Sales Scorching for Tabasco Country Store

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The Tabasco sauce sold by the Tabasco Country Store catalog may be hot, but sales have been scorching. The average order for the 100,000-circulation spring mailing is $45 to $50 compared with $35 last spring, and the response rate is double last year's 2 percent.

"We have a very loyal customer base of Tabasco fanatics, and I think they are just getting more comfortable with mail order and they are ordering more items," said Angie Schaubert, brand manager at Avery Island, LA-based Tabasco Country Store, which is owned by McIlhenny Co., the maker of Tabasco sauce.

"We're baffled because we also have brick-and-mortar stores, primarily in the South, but it's our catalog and Internet business that's growing," she said. "Our Tabasco sauce is in grocery stores, but the majority of products in the catalog are not. Our McIlhenny Farms products are not available in stores, and there are other items only available through the catalog."

The company's strategy includes targeting last-12-month buyers. Circulation is unchanged from a year ago, and the company does not prospect.

"We tried prospecting in the past, and it never worked," Schaubert said. "It's a unique customer base that we have. You are either interested in Tabasco sauce or you're not."

It mails twice yearly with the next mailing set for early fall. The average price of items in the book is unchanged from a year ago at $20.

The typical customer is a woman ages 25 to 45 living in a household with annual income of $45,000 or more.

"The female is the buyer, but they buy for the male -- 75 percent of our catalog purchasers are female, buying for the male," she said. "Our strongest market is in the South with a strong group of purchasers coming from California and New York. California is our No. 1 state, with its big Hispanic market that likes spicy food."

The 40-page catalog is up four pages from last spring. The number of SKUs is 250, with about 20 items replaced each printing.

"We just added more Gift Sets that do really well, and we just had a little more merchandise that we wanted to put in there," she said.

The Gift Sets, which appear on pages 2 and 3, include a $64.95 "Ultimate Gift" that is a 24-pound assortment of 22 Tabasco items featuring pepper sauces, snacks, steak sauces, chili and other condiments. The $31.95 Bloody Mary Gift Box includes four 12-ounce glasses with the Tabasco logo and peppers, a Tabasco bar towel and a 32-ounce Tabasco Bloody Mary Mix.

Online sales have grown from 30 percent of orders last spring to half of orders so far this year.

"Internet sales have exploded, but we expected the onslaught of orders we've received through the site," Schaubert said. "But we will continue to do the catalog because there is a core group of people who like to have it sitting on their table, eventually serving as a reminder to place an order."

Per-piece expense for the book, which mailed April 15, remained at 60 cents despite the higher page count and an increase in size from 8 3/8 inches by 4 inches last year to this year's 8 3/8 by 6 inches.

"We thought it would be more attractive and it would give us the opportunity to spread out our merchandise more and provide a little more information about our Web site," Schaubert said of the larger book. "It helped a little, but I wouldn't put the whole increase in response and average order on that."

After seeing call volume drop with the rise in online sales, Tabasco Country Store brought its call center operation in-house and staffed it with six sales representatives.

"Our sales are going up, and our costs are going down," she said. "We're saving between $75,000 and $100,000 as a result of bringing it in-house."

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