Brainstorms, Maximum Bandwidth Team to Build Online Sci-Fi Empire

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Consumer gift-and-gadget cataloger Brainstorms Direct Marketing, Reading, PA, parent of the 800-Trekker catalog of science fiction merchandise, is joining forces with a direct marketer of Star Trek software in an effort to conquer Cyberspace -- or at least that sector of Cyberspace populated by fans of Klingon screen savers.

Brainstorms hopes that by acquiring Maximum Bandwidth, Los Angeles, and adding hundreds of titles of Star Trek software to its offerings, it will build the customer base for its own 800-Trekker catalog. It also hopes that Maximum Bandwidth's Net-savvy customer base will help Brainstorms evolve into a more Internet-oriented direct marketing empire.

"The acquisition of Maximum Bandwidth is designed to allow us to sort of cross-pollinate the Star Trek software buyers that Maximum Bandwidth had with the 800-Trekker buyers so that the [Maximum Bandwidth] buyers will have access to our full array of products," said David Blaise, president of Brainstorms. "And the 800-Trekker buyers will now have a full array of Star Trek and other titles that had not been available to them."

Brainstorms, which established an e-commerce site in 1996 in conjunction with the Sci-Fi Channel, plans to link the Maximum Bandwidth Web site with its own to drive traffic back and forth. Maximum Bandwidth, which specializes in Star Trek software but also sells a limited selection of other sci-fi titles, does all of its retail business through the Internet.

George Wright, the founder of Maximum Bandwidth, will continue to work with Brainstorms as a consultant after the acquisition. His Los Angeles operations will be folded into Brainstorms' 36,000-square-foot facility in Pennsylvania.

He said the Star Trek software has been gaining popularity as it becomes increasingly complex and allows for more interactivity.

"The Star Trek software category is continuously among the best-selling software products," Wright said. "The advances in computing technology are allowing the software to be more robust and deeper in the level of interactivity that is involved."

Meanwhile Blaise, whose 800-Trekker catalog rang up $4 million in sales last year, said he has been trying to encourage more of the 800-Trekker mail-order customers to purchase products through the Web site. In January, Blaise said, only about 4.9 percent of sales for the 800-Trekker catalog were executed through the Internet. In May, that figure had reached 18.8 percent. Most of 800-Trekker's sales are not software products.

"We've been doing everything we can to entice consumers to order online," Blaise said. "Any time you can get a customer to type in their own order, it's a good thing."

The acquisition of the Maximum Bandwidth database gives Brainstorms a cache of Internet-savvy customers who already have cleared the hurdle of actually making purchases via the Web.

"Software is one of the biggest selling products on the Internet right now," Blaise said. "This acquisition allows us to target the online buyer a little more strategically."

In addition, Blaise said he has been moving more toward online customer acquisition, and he is finding that online leads for the 800-Trekker merchandise line have a higher conversion rate than offline leads.

Blaise said he is in the final stages of combining the databases of the two companies and that he expects to begin communicating with the Maximum Bandwidth house file soon.

"We want to let them know that in addition to all the science fiction software that they've been buying from Maximum Bandwidth, they now have access to thousands of other science fiction-related merchandise they might not have had access to before," he said.

The acquisition of Maximum Bandwidth also will allow Blaise to introduce those customers to the other Brainstorm merchandise, which include such technical gifts as virtual golf games, X-Files action figures and South Park plush toys. Blaise said Brainstorms was planning to either launch or acquire at least two additional Internet-based businesses in the next 12 months.

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