Three Tips from Catalog Veteran Morlee Griswold, Catalog Director, Patagonia
From starting a mail-order video company when she was in graduate school to running the catalog business for $250 million outdoor gear multichannel marketer Patagonia, Morlee Griswold has had plenty of experience selling direct. Following are her tips on how to get started, and succeed, in the catalog business:
For new catalogers:
Work with the best vendors available. “Network ahead of time, get good recommendations and really do your homework before you choose your vendors,” Griswold says. Since each piece of the direct marketing puzzle has become so specialized, it’s likely that a small catalog startup will need to rely heavily on vendors and/or partners. “If they don’t do the best job for you, it’s really the difference between making and breaking it,” she adds.
Moderate and steady wins the race. “Successful direct marketing is mainly about just plodding along,” Griswold notes. “If you add 5 percent to 10 percent to your housefile every year, that moderate, steady growth will serve you well.” Her basics for steady growth are as follows: 1) Get the printed pieces in the mail. 2) Be ready and able to answer phones and take orders — which means having a 24/7 Web site ordering mechanism and an overflow call center. 3) And be prepared to ship the merchandise.
Interestingly, even established catalog companies can make mistakes following these steps. In the past year, Patagonia cut catalog circulation by one-third in favor of e-marketing, only to find sales drop. Further, Patagonia’s twice annual closeout sales have been so popular, the company’s Web site has threatened to crash under the load. And lastly, the success of one new product line was so great, Griswold says that the company’s warehouse had difficulty getting the orders out the door in a timely fashion. The lesson here is that everyone makes mistakes on the path to growth. Patagonia has taken steps to solve each of these problems as they’ve cropped up, and still manage to grow the business.
For established catalogers:
Build a robust database. More than the typical demographics of age, gender and income level, a robust database needs to be able to show what products customers are purchasing, where the customers live and whether there’s seasonality to their purchases, Griswold points out. “Once you have those things, you can use it for merchandising, marketing, financial planning and every other aspect of your business,” she says.