New Catalog/Web Site Tackles Inspirational Products

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Business-to-business marketer Awards.com has launched a print catalog and an e-commerce site simultaneously in an effort to capitalize on the untapped inspirational product market that covers promotional, motivational and recognition products.


"There's really no one out there who has spanned all three markets," said Michael McCann, chief marketing officer at Awards.com, Lyndhurst, NJ. Inspirational products are a $25 billion market, he said.


The Web site, awards.com, launched at the end of March, and mailed its first print catalog at the end of April to 900,000 businesses and organizations. About 700,000 slightly oversize 76-page books and 200,000 digest-size books were mailed. The digest-size book focuses on youth sports and organizational awards, featuring trophies, medals, ribbons and certificates.


Awards hopes to target buyers of corporate gifts and awards as well as coaches, sports leagues, schools and nonprofit organizations. Merit Direct, Stamford, CT, is the list broker for the company.


The merchant initially was planning to enter only the motivational and recognition product markets, but it realized that the targets for those markets were the same as for promotional products, which include personalized pens, T-shirts and hats.


And while some Web retailers are entering the promotional products market, catalogs don't seem to be part of their marketing mix, McCann said.


For example, 4-month-old Branders.com, Foster City, CA, doesn't intend to produce a print catalog.


"Our business model is Web-generated," said Kathleen Schultz, vice president of merchandising at the promotional products e-tailer. She added that if the company did choose to launch a print catalog, it would be with the intent to drive traffic to the newly relaunched Web site, not to generate revenue.


Branders.com is designed to allow customers to see personalized products before they buy them, using technology that enables them to upload logos and images onto images of products before placing orders. This type of service would not be possible in print catalogs, Schultz said.


Unlike e-tailers that later produce print catalogs and catalogers that launch Web sites to enhance their businesses, Awards.com is giving equal weight to both.


"We thought it would be strategically sound to launch both at the same time. We really are viewing our Web site as an online catalog. [We're] not a Web company that is just putting out a catalog," said McCann.


The catalog is designed to sell the company's products, as well as drive customers online, but "we'll never leave catalogs completely," McCann said.


The print book was designed by Manhattan Creative Strategies, Montville, NJ, and The Goldmark Group, Clifton, NJ. Quebecor Printing Corp., Hoffman Estates, IL, handles printing of the catalog.


The company also began sending out a direct mail piece last month that is designed to drive traffic to its Web site and get recipients to register. Awards sent out 40,000 postcards offering a sweepstakes and will continue to do so throughout the year. The sweepstakes offer winners tickets to the Stanley Cup or the Major League Soccer Cup games.


In an effort to get a leg up on the competition, Awards has partnered exclusively with the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball, all of which will provide licensed products, including youth awards and trophies that carry their logos.


Awards intends to mail its next catalog in September or October for the back-to-school season, during the winter holidays and at the end of the school year. It also plans to mail smaller books, including a digest-sized catalog targeted to bowlers and a catalog targeted to teachers in August.


McCann declined to comment on how much the new company expects to generate in sales this year.


Awards is funded by Bob Lessin, co-CEO of Wilt Capital; Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst; and Capital Express LLC.
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