Gourmet Book Boosts Mailings For Its First Prospecting

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As of May, gourmet foods cataloger Mackenzie Ltd. will have increased the number of catalogs it drops yearly by ninefold.


Granted, the boost still leaves the Baltimore firm at 500,000 books per year, a mere blip in the world of consumer catalogs. But the increase is the company's first attempt at prospecting, and is also its first effort at mailing to its house file on a recency, frequency and monetary value basis.


Before last spring, Mackenzie was a mom-and-pop-type operation that dropped 55,000 books yearly and relied on word-of-mouth advertising and fall mailings to the previous year's gift recipients for new customers.


"I would agonize over 'Should I do 54,000? Should I do 56,000?'" Mackenzie president Laura McManus said.


Founded in 1984 with a mainly UK customer base, Mackenzie's flagship product is its namesake Mackenzie Scottish Salmon. Its current owners bought it in 1996 when it had about 35 products such as kippers, caviars, cheeses, shortbreads and cakes. They have added various meats, olive oils, vinegars, desserts and chocolates, hors d'oeuvres, mustards and seafood.


The salmon accounted for 60 percent to 70 percent of the company's sales in 1996, and now accounts for about 40 percent.


As for prospecting, Mackenzie's catalogs prior to last spring were not key-coded, so there were questions as to how much of its business was from consumers and how much was from businesses.


"We didn't have any source code data so we only knew how many catalogs they mailed and what their revenue was," said Stephen Lett, proprietor of Lett Direct Inc., the Bethany Beach, DE-based consultancy overseeing the effort. "We knew the revenue per catalog was very high, so we knew that customers liked the product."


As a result, prospecting has included mailings to consumer lists such as Neiman Marcus and Williams-Sonoma; business lists such as Rapid Forms' holiday card buyer list and Omaha Steaks' business buyer list; and names from catalog co-op databases i-Behavior and Abacus.


Lett now estimates Mackenzie's business to be 60 percent consumer and 40 percent BTB. Its overall average order is about $70. Orders from businesses tend to be 20 percent higher than those from consumers, but are offset by lower response rates, he said.


Either way, the catalog is not aimed at bargain hunters.


"I'd rather have people say, 'Wow, the product looked great and it really was great when I got it,' rather than, 'Wow, I got a good deal,'" McManus said. "The basic formula is that we look for things that are in the top 1 percent of their category." But Mackenzie will forgo the No. 1 product in a category if its availability might be limited, she said.


Some leads for new products come from obvious sources: gourmet magazines such as Cook's Illustrated and the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade Inc.'s Fancy Foods trade shows, for example.


But McManus also relies on obscure sources. For example, she will say no more about her source for scones than that she found it in an obscure magazine feature in 1999.


"You could pass them off as your own if you wanted to," she said.


Also, her husband is in the seafood business and is an expert on shrimp, she said, which helps with merchandising in the seafood category.


Mackenzie's product offerings change twice yearly, in the spring and fall. Christmas accounts for more than half of Mackenzie's sales. The Internet accounts for 20 percent. The company drops four books per season, each with a different cover.


So far, Mackenzie's increased mailings have produced a 20 percent rise in business through Nov. 30 and a more than 35 percent rise in holiday sales.


Family and friends serve as taste testers for product candidates, usually helping McManus trim 100 or so possible additions to the catalog to 20 or 25.


"Last night, we had a taste test for steak," she said.


During production, space constraints further trim Mackenzie's new products.


"I always have my pet products like the honey [a sampler of nine 1 oz. tubes for $44.95]. There's no way that would have ever gotten cut," McManus said. "But there was a vinegar [this round] that was still a great product but didn't fit on the page."


Page count this year has risen from 24 to 32. Lett said further increases may be in the works.


About 10 percent of Mackenzie's orders are drop-shipped. The rest are fulfilled from its 5,500-square-foot warehouse in Baltimore.


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