Brookstone counts on Abacus

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Specialty retailer Brookstone is coping with the recent postage increase better than some thanks to efforts made over the past couple of years to strengthen its circulation strategy, especially since it selected Abacus to provide 100 percent of its prospecting last fall.

As a result, Brookstone claims to enjoy a stable modeled environment, a universe of names that is understandable in terms of size, a predictable performance and a reduction in the time it takes to get the catalog in the mail, according to Steve August, operational vice president of customer marketing at Brookstone. These efforts, in turn, drive down costs, enabling Brookstone to drop more catalogs and increase response rates.

"The better performance allows us to take that postage increase in a way that we couldn't have otherwise," Mr. August said.

Brookstone's focus currently is on maintaining or even increasing its circulation levels. In January, the company merged its Hard-to-Find and Brookstone catalog titles into one book and didn't reduce circulation at the time, Mr. August said.

Looking toward the fourth quarter, "we believe there are opportunities to increase circulation," he said.

One way the company is bolstering its circulation strategy is by focusing on the relationship between catalogs and the 306 Brookstone stores it operates in malls and airports.

"Youíve got to stay in contact with the retail customer," Mr. August said, adding that the company has expanded its circulation to retail customers over the last four years.

Going forward, Brookstone, Merrimack, NH, plans to use catalogs to drive retail activity by targeting drops to local customers in the areas where it is opening new stores.

The company will mail a full-size catalog with a cover wrap announcing the opening of the store. The wrap will be printed with directions to the mall where the store is located as well as pointers to the location within the mall along with an incentive to visit that store.

"We are aggressively going after new openings with catalogs because we spend so much on mall space," Mr. August said.

The strategy is one favored by other multichannel merchants, including Coldwater Creek and Staples, where Mr. August once worked.

Staples store debuts that received a grand opening campaign which included a catalog mailing were put on a different growth curve than stores that didnít thanks to the viral power of word-of-mouth, he said.

However, like many other multichannel merchants, Brookstone is also taking a hard look at its Internet marketing activities in light of the recent postage increase.

"Weíre pushing aggressively in our search and affiliate marketing to bring in new sources of customers and then move them over to the catalog," Mr. August said.

He claimed that this strategy has proved successful.

The company is also trying to better understand the interaction between all the various media that influence consumersí online activity and what might be the key driver in their purchasing decisions.

Brookstone is in the process of launching the ClearEdge marketing database from Abacus, Lafayette, CO, which enables multichannel merchants to capture and analyze data from all response channels.

"Historically, we've done [cross-channel marketing] to some degree," Mr. August said.

He said Brookstone was ahead of the curve when it created its own in-house marketing database more than 10 years ago. However, access to the database was limited and requests for data had to be channeled through the companyís statisticians. In addition, the database was built to be updated on a monthly basis.

With ClearEdge, data will be updated daily, enabling Brookstone to react more quickly. The marketing department will have greater access to the information, too.

One way he would like to see the database applied is to gain a better understanding of the interaction between affiliates and catalog mailings, say, by running reports that show to what degree affiliates are generating incremental demand.

"I think there are Net gnats that are taking away business and not adding incremental value," Mr. August said.

He is also hoping that ClearEdge will provide some guidance to help Brookstone determine the retail impact of its search engine marketing efforts. Everyone knows that consumers do research online before they go shopping but nobody knows "the impact of search on retail," Mr. August said.

By using ClearEdge, Brookstone will be able to identify "the interaction between online and offline media in a much more defined way," which in turn gives more power to the marketer and improves the bottom line, he said.

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