KooKoo Bear Kids Undergoes Growth Spurt

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Multichannel merchant KooKoo Bear Kids' Internet sales may have jumped from 30 percent to 60 percent of the company's volume during the holidays last year, but its catalog is the primary force driving shoppers to the site, according to CEO Joe Mediate.

KooKoo Bear, Atlanta, offers unique, often custom-designed gifts for newborns, new moms and young children including rugs, curtains, blankets, bedding, pillows and diaper bags. The cover and several inside spreads of the 60-page catalog arriving in homes this week feature the brand's exclusive new line of children's furniture made from hand-finished solid pine and poplar woods.

"You could pay for all the pay-per-clicks you want, but you wouldn't get the experience of receiving a KooKoo Bear catalog and seeing what we do," Mr. Mediate said.

Since its launch as a catalog company two years ago, KooKoo Bear has put effort into testing trim sizes, design elements, page counts and mailing frequencies and has found what it thinks is the right combination of factors to appeal to its audience of upscale new moms.

"I received a [home décor] catalog recently that was 160 pages," Mr. Mediate said, noting that he doesn't have time to look through it. "We've come to the conclusion that somewhere between the high 50s to low 60s is the right page count."

Testing also has shown that an 8 1/2-by-11-inch trim size is what customers want.

"We experimented with a much narrower trim size, and people didn't like it," he said.

As for frequency, customers want to see the book every 45 to 60 days, and they want to see something new, so the company puts a "substantial amount of new product" into every book. Though KooKoo Bear drops a catalog monthly, it alternates drops consisting of many prospects with drops to its house list.

The result is a stylish book that helps build the KooKoo Bear brand and leaves recipients saying, "Oh, I wish I had a room like that," Mr. Mediate said.

"When you get a catalog, I can show you 2,000 products in 25 to 30 minutes. On the Web, I could never show you that many products in that time frame," he said.

The company began with an annual circulation of 700,000 and raised it to 1.5 million last year. This year, 2.5 million catalogs will mail.

"In some ways, we've had no choice but to expand because ... Web site and catalog requests have all doubled in the past year," Mr. Mediate said. Endorsements from celebrity moms such as Jennie Garth and Mira Sorvino don't hurt.

The catalog is where the company introduces concepts and trends, Mr. Mediate said, adding it is an important vehicle for showcasing gifts, a crucial category for the company.

"We knew gift giving was going to be big, but we didn't know it was going to be as big as it is," he said.

So the company changed its tagline from "Rooms From a Kid's Point of View" to "Designer Rooms and Exceptional Gifts."

To prepare for the holiday gift-giving season, KooKoo Bear will remove 98 percent of the furniture from the October, November and December catalogs, replacing it with gifts. The book will feature different products each month.

"People want to buy holiday gifts early from us" because they want a monogram on them, Mr. Mediate said.

KooKoo Bear relaunched its site at www.kookoobearkids.com last month with larger imagery and improved navigation. After Web sales exploded last Christmas, the company realized it "had better do all those [things] that make the experience on the Web more friendly," Mr. Mediate said.

KooKoo Bear opened its first retail store last year in Roswell, GA. Though sales have grown 200 percent in the past year, the company has no plans for more stores.

"We want to do what we do really well first," Mr. Mediate said, referring to direct sales.

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