BackcountryStore.com Hits Catalog Trail

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John Bresee wanted his company's debut catalog to be "a door buster."


"The big trick in the catalog industry is getting past the trash can by the door," said the co-founder at BackcountryStore.com, Heber City, UT, which began the weeklong mailing of its inaugural book this week.


One thing Bresee did to avoid the circular file was hire action-sports photographer Lee Cohen, whose images have appeared in several Patagonia catalogs. His cover shot showed a skier enveloped in snow.


"When you look at the photo, it's an inaccessible photo for most skiers because that's serious powder," Bresee said. "The goal of the photo was to raise a question, 'What am I seeing here?' and to have them thinking about that long enough to have it get past that garbage can by the door."


Another part of the plan was the 24-page catalog's unusual square shape of 10.5-by-10.5 inches. The design aimed to be an attention-getter despite adding 6 percent to the catalog's cost per piece, which came in around 50 cents.


The marketer of high-end specialty gear for those in skiing, snowboarding, climbing, trail running, camping, hiking and adventure travel was founded in 1996 and had sold product solely through its Web site and retail location in Heber City, also the site of the company's call center. It counts Altrec.com and REI among its competition.


Maintaining a rapid rate of sales growth drove the decision to create the catalog, a process that took only eight weeks. The company's sales have grown more than 100 percent annually in recent years.


"The bottom-line thinking on it was, 'If our house list is an asset, how do we best use it?'" he said. "We looked at the response rates [for catalogs] and ... it looked like a winner." Bresee's research led him to think that a house list could produce a response rate of 2 percent to 6 percent.


"We built our model on getting between 1 and 4 percent, and we had three models that included expected average order amounts of $75, $100 and $125," he said. "The bottom line for the catalog is that with a 2 percent response and $100 average order, it will be profitable. But at 1 percent and $75, it's not."


The book is going to 125,000 names constituting about 70 percent of the house file. Prospecting will not occur with the initial effort. Male customers outnumber females 60-40, but it's growing more balanced "as our soft goods, such as clothing and jackets, continue to sell better on the Internet."


"We use the gear we sell" appears on the cover, a message reinforced by the sales team of six to eight representatives who handle incoming calls.


"With every person we hire, the first question we ask is, 'What sport are you most passionate about?' and then we ask, 'What gear would you like to buy?' " Bresee said. "When you call us, you get a hard-core ski bum who answers questions from his own personal experience."


The bottom of the back cover is blank with the order form occupying the top.


"We know we should be selling on that space," he said. "It was about time constraints and the way we were designing the spreads. The spreads account for a category, and to take away from that in any way would have messed up the spreads. In the future, we would use it for gear. It's something that happened because we're rookies."


The book contains a fraction of the roughly 15,000 SKUs available online.


"For the catalog we went with some best sellers interspersed with new product that we expect will join our list of best sellers," he said.


Bresee hopes the company will produce four to six editions yearly with the next version going out in late March or early April, at which point prospecting is likely.


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