Ergonomics Firm Gets Comfortable With Catalog

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Josh Peltz's company once relied on outbound telemarketing combined with a sampling program to sell ergonomic office products. Though sales grew to more than $2 million in 2000 and business-to-business telemarketing does not face the same restrictions as consumer telemarketing, Peltz saw the business model becoming tougher to sustain.


"As the '90s ebbed into the late '90s, BTB telemarketing was becoming more difficult," said Peltz, president of Datavision, Charlottesville, VA. "In '99, from 15 dialings we would get 12 voice mails, and people were not as receptive to our sample package. And the product line became more of a commodity and less of a niche. That whole model just started deteriorating."


Peltz intended to produce his first catalog at the end of 2000.


"There was a catastrophic meltdown in the economy and I got whacked," he said. "I couldn't do it because of my cash flow situation.


"But now I would like to believe this is the perfect time to change the model. You can't display hundreds of products on the phone. The catalog displays a complete product line to thousands of companies that have purchased from us over the years. The idea of sampling products -- I want that to go away."


The 32-page book mailed Sept. 24, featuring all of the 19-year-old company's roughly 130 products. It went to the full customer base of 8,000. Users of the merchandise occupy positions such as office manager, data entry as well as IT managers in companies with more than 100 employees. Buyers include purchasing agents, administration personnel as well as health, facility and safety managers. Hospitals are also part of the customer base.


"This is a big deal because creeping in slowly you have compliance issues," Peltz said. "The time is coming when there will be regulations regarding the positioning of your monitor, type of chair, type of keyboard, etc. But there's also an overall concern about time loss on the job related to injuries and workers comp. Businesses are not waiting for government regulations."


Debuting in October in tandem with the catalog was www.datavisionergonomics.com, where "Jill," described as a computer-generated spokesperson, appears. She also dominates the catalog's cover. An actual model and photo shoot were not considered because of the costs.


"We looked at his competition, and the other companies tended to just show the products, which are not sexy," said Maggi Beckstoffer, president of MBM Marketing, Richmond, VA, which created Datavision's site and catalog. "There's nothing pretty about a backrest.


"We needed a model, a person, something, to show what your body looks like when not using ergonomic products. We show the things she's doing wrong."


A letter from Peltz on the inside front cover offers to waive shipping charges -- worth $15 or more -- on orders of $100 or more through Oct. 15.


"It was definitely worth it to get the ball rolling," he said. "I have a lot of good relationships with many of my key vendors where I'm not paying freight in. About 99 percent of what I ship goes out through UPS, which for me is a minimal cost."


Many of the book's spreads include call-outs that explain common ergonomic problems.


"That relates to the catalog's educational aspect," Beckstoffer said. "We want [the customer] to know which product to use, how it should be used and why it should be used."


A re-mail is set for Nov. 26 to 3,800 of the original recipients. This time it will have a Post-it Note on the cover offering free shipping through the end of the year. These recipients will include only last-12-month buyers.


Peltz expected the initial effort to produce a 1 percent to 5 percent response rate and an average order of at least $150. So far it's generated a 1 percent response, but the average order has been about $300.


"We got some large orders that I wouldn't have expected to come from the catalog," he said.


About 80 percent of the sales generated by the catalog have come via phone and nearly 20 percent via the site. Order forms mailed in as well as faxes are virtually nonexistent. The call center has four or five representatives on duty.


The next catalog will feature new front and back covers with a de-emphasis of "Jill" on the front. It probably will remain 32 pages. Prospecting may occur in the spring, but for the first catalog, budget constraints prevented prospecting.


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