Garden.com Branches Out To Print This Spring With Mailing

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Online retailer Garden.com will use its new catalog offshoot to determine the right mix of prospecting and customer retention for the company, which turned 4 years old this week. It is mailing its spring book in March, April and May.


"While we're still learning what that optimal mix [between mailing a catalog to prospects and mailing it to a portion of its house file] is, we're confident that it does make sense and that we'll find the right formula very shortly," said Jay Waddell, director of database marketing at Garden.com, Austin, TX.


Last year's holiday catalog - the first print book developed by the online retailer - was sent to 500,000 prospects and customers. The catalog was envisioned as an acquisition tool, but tests to existing Garden.com customers brought in more money than the prospect mailings did, according to Waddell.


So for spring, "we set up a number of tests, again testing a portion of circulation to our house file, testing a lot of outside lists and targeting it a number of different ways," Waddell said.


The plant and outdoor furnishings marketer dropped its initial 51-page spring catalog in mid-February. The catalog's entire spring run will be mailed to 1.1 million customers and prospects.


The online and offline retailer, which employs a staff of more than 250 in its three locations, is unsure how often it will produce catalogs, but it intends to roll out a holiday catalog for 2000. "Whether we develop another catalog before the holiday season will depend largely on how our spring catalog goes, but to date it looks like the catalog's performing very well for us," said Waddell, who declined to share what portion of revenue the catalog was generating for the company.


Since the company's market, Americans with a green thumb, like to buy through the mail, this was a natural and important step for the 1 million-member gardening supplies site to take. "The majority of the marketplace is going from [the] catalog world to online e-commerce, and we're sort of moving in the other direction, but I think that the reasons are very much the same ... we want to make sure that we're in front of the customer at the right time when they're ready to buy with the products that they want to buy," Waddell said.


Meanwhile, the transition offline has been a challenging one for the gardening site.


For example, "On the site, we're very flexible in that we can pull products when they're out of stock and change photography at a moment's notice," he said.


Presentation is very different for catalogs and Web sites, according to Waddell, but "we've really been able to maximize efficiencies by utilizing our creative that we have for online for the site in our catalog" since creative for both media is handled inhouse in Garden.com's Des Moines, IA, branch.


List rental also was new to the Web-based marketer. The Millard Group, Peterborough, NH, primarily handles list brokerage for Garden.com.


The online garden supply store is not actively promoting the catalog on its Web site because it is difficult to gauge demand and manage circulation from site promotion.
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