Cataloger 'Rings In Successful HolidaySoaring sales is the early Christmas present that has landed at Entertainment Earth.
The marketer of action figures, toys and collectibles credits its decision to place hot-selling items from the past and items that are expected to do well into their own categories as the main reason for the early success of its winter 2003-04 catalog.
Last year's winter book generated a 1.06 percent response rate, while this year's effort already has produced a 1.5 percent response. The current book's average order of $78.50 compares with the year-ago average of $80.
Moreover, the book's year-to-year per-piece cost dropped from 68 cents to 58 cents in conjunction with a reduced printing expense, as the page count fell to 60 from 64.
New to the book this year are the "bestsellers" on pages 2-3 and "hot picks" on the back cover.
"We wanted to bring attention to this merchandise," said Jennifer Paige, creative services manager at Entertainment Earth, North Hollywood, CA, which produces the catalog quarterly. "We wanted to start out with a bang and get people excited right off the bat if they hadn't seen the catalog before."
Items that have sold out from the two categories include the "Lord of the Rings"-themed Fellowship 9 Figure Deluxe Gift Pack ($49.99); the 18-inch Jason Voorhees figure (from the "Friday the 13th" films, priced at $39.99); and the Pull My Finger Santa ($14.99).
The book also has a two-page "Coming Soon!" section containing items that will not be available until 2004. This section's Jimi Hendrix action figure ($15.99) is sold out though it won't be shipped until February.
Paige also cited "better backgrounds" used for part of this year's "Lord of the Rings" section when asked about changes in the book's appearance.
"These are expensive toys that are sometimes never opened by collectors, or are placed on a display shelf, so we tried to improve the way we present the catalog," she said.
List selection strategy also is part of the early success.
"We do an intuitive match on who we know are our buyers," Paige said.
The catalog targets mainly men ages 19 to 40. Annual income is at least $65,000.
"This year [list selection] was modeled on the success we've had with companies that have provided successful lists in the past," she said. "Collectors are obsessed. They find [our items] to be great gifts."
The company began producing catalogs in 2001.
"We've learned from our prospecting," she said. "We're finally figuring out who we're prospecting to and what our loyal buyers are looking for. We've had a high learning curve.
"Last year part of the problem was [the company] may have relied too much on the list broker's recommendation and not enough on our own instincts, whereas now we're trusting our knowledge of our buyers more in terms of what lists to hit."
Acculist USA, Ventura, CA, is its new list broker. She did not identify its predecessor or the specific lists used currently or a year ago.
"It's just us stubbornly refusing to buy certain lists and going with our own instincts and not just blindly doing what we're told to do," Paige said. "We find a strong correlation between gift buyers and our shoppers. The staff of our company are collectors themselves and are very aware of trends in the industry, and they know what they would want to buy for themselves."
Last year's mail date fell at the end of October while this year it was Nov. 1.
"We had a Halloween catalog this year that pushed up this book by a week," she said.
Circulation for the winter 2003-04 book is 220,000, with 140,000 going to prospects and 30,000 distributed to requesters. Winter 2002-03 circulation was 175,000, of which 102,000 went to prospects while the house file got 49,000 and requesters received the balance.
"The overall increase [in circulation] was because of the success of the catalog," she said. "It's a significant source of revenue, and we've decided to invest more in it."
This year's circulation rise coincided with an increase in the number of lists from which prospect names were obtained, from seven to 10. The investment this year also includes increasing the number of items from 420 to 520.
The cataloger added an "M FOR MATURE READERS ONLY" to this year's cover.
"We added the 'M' because of the porn star action figures, which are part of the Femmes Fatale section," Paige said. "A few people called with concerns since sometimes people expect a toy company to be geared toward children if they are not familiar with the products we carry.
"They are geared toward adults. We have some extremely violent themes that are part of our adult-themed merchandise. It's just part of full disclosure."
Sales channels, and the percentage of sales each is generating for the book so far, include: phone (47 percent); fax (1 percent); mailed-in order forms (17 percent); and its Web site (35 percent).