Manhattan Portage Carries Heavier BTB Book

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Add Manhattan Portage to the list of companies that are expanding their catalog initiatives rather than simply leaning on the Internet.

The marketer of lightweight carry bags mailed a 40-page business-to-business fall and back-to-school book this month to 2,000 retail or wholesale merchandisers. Because of a big increase in accessories and new styles during the past several months, the catalog is 10 pages longer than last year's version.

"For us to skip the catalog and just tell prospective or past customers to go to the Web site -- that is not going to work for everybody," said Simon Curtis, manager of sales and marketing at the New York-based firm. "Sometimes they need something they can sit down with and carry in the room in order to get a different look."

The 25-year-old company offers an assortment of utilitarian bags originally designed for New York bike messengers but that have grown into a hip, multiple-use accessory.

The catalog and Web site at www.manhattanportage.com also offer laptop bags, DJ bags, school backpacks, purse-sized minis and other categories.

"Besides New York, the biggest demand is in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles," Mr. Curtis said. "But there is an increasingly strong demand everywhere from small towns in Iowa to all of the urban centers."

The catalogs were mailed to past business clients and a prospect list mined from the Web by Manhattan Portage staffers.

Diligent Drops

To maximize return on investment in the campaign, telephone calls were placed or e-mails sent to prospects in order to gauge their interest before a copy of the book was designated for them.

Targets included urban-styled fashion boutiques, bike shops, skateboard and snowboard stores, moped dealerships and shoe outlets aimed at the youth market. The mailings were addressed to the attention of each store's bag buyer.

"We are not blanket-mailing or sending these to 2 million people around the U.S.," Mr. Curtis said. "It's extremely targeted. Sometimes these are either stores that carry competitors of ours who have expressed interest in us in the past, or people we feel are a particularly good match for our brand."

The 8.5-by-11-inch books, which cost $5 per print, were sent in red envelopes to set them apart from other mail. Practical design elements, like graphics for color swatches and bag dimensions, are interspersed throughout postmodern and graffiti motifs.

"This catalog is louder, more colorful and more fashion-based than our others," Mr. Curtis said. "But it holds true to the brand. The catalog gives a little background, too. Inside the front page, it tells a story about the history of the brand."

E-mail supports the drop. Mr. Curtis said that retailers and wholesalers are offered free shipping for orders upward of $3,000 or complimentary product posters and point-of-purchase displays.

In addition to the catalog recipients, e-mail campaigns target 15,000 past consumer customers for the back-to-school season with offers like free accessories added to bag purchases.

E-Commerce Carries Weight

According to the company, sales at manhattanportage.com have been on an upward trajectory due to working with search engine optimization provider Zunch Communications Inc., Dallas.

"Online has really taken off," said Jerome Michaux, director of sales and marketing at Manhattan Portage. "[E-commerce sales] are going to be about 70 percent more this year, basically due to search engine optimization."

The BTB and business-to-consumer divisions will adjoin via e-mail as the fall season begins. Manhattan Portage has created geographic files for its consumer e-mail database and plans to use the segments to partner with retail outlets.

The company and its merchant partners will be able to coordinate local in-store promotions nationally or globally with e-mail advertising from New York.

"You can segment the 300 or so [online] customers who have purchased in Los Angeles during the last five years and send them an e-mail when a store opens in their area," Mr. Curtis said.

"That's also a good selling point for us to provide to potential business-to-business retail clients," he said. "Not only are they going to be carrying our brand, but we will be providing past customers. We can handle the marketing strategy. Customers who are willing to carry our brand, we want to take care of them as much as possible."

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