Lessons From Spiegel
April 1, 2003

Misfortune and miscalculations led to the bankruptcy filing last month of the Spiegel Group, parent company of the Spiegel and Newport News catalogs and Eddie Bauer. It’s hard to watch the unraveling of such a venerable company as Spiegel. What lessons can other catalogers take away from this story? Understand that private-label credit cards are a risky business. Analysts estimated customers’ recent default rates at 17 to 20 percent of all Spiegel credit card receivables, noted a report in the New York Times. In all, 41 percent of purchases companywide and 73 percent from the Spiegel catalog were made with the private-label credit

How to Waste Your Marketing Dollars
March 1, 2003

When you call a catalog advertising agency, designer or copywriter, you expect to have things your way. After all, you have the cash. While you certainly can have things your way, the strongest-selling catalogs generally are those in which the cataloger has worked as a partner with — not a dictator to — the creative team. How can you bring a detailed knowledge of your product line and customers to the table, without smothering the creative process with non-negotiable rules? Following are four guidelines that may help. 1. Leave your quirks at the door. A national manufacturer with a highly respected brand launched

Catalog Start-ups: What You Need to Know
February 1, 2003

If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success. —John D. Rockefeller Building wealth by starting a catalog is the stuff of legends. The reality, as you know, is much different. Having inadequate financing from the start is a blueprint for failure. Yet, having adequate financing and deep pockets doesn’t guarantee your success either. Sure, cataloging is fun and exciting, and it can be rewarding. My intent is not to scare readers away from the prospect of starting a catalog from scratch. Rather, I want to make you

Be a Survivor
October 1, 2002

The most unlucky cataloger I ever knew was a food cataloger who watched helplessly in 1994 as its retail store in Northridge, CA, turned to rubble in a disastrous earthquake. A year later, the same cataloger was again forced to watch as its retail store in Japan literally slid into the ocean in the Kyoto earthquake. Next time you think the gods have singled out your catalog for special torment, remember this cataloger. Cataloging has seen its share of recent collapses and closures (e.g., Fingerhut, Springhill Nursery, Willis & Geiger, Balduccis). Several others have come right to the brink of disaster before

The New Focus: Corporate Citizenship
October 1, 2002

Perhaps it’s the image of CEOs and CFOs being led away in handcuffs, or the new corporate fraud bill hastily signed into law during the summer, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about corporate responsibility. And apparently I’m not alone. Two reports on the topic recently crossed my desk. A study from The Conference Board found that more and more company executives are accepting corporate responsibility as a new strategic and managerial function—complete with bottom-line repercussions—that requires their attention. The other report, this one a Jericho Communications survey of 264 Fortune 1000 CEOs, found that 36 percent of respondents said

Ingredients for a Catalog Startup
September 1, 2002

The desire to create something, to invent something, was Eileen Spitalny’s dream since high school. “It was in the back of my mind in college that I wanted to start a business. I worked at the entrepreneur program at USC, reviewing new business plans, and I found the prospect [of starting a business] very exciting.” Spitalny and childhood friend David Kravetz had an idea for a business since they were kids: to sell David’s mom’s made-from-scratch brownies. They had no idea it would turn into a direct marketing business. Fairytale Brownies—the business Spitalny and Kravetz started in 1992—celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Spitalny

What a Difference a Year Makes
September 1, 2002

As I sit down in mid-August to write this edition of Editor’s Notes, I’m thinking back to last August, specifically to a time before terrorists forever altered our sense of tranquility. Now I’m not one to wax poetic, but I am remembering fondly the days when TV show “survivors” were top of mind instead of all-too-real Middle Eastern terrorist cells and ominous-sounding security measures here at home. I was in New York City recently, and I paid my respects at Ground Zero. The swift clean-up operation going on there is a true testament to our nation’s “can do” attitude. As I stood there

Optimize Your Organizational Structure
June 1, 2002

As catalog companies grow and their business strategies change, having an effective organizational structure can help executives improve results. Of course, the size and complexity of a business will determine how many people are needed to make any structure work. This month, we’ll examine typical organizational structures for catalogs of all sizes and how effective hierarchies can be established. Structures and Teams In a large corporation that has other business units, the front end of a catalog operation—marketing, merchandising and creative—generally reports to a catalog director or vice president. In a more typical catalog operation, they report to a president and/or CEO.

From Salvage to Space
August 1, 2001

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. —Yogi Berra This is the extraordinary story of a family-owned corporation that bailed out of its half-century-old signature business and took off in a whole new and highly profitable direction. In 1942, an avid young amateur photographer named Norman W. Edmund tried to locate good camera lenses. But the war had thrown a wrench into the entire stream of consumer and industrial products. After an exhaustive search, he found a source for his lenses. It occurred to him that other camera buffs may be in the same boat, so the

Selling Your Catalog: Prepare for the End Game
June 1, 2001

Sale, merger, IPO? It’s important to know, from the very inception of your business, how you will exit from it. The end game is a fascinating concept. It is philosophically universal, therefore having definition and meaning relative to life and living, religion, art, war, sports, investments—and ownership of a catalog business. When one thinks of the term “end game,” the two words “end” and “game” should be considered. First, it’s the end of a process, often the sale of a business or the harvest of wealth after a long period of creating and increasing value. Second, it’s a game, that is, a