Victorian Paper looks back to move forward

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Forget Polar Fleece and iPods - it's traditional looks like velvet opera coats and antique phones that sell at Victorian Paper Co.

The 20-year-old cataloger started out by selling birth announcements via mail. Over the past six years, however, it launched several new books intended to help the business evolve from a gift company into a year-round direct marketer.

"We developed the other catalogs because we wanted to expand out and have a more even year so that we have sales in the spring and summer, too," said Randy Rolston, president of Victorian Paper, Lenexa, KS.

The average order size for one of its paper catalogs, Victorian Papers, is $29 - low enough that the company will discontinue that catalog this year in order to focus on the newer titles.

Old is gold

The newer books include Castle & Cottage, a home décor catalog that is mailed in the spring and summer; Hopeless Romantic, an apparel and accessories catalog that is sent twice a year and inserted with orders; and Olde Flame, a candle catalog that comes out in the early fall.

Victorian Paper ( will increase the circulation for each of those newer titles by 20 percent this year. That number sounds impressive given the upcoming postage increase that has many catalogers cringing.

"We're trying to be more creative to work around the new rate," Mr. Rolston said.

For example, the company will move its prospecting efforts from a full-size catalog to a Slim Jim format, which goes out a lower rate, starting this summer.

Castle & Cottage, like all of the company's books, has a decidedly traditional feel, with many antique reproductions. The product selection includes hooked rugs, country toile fabrics, hand-painted pine furniture and lace panels. The catalog's sales are growing at a rate of approximately 50 percent per year and its circulation will reach 2 million this year.

"We're trying to develop products that people can use, so our items are not only antique but also functional," Mr. Rolston said.

Among the other newer catalogs, Hopeless Flame reaches a circulation of approximately 1 million with its selection of lace, linen and velvet clothing as well as replica jewelry. And Olde Flame was launched in the fall based on the success of candle items in the gift catalog.

The company is also considering launching a gardening book next year based on the strong performance put in by the 10 to 12 pages of gardening items that regularly appear in Castle & Cottage.

Bullish on extensions

Approximately 60 percent of the items carried by Victorian Paper are exclusives, with many product ideas coming from buyers searching at flea markets or from customers themselves.

For example, one customer wrote in looking for bulldog-related gift items. One of the buyers found a 100-year-old bulldog bottle opener at an antique store and the company had it reproduced. That bottle opener "has been of our best-selling products," Mr. Rolston said, even though most pet-related items don't do well for the company.

Another category that has done very well for the company that was first suggested by a customer is business cards printed in traditional Victorian themes.

"We now do 4 million cards a year," Mr. Ralston said, adding that the company has expanded into address labels.

Victorian Paper's audience typically consists of women ages 45 to 50 with household incomes of $85,000.

The West Coast tends to be one of the company's stronger regions for sales since there is less competition at retail, according to Mr. Rolston.

While sales are growing year-round for the company, its main book is still its gift catalog, Victorian Trading Co. Even here, the company has been able to become less dependent on Christmas sales by building up Halloween.

"Halloween is kind of a nostalgic holiday and it really fits into the Victorian style," Mr. Rolston said.

He claimed Halloween sales have almost tripled over the past three years and that the circulation for the fall mailing will increase by 30 percent this year.

The company's average order for Halloween decorations is $25 and some items go for $300 and $400.

"We've tapped into the high-end Halloween decoration market," Mr. Rolston said.


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