Country Store Ups Response, Order Size

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Reiman Publications achieved a difficult double win with its spring Country Store catalog, raising the response rate slightly by adding less-expensive items while also boosting the average order size.

"We found that our average order had been going up and our response had been coming down," said John LeBrun, senior vice president of marketing at Reiman Publications LLC, Greendale, WI. "We're trying to go back to what we had done before 2001 in terms of the overall merchandising strategy. Over the last year, we have added high-ticket products like kitchen items, and we've made an effort to balance that and not get carried away. We've introduced more of the under-$10 and under-$20 items and brought the catalog's average priced item down from $26 a year ago to $23."

LeBrun said the purchase of most assets of Reiman by The Reader's Digest Association Inc. will help the company's catalog strategy.

"I would envision three areas of opportunities," he said. "They have a huge house file that we will have access to. There will be some merchandising efficiencies we can look at. And their businesses allow us a new prospecting channel."

This year's four spring catalogs have 530 items, up from 485 last year, while the page count remains 52. The four carry essentially the same merchandise, except for what appears on the covers.

"We basically added things throughout all categories and tried to add complementary products," he said. "We are asked why we have a garment on a kitchen page. It's because it works. It keeps the interest level up, and people go through the entire book. If you are not a book or calendar buyer, you might throw the catalog away before you get to the hard merchandise."

Circulation is more than 2.1 million, which equals last year's total. Catalogs mail at the end of January, February, March and April. The January mailing is the largest at 1.2 million copies. Response has been 3 percent to 4 percent, which was expected. A year ago it was in the "low threes." The average order size is "in the high $40s," LeBrun said, "and last year it was in the low $40s."

"Our expectations, because of the economy, were softer than the prior year, but not by much," he said. "For the first drop, we're a little over 11 percent above what we expected on response and 19 percent above what we expected in terms of gross dollars per thousand."

Catalog recipients include 78 percent "true catalog buyers," for which Country Store typically goes back two years in selecting names. Fifteen percent of those targeted are not catalog buyers but they make purchases via the company's magazine titles. The rest are obtained through outside lists. The company's database includes 472,800 last-12-month buyers.

Customers are 90 percent female, in households with an average annual income of $40,000. They typically live in suburban and rural counties and are 50 or older. Merchandise includes "country-oriented" products such as garments, home décor, kitchen items and cookbooks.

Half of the catalog orders are generated via mailed order forms and 40 percent by phone. Eight percent come online, up from 3 percent last year.

"The older audience represents the fastest-growing percentage of Internet usage, and we're seeing that," LeBrun said. "Last year, 55 percent of orders were mailed in, and that's down to 50 percent this year."

A sticker on some covers offers a $100 shopping spree. Recipients place the sticker on their order envelopes for a chance to win one of 50 $100 Country Store shopping sprees.

"That goes to current buyers," he said. "Other offers include 10 percent off the total order or free shipping and handling."


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