Cataloger Rebounds 1 Year After Roof Collapse

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It would have been understandable if Michele Rast Gilbert, vice president of marketing at Eziba, had difficulty projecting goals for her company's spring catalog drops this year.


That's because the roof of the company's warehouse in Dover, DE, collapsed on Feb. 16, 2003, after a blizzard stormed through the East Coast. More than 50 percent of Eziba's inventory was lost.


ClientLogic had provided warehouse and fulfillment services, leaving Eziba unable to ship merchandise for about a month. Normal fulfillment operations did not resume until 2 1/2 months after the collapse.


"We had a catalog that was prepped, palletized and ready to go into the postal system with an in-home date of the first week of March, and we had to pull it off the trucks," Gilbert said. "The circulation was about 250,000, and it was the first version of the spring book. We had to re-merchandise the remaining spring catalogs since most of our merchandise was destroyed."


Originally planned were three spring books with a total circulation around 750,000. Instead, one book with a circulation of 270,000 went out in late April.


"The spring 2003 catalog was put together in two weeks based on any inventory we had after the collapse and the merchandise for which we had existing photography," Gilbert said. "We were extremely pleased to put an offer in the mail. A lot of our vendors provided us with additional merchandise last year."


ClientLogic ended up closing the warehouse, and fulfillment for Eziba was moved to Ohio in March 2003 with limited capability for more than a month, at which point new merchandise and remaining inventory was ready for shipment. However, Eziba began using New Roads, Martinsville, VA, as its fulfillment provider in September.


A year later, things are much improved for the North Adams, MA-based cataloger of globally sourced handcrafts. The three-version approach for the spring is back, with a combined circulation of 900,000. The drops were set for early March and early April, as well as a sale book for early June. Early results from the first drop are helping make last spring a distant memory. The response rate so far is up 36 percent over a year ago.


"We wanted 30 to 35 percent," Gilbert said.


Also, the average order has increased 28 percent over last spring's abbreviated effort, exceeding $100 for the first time during the spring season in the company's four years of producing a catalog.


"We analyzed the winners in our product mix and expanded them," Gilbert said. "We expanded in apparel, jewelry and home decor. We limited the selection of some small jewelry pieces and tabletop items. We made a high-price-point statement with some of the jewelry, which has been a success. Our original plan was about 6 percent less than what actual results have been."


The target audience is unchanged: 90 percent female, and average annual household income exceeding $70,000. The level of prospecting this spring has risen to what Gilbert called 50 percent to 65 percent of circulation, up from 50 percent a year ago.


"Prospecting is up [because of] a strong fall '03 prospecting performance," she said. "That strength we've seen in response from prospects has continued to be consistent since then, carrying through until the present time."


The number of lists used this year has increased, as has the number of names pulled from the lists.


"We had the opportunity to go deeper into files that have proved to be successful for us," she said. "Cooperative databases represent a large percentage of it."


Most of the prospecting occurs in the March and April drops as the majority of the house file will get the sale book, which is designed as a reactivation tool. The March and April books include 60 pages while the sale book will have 48, as did last year's spring catalog.


"This spring's catalogs are really comparable to the fall 2003 book, when the merchandise and creative underwent a repositioning," she said. "It was then that we went to less density, higher price points and additional home dŽcor and the inclusion of apparel for only the second time, with an increase in apparel."


The first six and last six pages, including the covers, changed between the spring's first two books. The sale book will be redesigned.


Helping drive the early success is the $55 Rwandan Peace Basket. The copy below the item is hard to ignore: "Women from the warring Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi tribes unite in the spirit of peacemaking and entrepreneurship. Gathering as craftspeople, these women are working to reconstruct their country and rebuild relationships after the 1994 genocide that killed millions of their husbands, brothers, and sons."


Other top-selling items include the new vineyard rose tunic and cropped pants ($28 each); the new item on the back cover, a rainbow butterfly kite ($45); and Abalone jewelry, which includes a $38 necklace and a $28 bracelet with both selling for $58.


"The average price point is up slightly from last year [because of] fewer lower-priced items and more moderately priced items," Gilbert said.


The company also mails catalogs in the fall, holiday and Valentine's Day seasons. The percentage of orders generated via the company's sales channels is essentially unchanged from a year ago: fax and mail remain in the single digits, combined; the toll-free number represents 55 percent; and eziba.com pulls in 40 percent.


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