Cold Weather Items Heat Up Cataloger's Sales

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The fall book from fitness apparel cataloger Road Runner Sports has hit its stride after an increased emphasis on colder-weather running gear.


"Cold weather apparel, which carries higher price points, was not in the book a year ago to the same degree that it is now," said Kate Budd, director of brand marketing at Road Runner Sports, San Diego. "In 2000 our focus was on cool weather apparel, and in 2001 it was more Indian summer.


"We found that we were correct in going back to the cooler weather focus this year. The change was based on merchandise performance, and the change was reflected in our covers this year compared to 2001."


The fall cover shows two people running through a country road in a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Last year's fall cover shows two runners in T-shirts and shorts.


Road Runner used various cover lines and offers. One cover line reads, "Layer up for Fall ... From your stay-warm base layer to your water- and wind-proof outer gear." Offers on the cover include "Hey Ladies, SAVE 20% See pg. 86 The annual Fall Champion Jogbra Sale is on NOW!" and "15% off your first order!"


Most numbers are up compared with last year. The average price point is $49.37, up from $47.98, and Road Runner dropped 1.6 million copies, up from 1.33 million. Perhaps most important, the average order of $123 is higher than last year's $115 and higher than the target of $120.


The response rate dipped from 3.9 percent last year to 3.6 percent, but that was expected as Road Runner increased its prospecting and reached deeper into its house file. Copies to prospects rose from 270,000 last year to 390,000 this year.


"We saw prospecting response fall off last year, and we believe it began to increase in the later part of spring this year, which was encouraging for the fall," said Tim Hoerrner, director of circulation. "The biggest change is we've found a new source of names that accounts for 20 percent of this year's prospecting total."


To increase reactivation of past customers, "we went as far back as five years, and that's keeping the response rate down a bit," he said. "About 8 percent of our house file mailing this fall went deeper than last year."


Last year's fall book had an in-home date of Sept. 11 for its main mailing.


"We were impacted last year by 9/11 and still did well, and grew the circulation with the expectation that we would see better performance this year," he said.


This year's in-home date was Sept. 4.


"We didn't want to go against the anniversary [of 9/11], and looking back it was a good time to have it in-home, right after Labor Day," Budd said.


Customers are 55 percent male with an average age in the late 30s and household income around $75,000. Twenty-three percent of catalog sales were placed at roadrunnersports.com, up from 20 percent a year ago.


"We expected it to be closer to 28 percent," Hoerrner said. "We've seen the percentage of sales on the Internet go up considerably in recent years, but it has flattened out."


Budd said the company negotiated a new paper and printing contract that lowered the catalog's overall per-piece cost 5 cents from last year. Also, page count was reduced from 100 to 96 this fall.


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