Acquisition Doesn't Change HearthSong's Tune

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The HearthSong catalog's strategy since being acquired by from Foster and Gallagher can be summed up in three words: Stay the course.

A modest reward for that approach came with the catalog's summer edition, which saw a slight increase in response rate and average order amount.

"The key here is to do no harm, not change too much and figure it out as we go along," said Peter M. Rice, senior vice president of marketing for the HearthSong catalog, Madison, VA. "We're getting our arms around it after taking it over six months ago from the prior management and staff that had been in California.

"We're always bringing in new merchandise, but we're sticking with the same categories. I would guess we had around a 25 percent change in merchandise in the summer catalog compared to a year ago." subsidiary Plow and Hearth manages HearthSong.

Circulation was the same summer to summer at 1.15 million, with 90 percent to the house file. The mailings both years were evenly split between two drops, with this summer's drops taking place April 12 and June 1. The page count remained 48 and SKUs stayed around 250.

The average order amount this year was $49, up $2 from last year, and the response rate was 3 percent, up from 2.8 percent last year.

"The fact that these mailings are going primarily to buyers gives you a higher level of predictability," he said. "Despite what's happening with the economy, mothers never want to stop buying for kids and kids' friends, and the price points are reasonable and it's a unique product line. All of that protects us somewhat.

"We're selling non-licensed items that make you feel good about giving. Parents think it's a wholesome catalog with the type of games they remember playing. There's not much in the way of electronics or plastic."

Products include the new Design-a-Kite Kit ($12.95), Tetherball ($39.95), Balloon Magic Kit ($16.95, and the $6.95 Balloon Magic Refill Pack) and the Magnetic Dart Board ($12.95, and $3.95 for extra darts). There's also Squeeze Rockets ($4.95), Young Archer's Set ($12.95), Bocce Ball Set ($19.95), Surefire Slingshot Set ($12.95), the $59.95 Deluxe Electric Ice Shaver and the $79.95 Unicycle & Stand, $24.95 Safety Helmet and $24.95 Knee, Elbow & Wrist Guards.

The average price point remained at $19.95. Hot product categories this summer included active outdoors, travel toys, art materials and kites.

The target demographic remained constant for the quarterly catalog.

"The HearthSong customer is typically a female living in a household with income of $50,000 or more," circulation manager Denise Edwards said. "The average age is 35 to 45, and she is married with children."

Catalog-generated sales realized via the Web site,, accounted for 24 percent of the total, also similar to last summer.

"We're happy with that," she said. "We're not discounting or doing anything to move that number. We would like to make [the percentage] higher through site functionality and customer service rather than through promotions."

Also unchanged is the total per-piece cost of the catalog, which Rice placed in the "mid-40s [cents]" this summer, including postage.

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