Despite housing blues, Sierra spins new title, format

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The housing market may be soft - with many multichannel merchants of things home-related singing a song of woe - but this has not deterred Sierra Trading Post from launching a new home and gift catalog, in an historically underused format.

"Because we're dealing with closeouts, in times of a weaker economy, we actually see growth as people move away from full-price items and go towards discounted items," said David Giacomini, director of catalog operations at Sierra Trading Post.

Sierra Trading Post has built quite a stable of catalog titles for itself since it was founded in 1986 as a direct marketer of name-brand overstocks and closeouts. From the creation of the first Sierra Trading Post catalog, the business has grown to include nine titles, such as Sierra Traditions for Men, Sierra Woman and Sierra Adventure Edge.

The latest title in the herd, Sierra Home & Gift, was mailed on September 24 to 300,000 names. Its list was compiled by segmenting Sierra's in-house list, and then looking for customers with an interest in home- and gift-related items, Giacomini said.

"Over the past year-and-a-half, we've been testing home and gift items in [many] of our other titles and they've always performed well," Giacomini said. In addition, he notes, in Sierra's various customer surveys, the highest-ranking answer for questions about what items customers would like to see more of is typically home-related merchandise.

So in response, Sierra Home & Gift includes a variety of home dΘcor, bedding, linens, artwork, outdoor home and gift items like watches. All are closeouts.

The catalog also debuts in the slim-jim format. The Cheyenne, WY-based company initially planned to launch its new title with a standard wide format. However, after testing the slim-jim design, the results were so positive it switched direction.

In a standard A/B split test, while the average order size remained flat, Giacomini noted that there was a slight increase in the response rate for the slim-jim format versus the wide format (2.3 percent versus 2.1 percent) and the slim-jim offered cost savings in printing and postage.

"Usually, the slim-jim would do worse [in the response rate], but you would hope the cost savings would make up for any difference," Giacomini said. But, because Sierra Trading's books focus on a variety of different name brands at discount prices, the design can be product-driven and "the format of the page has less of an impact," he added.

In step with its new title, Sierra Trading Post recently reformatted its Sierra Woman catalog as a slim-jim in response to the recent postage increase.

Sierra Home & Gift will have a total of two mailings in 2007. Plans call for a more aggressive rollout in 2008, Giacomini said.

The new home title will also be the first book in Sierra Trading's closeout stable to have its own e-catalog on the Sierra Trading Post Web site, which was scheduled to go up last week.

"With so many different titles, we need to better differentiate the brand of each title on the Web site," Giacomini explained, when asked why the merchant is adding the e-catalog functionality.

Sierra Trading Post will also redesign its Web site for the second quarter of next year with the goal of making its products easier to find, improving search capabilities, better integrating each of the titles, and improving its branding and merchandising throughout the site.

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