For Amplestuff Catalog Size, Smaller Is Better

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Amplestuff is less ample this year, by choice.

The small cataloger of products for the severely overweight cut the weight of its book in half this year to lower postage costs.

"It has to do with escalating mailing costs and the fact that most of our mailings go out First Class and we were trying to beat the one-ounce barrier," company president Bill Fabrey said.

The 2003 version, including the order form and envelope, is 0.98 ounces while last year's catalog weighed 1.9 ounces. Amplestuff reduced the pages from 36 to 16 and changed the size from 8 1/2-by-3 7/8 inches to 8 by 5 1/2 inches.

"You live or die by the cost of generating customers and the cost of fulfilling orders since the people who order pay for the expense of finding them," he said. "The new catalog is almost as comprehensive as last year's. The biggest single difference was the elimination of most of the photos. We also trimmed down on the text and eliminated verbiage that we could do without."

Excluding postage, last year's per-piece expense of 60 cents plummeted to about 23 cents this year.

The company printed 5,000 copies of the catalog in April, all of which have been mailed. Another 5,000 were printed in early June and contain minor changes including price increases on some items as well as a few new products. The company expects to mail about 40,000 catalogs in 2003. Last year it mailed 30,000 to 40,000.

The catalog is mailed to requesters.

"We tried some experimental lists and rented names last year, and it was a wash, so now we're back to requesters only," Fabrey said. "It's hard to get mailing lists that would work for us.

"We're not selling shoes or dresses. We're selling stuff that they want, but this would annoy people who would get it who didn't want this stuff. I've had angry husbands call and say, 'This is the last thing she needs. She needs an incentive to lose weight, not things to make her feel better about herself.' A lot of our customers have not spent money on themselves because they've said, 'I'm fat. What's the point till I lose weight?'"

The catalogs are mailed in an envelope because, Fabrey said, "People are sensitive about a postman or a mother-in-law seeing that they're getting this catalog."

Hot-selling items from the current book include an XL umbrella, heavy-duty scales, airline seatbelt extenders, a 96-inch tape measure and a fanny pack. Prices range from $3.50 for the tape measure up to $299 for a 1,000-pound digital scale.

Large-size models are used in the catalog, which is producing the same average order as last year's version: about $75.

The 5,000 catalogs this year have generated about 300 orders.

"I think in many cases they order the catalog thinking they can place an order, then they get it and realize they're not large enough for our merchandise," he said. "Our typical customer weighs around 300 pounds, and 85 percent of those who order are women. A few of our customers are 700, 800 or 900 pounds."

He placed last year's response rate at 7 percent to 8 percent.

"Our catalog generates some of its orders as much as a month or two after they get it, so the April catalog could still produce 500 orders [for a 10 percent response rate]," he said. "I have my fingers crossed that it will. But I could have a lower conversion rate and be happy because of the reduced cost."

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