Sur La Table Whets Appetites With New Catalog

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With 12,000 items in its stores, retailer/cataloger Sur La Table, Seattle, has always grappled with the problem of how to show the depth of its product line in its catalog.

The solution, tested in March 1997 and scheduled to be relaunched in August, is Tools for the Cook, a catalog that is less specialized and artistic than its traditional catalog, which mails 11 times a year. The regular Sur La Table catalog, ranges from 48 to 80 pages and contains 300 to 600 products, the new Tools for the Cook will have 53 pages and 1,400 to 1,500 products.

"Our other catalog is a lot of gifts and specialty items. This is more to demonstrate the breadth. It's anything a serious cook would need to stock a kitchen," said Carole Couture, executive vice president and general manager.

"Breadth" means a variety of hard-to-find and not-so-hard-to find utensils, as well as glasses and flatware. Although the product line may carry more fundamental cooking utensils than the company's flagship catalog, the company says it's far more specialized than the cookware assortment found in traditional retail stores. Products include items such as quiche pans and tools for making marzipan.

The company printed 450,000 of the March 1997 catalog. A sizable amount was reserved for distribution in stores, and the remainder was sent primarily to the company's house file, with some tests to bed-and-breakfast inns and small hotels. Bakeware and cookware were strong sellers, and the product line turned out to be a hit with the businesses.

For the August issue, a print run of 450,000 is planned, with 280,000 scheduled to be mailed and the remainder reserved for stores. The company plans to mail primarily to its house file and probably will continue more tests with bed-and-breakfasts and small hotels.

To help customers sort through the first Tools for the Cook catalog, definitions and explanations of different tools were provided. The result was a book that was part catalog, part guidebook and had a significantly longer life than most catalogs.

"It really lasted this long," Couture said, explaining why the company waited close to a year-and-a-half before sending out a second catalog. "It's as much of a tool as a catalog. We're finding that people keep it on their book shelves with their cookbooks and use it as a reference."

As in the last issue, the book will contain a great deal of black-and-white photography because the stainless steel merchandise seemed to lend itself to that medium, Couture said. Both books were designed by Couture's husband Michael Couture, who works as the company's creative director on a freelance basis.

"It worked well in the first book and we learned a lot. I think in the new book it will be used even better," she said.

The 52-page August book will feature primarily black-and-white photos. The product-intense middle section looks like a cooking supply guide, Couture said.

"It's the type of thing that if you want to find a knife, go for it. They're all there," she said.

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