Notre Dame Cataloger's Fortunes Tied to Grid Record, Not Economy

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While catalogers worry about the economy and the effect on sales that a recession might bring, Kevin Hill has a different concern: the record of a certain high-profile college football team in South Bend, IN.


That's because Hill's company, Fan Action Inc., Mishawaka, IN, is the publisher of Blue Gold Traditions, a catalog that features items containing the University of Notre Dame name. Blue Gold Traditions is a division of Notre Dame-oriented newspaper Blue & Gold Illustrated.


The most recent version of the book -- the 36-page Fall Classics 2001 edition that mailed during the summer -- includes jerseys, T-shirts, sweat shirts, hats, minihelmets, watches, autographed photographs, shorts, teddy bears, calendars, tableware sets, silk ties and inflatable chairs.


"I think everybody is concerned about the state of the economy," said Hill, executive vice president at Fan Action. "There's concern, but we haven't noticed an impact yet. If the team were winning, we wouldn't be concerned at all. Our customers are generally more concerned with the success of the team and the perception of the head coach. This is the first time that the team has ever gone 0-3 to start a season. Sales would be greater with a better record. There's a direct correlation between us and how the team does. The better they do, the better we do."


The approximate cost to produce the catalog is 70 cents per piece, including production and postage.


Hill said the Fall Classics catalog is exceeding expectations, which was a minimum 1.5 percent response rate.


"Keep in mind that 95 percent of what we provide isn't even offered by the University of Notre Dame itself," he said. "Even in South Bend, you can't go into a sporting goods store and find the licensed merchandise we offer."


A spring and a holiday catalog are produced during the year along with the Fall Classics book. Each book has a circulation of 100,000 to 200,000, based on the season. The company's house file is 400,000 to 600,000. Those in the file receive at least one book per year, based on purchase history. The holiday book is the largest of the three. The number of items appearing in the catalogs ranges from 200 for the spring and fall to 400 for the holiday version. About 10 percent to 20 percent of the items in the Fall Classics 2001 catalog are new.


Fan Action does no prospecting to augment catalog sales.


"We've been fortunate that we haven't had to do that," Hill said. "It's unique in that our customers have such a demand for anything with Notre Dame on it.


"[The house file has] been compiled over 20 years. It includes alumni and those who have an affinity toward Notre Dame. Along with the alumni are the die-hard fans and those who wish they went to Notre Dame."


Top-selling items in the Fall Classics catalog include jerseys as well as the Rudy Jacket, which is described on page 3 as "just like the one [actor] Sean Astin made famous in the movie 'Rudy.' " It has been marked down from $319.99 to $299.99. The cover features an Adidas replica jersey that is also a big seller. It also appears on page 2 with its $54.99 price.


One of the new features included in the Fall Classics 2001 book is the use of Notre Dame players as models.


"It helps with the response because fans of Notre Dame would notice that," he said.


Orders can be sent in via mail, phone, fax, an online option at NDshop.com or by e-mail.


About 70 percent of orders are placed by phone. The company operates its own call center in Mishawaka, which has five to 15 agents on duty, based on the time of year.


The cataloger is attempting to reach out to female consumers with additional items for women. Page 7 includes short-sleeve and long-sleeve T-shirts as well as a ribbed knit shirt, mock turtleneck and denim shirt for women.


"We traditionally don't include a lot of ladies items, but we noticed positive sales on ladies items in the past," Hill said. "About 95 percent of buyers are men, while the women are mostly buying for husbands or significant others."


All aspects of the catalogs are created inhouse.


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