog marketer I know decided to increase its green efforts. The company switched to certified forestry-sustainable paper for its catalog, and printed the certified logo on the back cover with a little message. Small changes like this won't deliver a huge lift in response. But they'll likely get some extra orders. That's worth minimal time (maybe four hours) and zero cost.
Likewise, don't assume all growth has to come from what's new. Improvements in existing programs can deliver big dividends like these:
- Top sellers: Are you making a big enough deal out of your best products? You may be tired of them, but new prospects — and yes, old customers — will deliver higher sales when you drive home the great features and benefits of those products in an attention-grabbing way.
- Design: Are you keeping current with what's pleasing and scannable to your customers? Here's where the results of your "magazines I read" survey can pay off.
- Circulation: Have you examined your mail plan lately, or are you rerunning an "old rules" plan? Take a close look at best times and best frequencies. Work aggressively with your prospect list provider to improve selects and models.
Big or small, growth opportunities abound if you look closely. Good luck.
Susan J. McIntyre is founder and chief strategist of catalog marketing and consulting firm McIntyre Direct (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or email@example.com.