List Professionals Brace for Fall Cutbacks by Mailers

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Widespread softness in the spring and summer mailing seasons coupled with an uncertain U.S. economy are resulting in extensive fall mail plan cutbacks, according to list professionals.

"We're seeing some caution for fall planning -- people are cutting back from last year's levels in large measure after a disappointing spring and summer season," said Steve Tamke, senior vice president of list brokerage at Mokrynski & Associates Inc., Hackensack, NJ.

More specifically, one list broker said mailers are reacting to very soft February and March results as well as the overall softness in the economy by cutting back for the fall.

"The early fall time frame -- from June through the first of September -- may be down as much as 5 percent from last year," said Mike Hayden, senior vice president of the catalog list brokerage division at Millard Group Inc., Peterborough, NH. "I think that you might see the October-November time frame flat to maybe 2 percent down."

Although they may cut back somewhat, fall is a heavy mailing season for hard goods and apparel direct marketers as well as for food mailers.

"Seasonal mailers may not be sure what is in store," said Mike Bryant, president of Uni-Mail, New York.

While they may proceed a bit more cautiously, however, they still have to mail and they still have to test.

List professionals know that in times like these, they must be proactive and negotiate better deals to help their clients keep their circulation up as much as possible, Bryant added.

Still, not all mailers are cutting back for fall.

"I have a mixed bag -- some increases and some decreases," said catalog consultant Ray Slyper, president of Ray Slyper Associates, New York.

However, Slyper cited an experience with one cataloger as an indication of the overall state of the fall season.

"One of my clients wanted to increase circulation and was told by their print shop, 'Mail all you want,' " Slyper said. "In a normal fall season, you'd never be able to do that at this time of year."

But it does not seem that list rentals have suffered too much yet.

"Remarkably -- in the face of what I expected to be a slight downturn in the level of business because of the economy cooling off and also the increase in various costs -- I'm not seeing any diminished list rental orders yet," said Geoff Batrouney, executive vice president at Estee Marketing Group Inc., New Rochelle, NY.

However, he added that he has not seen a lot of start-ups or new investments.

"The smart money is being very cautious. Risk minimization is key," Batrouney said.

Even so, the bulk of the ordering for fall has yet to take place, and there are some bright spots, according to some observers.

For one thing, increased postage can be offset somewhat by lower paper prices, Hayden said.

In addition, though it may be too early to tell, the economy has the potential to recover in the coming months -- perhaps in time for the holiday season.

"The economy appears to be starting to swing back a little bit to the positive side," Hayden said.

That could be good news for some mailers that rely on the late fall/holiday season for 60 percent or more of their annual sales.

"We're seeing some optimism about the opportunities available for the 2001 holiday season," Tamke said. "I think we're going to be in for some very nice surprises."

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