Holiday Sales Season Stretches Most of Year for Greeting Card Cataloger

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Though 60 percent of sales from the Greenwoods Holiday Collection usually comes after Labor Day, the book's publisher has found that a long rollout strategy works best.


"We typically mail this catalog starting in late April and early May to go after existing customers and those who are early birders who make sure to get the card selection of their choice," said Rich Nelson, marketing director at Executive Greetings Inc., New Hartford, CT, which publishes nine catalog titles. "It is surprising how many people like to buy their cards early in the season."


Aggressive cover offers are used throughout the 14-drop mailing cycle that ends around Thanksgiving.


"When they get a special offer, they order early to take advantage of it," he said. "We're more aggressive with offers early in the season, and they want to make sure that the card is still in stock."


Each drop uses a different cover, said Jay Thomas, the company's vice president of merchandise marketing. Offers also vary based on whether the recipient is a prospect or customer.


"Our most aggressive [offer] is 60 percent off that expired Aug. 14, and that would have been tested for three drops starting with the beginning of May," Thomas said. "Our standard offer is 50 percent off, and we have them without the envelope imprinting being for free. These are all part of the testing of different offers, some of which include free shipping and handling."


Catalogs mailed in the spring often spark orders months later.


"Some people make their selections and place their order later in the year," Nelson said. "But they will give us the service codes that tie into the catalog that may have gone out in May -- which means they selected it, bookmarked it and went back to place their order from that catalog later in the year. A small percentage of our customers early in the season will place their order, but delay shipment until later in the year.


"Sales are starting to pick up substantially ... and [they] fall off a cliff two weeks before Christmas since you have to leave enough time for it to go in the mail. Sales hit their peak about a week or two after Thanksgiving."


Though specifics were not given regarding response rate, average order size or units per order, Thomas said this year's catalog was "on track to exceed last year's performance" along with having "very high expectations for our sales this year."


Circulation, described as in the millions, rose 25 percent this year.


"We felt the economy was starting to strengthen, and we wanted to be in front of customers as much as possible," Thomas said. "[The] best customers will see 14 [catalogs], until they make a purchase."


Circulation shifted this year more toward prospects than the house file, Nelson said. However, the target audience remains small businesses of 100 employees or fewer, with 90 percent in the United States and the rest in Canada.


Cards are purchased and sent to a company's employees, customers, prospects and vendors.


"Our customer base is looking for a way to reach out and have a personal contact with these people at a time of year when it's traditional to wish people a happy holiday," Thomas said. "It's another touch for them."


The catalog's 40-page size is the same as a year ago.


Price charts appear frequently through the book.


"Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to find the design they want, select the verse they want and find the price where they found the card," Nelson said.


This year's book features price increases of just over 3 percent versus 2002.


Cards featuring doves as well as patriotic themes have been the brand's hot sellers since 9/11. Wreaths and cityscapes are also popular images.


About 75 percent of this year's merchandise is new.


"You have to keep it fresh or designs get old," Nelson said. "We have our own design department."


Calendars, holiday-themed postcards and pocket planners appear toward the back of the book.


Five to 6 percent of sales this year are coming via www.greenwoodscollection.com, which was "better than last year," Thomas said.


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