Cataloger Tickled Pink Over Flamingo Mailer

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Gardener's Supply Co. chose to take the tacky route on the cover of its second Holiday 1999 catalog, which was mailed this week to just under 1 million customers. The catalog features a snow-covered lawn overrun by 50 plastic pink flamingos associated more often with sunny Florida than wintry, tranquil New England.

"What you're trying to do with a catalog cover is generate enough interest so a customer will open the book and distinguish it from all the other catalogs consumers get in the mail through a mix of shock value and humor," said Frank Oliver, vice president of merchandising at Gardener's Supply, Burlington, VT.

The flamingos are offered in sets of 40 and 50 for $149 and $175, respectively, in an unusual marketing strategy that grew out of an experience last year by a customer who wanted to surprise a family member for his birthday. The birds were purchased from the Gardener's Supply retail store and planted on the recipient's lawn, but Oliver thought it was such a clever idea that he dispatched his creative department to photograph the spectacle.

Those pictures - along with copy that suggests buying large sets of flamingos to commemorate birthdays, anniversaries and parties - were first featured on page 68 in the first Holiday 1999 book, which was mailed late last month. That book featured a quaint, winged garden fairy on its cover, another product to display in one's garden. Gardener's Supply's bread and butter is in marketing products such as work gloves, garden tools and bulbs, but the holiday catalogs have traditionally featured a wider array of merchandise. In the few weeks since the mailing, there have been a handful of orders for flocks of flamingos.

"It has been a hit," Oliver said, noting the product currently ranks among the top 50 best-selling Gardener's Supply products. "It exceeds any forecast I've made."

The pictures graduated to the front cover of the current mailing, though company executives made that decision months before the product was marketed in sets. Oliver is confident the flamingo gift-giving idea will catch on.

"I'm glad the vendor is a New England manufacturer because we're going to be ordering it in droves," he said.

The $39 million company will ship four key holiday mailings to 6 million customers and prospects this year using different covers for each. The next cover, which is expected to feature an outdoor setting with a mother and daughter hanging birdfeeder ornaments, is due out in a month or so. A last-minute gift book will drop in early December.

Total circulation for 1999 catalogs is up over last year, according to Jim Feinson president and chief operating officer of Gardener's Supply, in what he characterized as a "healthy" increase.

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