European Retailer Uses Catalog to Pave Way for Web Site

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Topdeq USA, the American division of European office furniture retailer Topdeq Holding GmbH, is rolling out catalogs in the northeastern United States to generate sales and promote its upcoming Web site.


Topdeq USA promotes the Web site in the catalogs and is collecting e-mail addresses from catalog customers. The site is expected to launch in July.


The U.S. division, based in Cranbury, NJ, began sending its introductory 9-inch-by-11-inch catalog to small and medium-sized businesses in January. It rented lists from undisclosed companies and mailed 74,000 catalogs in January, 99,000 in February and 148,000 this week.


Karen Wolf, Topdeq USA president, said the catalog campaign's goals are to generate revenue and, more importantly, to build awareness for the Web site. Topdeq is promoting the company by referencing the Web site through insert campaigns and plans to begin a full e-marketing initiative in the fall.


Topdeq also is considering an e-mail newsletter to market its products, although no plans have been finalized.


The mailings focused on businesses in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Topdeq initially targeted the East because of the area's concentration of businesses and because the products, which originate in Europe, are more easily delivered to its warehouse in New Jersey.


"If it doesn't have an efficient back end, it can't be successful," Wolf said.


The company plans to mail 1.4 million catalogs this year and hopes to have a customer list of 10,000 companies by 2002. Each catalog costs about $1.60 to produce and mail.


Topdeq said it has not received conversion rates yet for the first two mailings.


The catalog mailings are the first step of a three-phase plan. Topdeq plans two more rounds of catalog drops this year, each including three different mailings of 170,000 to 200,000 catalogs.


Topdeq has considered states such as Massachusetts, Virginia and Maryland for its next two rounds but is still determining which states to target. The company plans to expand westward slowly and to open a warehouse on the West Coast in about three years, depending on sales and profitability during that time, Wolf said.


"One of the things we try and focus on is not telling someone that there's a right or wrong way to shop," she said. "The right way is the way that they want to. So if someone enjoys looking through the catalog and experiencing the emotion of turning pages, then enjoys going to the Web site to order, that's fine with us."


Topdeq GmbH, Pfungstadt, Germany, has a worldwide database of 300,000 customers, Wolf said.


The company has collected e-mail addresses so far, all from people who requested to be added to its mailing list. About 80 percent of the people who signed up have agreed to share their e-mail addresses, the company said.


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