It must be a sign of the times when even a profitable catalog business can’t sell. That was Sportif USA CEO John Kirsch’s position when I caught up with him just before Thanksgiving. He’d just put the Waterfronts Nautical catalog on the selling block. And as he aimed to sell the 21-year-old nautical-themed apparel catalog started by his father, Kirsch reflected on some hard lessons.
Mark Del Franco
An “October surprise” in political terms means unveiling an unflattering allegation against your rival just before the November election. Although that didn’t happen this year, catalogers, along with the rest of the world, experienced quite an October surprise with the world financial crisis. So a mergers and acquisitions market that was extremely volatile to begin with is shaken to the core. It’s almost impossible for all but the most well-capitalized of marketers to get deals done. The sobering reality is that many will be forced to sell at bargain basement prices or, worse, close their doors. Amid this bleak backdrop, Lee Helman, a partner
On the face of it, there’s never been a better opportunity for buyers of multichannel merchants. The blood’s in the water. While this past summer’s multiples have held steady for most marketers with sales of less than $75 million, the multiples have come down for the best-run companies, according to Stuart Rose, managing director of Wellesley, Mass.-based investment banking firm Tully & Holland. The fact that multiples have shrunk to eight times earnings, down from 10 times earnings, only bolsters the case for buyers. But the sharks aren’t biting — at least not yet. As with the real estate market, prices for dream houses
Eight years ago, Terri Alpert reacted to a serious “holy crap!” moment. It was a reaction that set her company, then known as Professional Cutlery Direct, on a far steadier course than it might have wound up. Alpert uttered the exclamation when she realized that, over a period of time, the high-end kitchenware catalog business she launched in 1993 with less than $10,000, which prided itself on exacting product detail and attentive customer service, was now being more or less duplicated by practically every large retailer from New Haven to Nevada. “Things were looking good at that point, too,” says Alpert, founder/CEO of
The virtually simultaneous bankruptcies of The Sharper Image and Lillian Vernon shouldn’t have surprised anyone. The rules of the game have changed. It started with merchandising. Once the merchandise in these catalogs went stale, both companies entered a dangerous spiral, losing demand per book while driving up marketing costs as a percent of sales. Once demand started to decline, the only lever left was price and reduced marketing costs, both of which lowered gross margins. Starving Margins Gross margins are more important this year than in the past because the Internet has flattened competition among retailers, making the marketplace more efficient every