Wegener Drops 2 Million Multi-Firm Books in Czech Republic

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PRAGUE, the Czech Republic -- Wegener Direct Marketing dropped two million copies of an eight-page, full color catalog last month that listed products some 26 Czech and foreign companies sell here by mail.

Wegener, a Dutch pan-European DM company that entered the Czech market last January through purchase of Interpost Prague, a company owned by the Dutch post office, plans to drop a second edition of "The Information Service" in January.

The book is distributed as unaddressed mail with carefully selected regions that avoid depressed areas. Wegener does not use the Czech Post because delivery is not guaranteed.

"If our mail isn't delivered then it's our problem, so we use Dillex here in Prague, an alternative distribution company with a countrywide network," Heide Stone, Wegener's managing director here, said.

"The Czech postman is the lowest paid employee in this country. He gets $100 a month so understandably he does not like getting more mail to deliver."

The book is patterned after Gail Baird's "Shop the World by Mail," but is not limited to catalogs. "We include all different kinds of companies, from insurance, book clubs and publishers to CDs and solariums," Stone said.

Readers Digest is offering a cookbook in the current issue of Information Service, Les Trois Suisse pushes French fashion, the National Geographic and Newsweek subscriptions. A Czech company sells solariums and Warner a Czech-dubbed video of "Free Willy III."

Most items in the book are in Czech or dubbed in Czech. Warner has a warehouse in the country for its videos. Newsweek and National Geographic are in English and mailed into the country. Erotica is a best seller.

"We limit each company to a quarter page," Stone said. "If we used different sizes consumers would get confused and won't bother reading the information we provide. A half page doesn't increase response. It just costs more."

A central reply card is put inside the book on which the customer can list his purchases and return it to Wegener. He must put the equivalent of a 12 cent stamp on it documenting that "these are serious people."

Although cheap, payment of postage assures companies who advertise in The Information Service that they are getting "quality response," meaning people who want to buy.

Stone does not use phone numbers in the items featured in her book because she feels that "people would stop flipping through the catalog looking for something else."

And she added that "we never put the same kinds of products next to each other - not two mail order companies, two magazines or two CD companies."

Once the card is returned "we input all the data on the card, turn around and output it to all our clients in the data format they want - Excel, tape, labels or e-mail. The idea being that if clients can't use names right away they can store them."

Exporting data abroad is not a problem in the Czech Republic where data protection rules aren't as harsh as in neighboring Germany and Hungary.

Base price for each entry is 215,235 Czech crown ($7,107) but an automatic 15 percent media discount knocks the cost down to 182,950 crowns ($6,098). Setting up a database costs 14,000 crowns ($466) and Wegener charges 10 crowns (33 cents)per response.

Wegener uses "The Information Service" concept in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, where it was launched this year. The Dutch edition is the largest with 24 pages. In the UK Wegener has a different style booklet in a joint venture with a British company.

Wegener also inherited a subscription catalog from Interpost that was launched in April 1996 and is now in its sixth edition. That catalog features mainstream books like Time, Newsweek, Business Week and the Economist.

Stone said that "our regulars" reported growth rates as high as 60 percent in the Czech market since they began advertising in the subscription catalog. It is sent out twice a year, one in April and the other in late October.

The book is mailed to 100,000 business addresses. "We get some of our names from Resources, a local company started by an American woman. She has the top 1,000 Czech companies with the names of the top five people. She also maintains a list of the 700 foreign firms active here."

Wegener rents other lists from a variety of sources - western chambers of commerce all have good lists, "and we use various list suppliers and test to see how well they perform," she said.

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