Catalog Steeped in Tradition Is No Traditional Marketer

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Since The Black Dog launched its Web site, the Martha's Vineyard icon has experienced a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in catalog requests -- a crucial part of the apparel and gift merchant's marketing mix because it does not prospect with its print book.

"I don't believe in [list rental]," said Elaine Sullivan, director of marketing at The Black Dog. "I think people get too much mail as it is.

"I know that's contrary to all direct mail philosophy. We like to spend a lot of money on our catalog, and if we were doing prospecting, we wouldn't be able to produce the same quality of the catalog because it's heavy and not cheap to mail," Sullivan said.

The Black Dog has an 8 percent conversion rate of catalog requesters to buyers, said Sullivan, who also is the catalog's creator and copywriter.

The Black Dog mails its 10-year-old catalog four times per year to approximately 300,000 inquirers per drop. The Black Dog only mails to its customer file and consumers who request the catalog either via its toll-free customer service number or at its retail store in Vineyard Haven, MA. Catalogs are also available in-store during the summer.

The retailer advertises its catalog in national magazines, including The New Yorker, Men's Journal, Martha Stewart Living and Country Living. The catalog features a variety of merchandise, from apparel and dishes to dog bowls and slip collars. The 32-page, 17-inch-by-11-inch Summer 2000 catalog mailed in mid-July.

The catalog was mailed late, according to Sullivan, who anticipated the late mailing would cause a considerable decrease in sales, but "we're going bananas [fulfilling orders] here," she said.

Response to this year's summer catalog has been greater than that of last year's book, she said.

The catalogs generate 65 percent of the company's sales; 35 percent is derived from its retail store. Sullivan declined to reveal the company's sales figures.

"There really is not much retail business for [the winter] holiday here unlike other places because the island is pretty quiet, so it's not your typical scenario," said Sullivan, who added that the winter holiday catalog is the strongest sales generator of the four books. "But [the summer catalog] is remarkably strong."

The Black Dog's 2-month-old Web site features a section that showcases its involvement with the National Education for Assistance Dog Services, an organization that rescues shelter dogs and trains them to help people who are deaf or physically disabled.

The site is expected to feature a pet tips section, which will include advice columns written by local veterinarians. The merchant said it will also launch an area featuring photos of customers with their dogs.

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