Independent co-op mailers unite

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The Independent Co-op Mail Dealers Association held its first meeting last month with 24 independent dealerships attending including Neighborhood Direct, Chicago; Buyer's Choice, Woodinville, WA; and Super Saver Coupons, Fayetteville, AR.

The group aims to unite independent co-op mailers, and it boasts about 30 members nationwide. Its first president is Bill Hoverson, owner and manager of Specials Delivery Inc., North Fargo, ND.

"Our mission is to promote the co-op mail industry," he said. "The association will ultimately guide us all as to what defines excellence."

Through discussion and sharing of ideas, Mr. Hoverson said, the association may set regulations and guidelines for the industry.

The group has two objectives in its first year. The first is identifying and informing potential members about the association. This is not always easy as many dealerships work at the grassroots level within small neighborhoods and local markets. Mr. Hoverson estimated that many of the members deal with an average of 30,000 to 60,000 households.

"By the virtue of being independent dealerships, everyone has been an island unto themselves," he said. "[ICOMDA is] an opportunity to gather with other dealers to exchange ideas."

Pooling resources and ideas via the association allows not only for a forum on the issues facing independent co-op dealerships, but also offers these small players the benefits that come with resource sharing.

The first of these, and the second core objective for the group, is to improve and conduct sales training for members. These learned skills then will be shared with their individual sales teams.

Some issues facing co-op sales teams are handling co-op mail versus other competitive media; how to deal with sales objectives; working with or against the Internet using co-ops; how to position offers against radio and television and what to tell people who are new to co-op mailing.

ICOMDA's next meeting is set for February and will have a sales training session for members. A Web site for the group is under construction, though interested parties can contact Mr. Hoverson at bhoverson@specialsdelivery.com.

"It's lonely out there," he said. "You've got a majority of hometown small dealerships. For the most part they are organizations that are embedded in local communities and need support systems that would be in place at large franchises."

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