Accessory Sales Take Off With Niche Catalog

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The first in a series of niche catalogs by business-to-business cataloger Victorian Heart Co. has resulted in more than a 100 percent increase in accessory sales compared with last summer's Victorian Heart catalog, which featured the company's entire line.


"We used to cram everything into [the catalog], sacrificing quality for quantity," president/CEO Ken Kline said. "Now what we intend to do are smaller books for [specific collections]. The logic is the more times people get something in their mailbox about Victorian Heart, the more opportunities they have to look at the catalog."


Victorian Heart, Branson, MO, sells wholesale to local store owners, small chains and interior decorators. The company dropped 20,000 copies of the first niche catalog, The Lasting Impressions Collection, in March. The book, which highlights the company's line of luxury quilts, is the first of six anticipated smaller books the cataloger will launch this year.


The average sales order has remained stable -- $500 for Lasting Impressions compared with $500 to $600 for the main catalog. But Kline said the accessories in the Lasting Impressions catalog are selling better than they did in the main catalog, and the cataloger has even sold out of a few items. The most popular was its Constance throw and fitted pillow. About 380 throws and 150 pillows were sold in a little more than a month, Kline said.


"It's not massive numbers, but the fact that people are responding to these items are telling me they like the way they are presented," he said.


The 16-page Lasting Impressions catalog, which measures 8 inches by 11 inches, has more than 100 items, uses fewer products per page and showcases quilts, pillows and quilt throws together. The layout, which will be used in all catalogs, offers a better photography display, making the catalog more appealing.


"We used to split the throws and pillows in different categories," Kline said. "Now that we've put them together with the quilts, people seem to be responding well."


Each page of the catalog has four to six photographs -- usually two to four larger pictures with two or three smaller insets. Previous Victorian Heart catalogs had numerous photos on pages, which made the books look cluttered, Kline said. Creating the niche books also will lead to the phaseout of the main Victorian Heart catalog, which could come by year's end.


The company typically mails 60,000 of its main book yearly. It anticipates mailing 75,000 to 80,000 of the niche catalogs.


"One problem we have to address, however, is which customers will get what catalog," Kline said. "Obviously there will be customers receiving certain catalogs that may not fit with what they sell. We're going to look at ways to [segment the customer base] and get the right catalogs to the right customers. Right now we haven't determined how that will be done."


The increase in the number of books mailed also will result in higher production and postage costs, which could rise by 20 percent, Kline said. The costs, however, eventually will even out because of smaller catalog sizes. The main catalog usually has 20 to 24 pages.


The cataloger does not rent lists and relies mostly on advertising in trade publications geared to small, independent retailers. This usually results in 1,000 leads a month, Kline said. The cataloger also regularly attends trade shows -- about 90 a year -- which also produce additional leads.


One item that has not changed in the catalog is the printing of the price list on the same insert as the order form. Previous catalogs had prices listed next to each item, but Kline found it did not appeal to interior decorators, a segment that Victorian Heart wants to build.


"The advantage is, if you're a small business or interior designer, you can show the book to customers without the customers staring at the [wholesale] price. The book has to look good and be functional for them," he said. "At one time we felt we were competing with other wholesalers and we found that it's not to be true. We were competing with Pottery Barn and JCPenney catalogs that sell the same items, and we had to stand out."


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