Though Retired, Wientzen Still Has Much to Say

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PROVIDENCE, RI -- H. Robert Wientzen may be newly retired from his position as president/CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, but that isn't preventing him from maintaining a visible role in the industry.

Wientzen, the luncheon speaker at yesterday's New England Mail Order Association fall conference, reflected on his 35 years as a marketer and predicted some hurdles to face catalogers in the near future.

His reflections included shooting down those who say catalogs are a low-technology relic. He noted that catalogers led the industry in adopting multichannel strategies, currently the buzz word in consumer goods marketing. Wientzen also cited DMA research showing that catalog sales are up at a higher percentage than store sales compared with last year, more evidence of catalogs' strength.

But there was bad news as well, as Wientzen focused on upcoming battles for the catalog industry. First was the issue of remote sales tax collection, which he said will become a hot topic again in 2005, when several pieces of legislation are scheduled to hit Congress.

Postal rates and reform remain another thorn in the side of catalogs. Though the postmaster general has said postage rates won't rise until 2006, that increase could be 12 percent to 15 percent, Wientzen said.

Wientzen also touched on the environment, a topic he said had faded from the industry's view over the past decade. It's back, and with a vengeance, thanks to environmentalists and interested consumers recently focusing on the catalog industry, even going as far as to threaten boycotting it if changes aren't made.

But that's not the only reason catalogers should be concerned about the environment.

"Being aware of your operation's environmental impact is good business and good corporate citizenship," he said.

Victoria Mills, project manager for Environmental Defense, was in the audience and had this to say about Wientzen's comments: "Consumers are increasingly demanding environmental responsibility from the companies they do business with. For catalogers, this means using paper responsibly -- minimizing unwanted mailings, maximizing recycled content and avoiding the use of fiber that threatens endangered forests."

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