Mail Order Only Way to Get Newest Beanie Baby

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Ty Inc., Westmont, IL, is teaching Beanie Baby-obsessed children and their doting parents a lesson in direct marketing. The maker of the phenomenally popular dolls is offering its newest -- a royal blue bear named Clubby -- just to members of the Beanie Babies Official Club.

"This is all new. Previously, the only communication with the end customer was through retail," said Steve Murphy, new business development director for Cyrk, Gloucester, MA, the promotions company that developed and launched the club. "This will open up an all new avenue for the customer to communicate with Ty, with Cyrk, with the retailers and with each other."

Despite the excitement of starting a new communications channel with customers, Murphy said Ty was insistent on maintaining retailer involvement.

"Ty (Warner, the company's founder and CEO) did not want to cut the retailer out of the loop. The company has had a very good relationship with the retailers. He has always used smaller specialty retailers rather than large chains or discount distributors, so it was sort of a fight for the underdog."

To involve retailers, the club was arranged so customers must join by purchasing a club membership kit at select retailers for $10. Membership includes a reply card that must be returned to receive a personalized membership certificate and order form for Clubby. The limited-edition Beanie then can be ordered for $5.99, plus applicable sales tax, shipping and handling fees. Ty and Cyrk decided to just use mail order because they thought it would be the most efficient method of ensuring that people who want it receive it.

"Out goal is to get Clubby in the hands of all club members," Murphy said.

Members also receive a newsletter, 136 Beanie Babies stickers, a Beanie Babies checklist, membership card, poster and a surprise gift. As an added value to the club members, Clubby is royal blue. Only one other Beanie Baby is that color -- Peanut the elephant -- the rarest of Beanie Babies. The company has not set a date to retire Clubby.

In the future, the company will continue to use retailers as a part of the club membership. Possible ways retail and direct mail could be integrated are mail-order offers that include a companion piece available through retail or offers announced through the mail for items that customers have to pick up at their retail stores.

The company relied on more than mail order and retail to launch the new club. While the Beanie Babies Official Club was launched in March, it was promotion of the club on the company's Web site that gave the bear an overnight boost.

"We first mentioned Clubby on the BBOC Web site in May," said Patrick Brady, president of Cyrk. "Almost overnight, sales of membership kits tripled, and we've been receiving thousands of reply cards a day from individuals who want to join."

While the club currently only asks customers for their birth date, address and general information, efforts to begin to collect more psychographic information are in the planning stages with a questionnaire on the Web site a possible next step. Psychographic information will help the company in a planned corporate partner program that also is in the planning stages. The corporate planning program will allow other companies to offer specials to Beanie Babies club members.

"We want to make sure we find the right partners to give more value for the club members," Murphy said. "We'll be asking questions of customers to find out what they like."

Cyrk officials said millions of people have joined since the club's debut.

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