Catalog City Plans European Joint Venture

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LONDON - Catalog City, a Web site made up of 17,000 catalog titles in the United States, is looking for a European partner with whom to launch a joint catalog shopping portal next summer. The search has narrowed to six firms with a choice due by the end of the year.


Sterling Marketing, a consultancy that specializes in bringing US companies in Europe, is conducting the search. "We're looking for somebody who understands local markets and can hit the ground running," Sterling director John Pincott said.


"The firm we chose should have a pan-European perspective and some understanding of what drives the Internet and the catalog business - what catalogers want and need and the ability to implement that quickly."


The 2-year-old Catalog City claims to provide "the Internet services that the mail-order catalog industry needs to connect buyers with sellers." It has opened a similar portal in Japan and hopes to create the first global catalog shopping network once the European market is developed.


"What Catalog City wants in Europe is a partner who will set up the business and develop the front end of sales and marketing and getting local European content while it will bring the existing brand, the technologies and all the processes it has in the U.S," Pincott said.


He has whittled a list of a hundred possible partners down to the six - two in the United Kingdom, two in France and two in Germany - and all with a pan-European dimension to their business.


Nor should these companies have trouble raising the cash needed to launch such a venture. "Europe is happening on the Internet," Pincott said. Penetration has doubled in a year from 10 to 20 percent, he maintained.


"There isn't quite as much money floating around here as in Silicon Valley, but it is getting close," he said. "The financial community is going crazy over anything that has to do with the Internet."


In the last eight months, Pincott said, 250 dot-com or dot-uk startups have been registered in the U.K. alone, and that excludes any U.S. Web companies such as yahoo.uk or ebay.de rushing into Europe.


Catalog City may also engage local partners or consultants to buttress the joint venture partner's pan-European know how with his own flavor. Language, Pincott concedes, is a crucial factor here.


Initially Catalog City plans to have its wares displayed in English, French and German with other languages added later.


The key to success in multi-lingual markets, Pincott noted "is not only what you say but how you say it, which is where our regional partners or consultants come in."


He explained that moving a print catalog's content to the Web involves a form of translation away from print to a format where every word has been scrutinized and put into a prescribed layout.


The follow-on into another language, therefore, requires even greater care than print-to-print transposition.


For Catalog City the key to Europe is "to do it big and get critical mass by putting Web merchants on board and stimulating consumer traffic through the portal," he said.


Sterling will use a marketing mix to make Catalog City known on European markets. "We'll develop the brand through traditional direct marketing and through above and below the line advertising," he said. "This is not solely an online exercise."
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