Ellsworth Finds Common Threads in Three Successful DMers

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ORLANDO, FL -- There are several common threads that run through successful catalogs built around a proprietary brand, said cataloger MacKenzie-Childs vice president of design/product development and marketing Jennifer Ellsworth during a session at the Annual Catalog Conference here yesterday.

Ellsworth was referring to what she learned while working for three successful DMers: American Girl, Patagonia and Williams-Sonoma/Hold Everything.

The first common thread running through these companies, as well as other successful companies built around a single proprietary brand, is that the idea for the product usually resulted from the founder's passion.

Pleasant Rowland, for example, was a first grade teacher and the author of books for girls before she created the American Girl doll line. Yvon Chouinard was an avid climber before he started Patagonia.

Second, the genesis of these companies is often a response to a need in the founder's life. Pleasant wanted to give a doll as a gift but wasn't satisfied with the offerings on the market. That was when she first conceived of American Girl.

Another observation supplied by Ellsworth was that these companies often have a team-oriented organizational structure as opposed to a hierarchical one.

This allows for a product idea to be envisioned from the design stage to the sales force, she said.

Also, these companies tend to ignore the competition.

"Once you start thinking a lot about the competition, it usually doesn't lead to innovation," Ellsworth said.

Successful catalogers with proprietary brands are also "demons about detail," she added. As far as Ellsworth knows, 89-year-old Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma, still shows temporary employees how to wrap gift boxes every holiday season.

In leveraging proprietary product, it's important to keep in mind that the story is as good as the product itself, Ellsworth continued. The American Girl, Patagonia and Hold Everything catalogs dedicate a significant portion of their pages to editorial about their products, including information on why they are made, who made them and why they might make a difference in someone's life.

"Stories are very compelling," Ellsworth said. "Product coupled with story is more compelling."

Once a company has established a proprietary brand, it should stick with its core competencies, according to Ellsworth.

"When you start seeing bath towels on the cover of a catalog that has the word 'hardware' in its title, you have to wonder what they're doing in terms of their core competencies," she said.

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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