Swell Boosts Catalog Circulation

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At a time when most catalogers are decreasing catalog pages and limiting mailings in an attempt to offset postal rate increases, Swell Inc. is bucking the trend by raising both its circulation and page counts.

Since the launch of its two catalogs, Swell and Monsterskate.com, in November and December, the active-sports gear cataloger chose to increase the circulation for both books by at least 25 percent. Circulation will be 400,000 each when the spring books are dropped in February and March. The number represents an increase of 100,000 for Swell -- which features surfing apparel and gear -- and a 50,000 increase for Monsterskate.com, which includes skateboard apparel and gear.

John Broderick, executive vice president of commerce operations at Swell Inc., San Juan Capistrano, CA, said the move is necessary despite the increase in postal and production costs. Response from the catalogs' launch warranted the rise in circulation, he said, adding that upcoming drops will be nationwide. The initial drops only targeted consumers in coastal states.

"We'll be looking at ways to offset the cost of what we're doing without affecting the quality," Broderick said.

Alternatives being considered include lowering paper weight and cutting design expenses.

The Swell catalog will increase its page count from 67 to 100 pages. Monsterskate.com's size may increase from 6 inches by 8 1/2 inches to 8 1/2 inches by 8 1/2 inches.

The average sales orders for the first Swell and Monsterskate.com catalogs are $90 and $75, respectively. Production costs for the 2000 Swell book totaled approximately 79 cents apiece, while Monsterskate.com totaled 55 cents per piece, including postage for both books. Prices range from $14 for a Skateboarding 101 video in Monsterskate.com to $370 for a surfboard bag in Swell.

Monsterskate.com targets 12- to 18-year-olds, but their parents make most of the purchases and generally have annual household incomes of about $50,000. Swell targets the 18 to 35 demographic.

Swell Inc. is building its own customer database but has relied on list rentals from American List Counsel, New York. The company also placed reply cards in Surf magazine to drive consumers to the Swell catalog's Web site. The reply cards can be used to request a catalog and drive visitors to its Web site. In return, the cataloger has placed Surf magazine subscription reply cards in the Swell catalog.

The books include an introduction and table of contents on the second and third pages. Swell's table of contents lists items by name brands, while Monsterskate.com lists products by type.

"The response rate on the insert has been quite high," said Doug Palladini, chief operating officer at Swell Inc. "The audience that we cater to, when they receive something about these sports, they don't look at it as junk mail. They're excited to get it because a lot of these products are difficult to find."

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