Paula Young Misses Forecast by a Hair

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Numbers rose across the board for the May 2002 Paula Young catalog compared with 2001, though it did not meet expectations.


"It did very well, but we did not fully take into account the worsening economy," said David Jacobson, marketing director at Specialty Catalog Corp., South Easton, MA, which publishes the catalog. "We were looking for a 5.3 percent response rate and a $62.79 average order amount. The book was very successful despite the fact that we missed budget."


The response rate was 4.72 percent while the average order amount was $61. Though less than forecast, those numbers were up from last year's 4.21 percent response and $60 average order.


Paula Young sells women's wigs. The catalog is produced monthly and targets women ages 60 to 65 in households with annual income described as "the lower levels of national averages."


Some of the improvement is attributed to better paper quality.


"After using 40-pound last year, we went to 50-pound this year," Jacobson said. "We found that increasing the paper quality has given us a lift in response. We had budgeted for it, and testing we've done revealed we could receive incremental orders."


House file growth led to a rise in circulation -- 595,000 versus 549,000 in May 2001. Pages rose to 40 from 36 last year, and there are 104 products compared with 97 in the May 2001 book.


Despite the older target audience, models in the book appear to be in their 30s and 40s.


"Test results show that what sells are younger models," Jacobson said.


Top-selling wigs included the Endearment, which appeared on the back cover. A Salon Price of $99 is listed, followed by the actual $39 price (marked down from $59) with a two-for-$36-each offer.


Five covers were used, with 80 percent of recipients receiving the same cover.


"Our testing program this year is much more aggressive than last year's," Jacobson said.


Helping the bottom line, including the response rate, was that there was no need to repeat a remailing of 206,000 catalogs done last year.


"Last year we had a remail of the same book with a different cover," he said. "Our customers are holding onto their books longer and ordering over a longer period of time. It was for a four-week period this year vs. two weeks last May, and that's why there was no remail this year. Last year they ordered for two weeks during the front end of the mailing and then there was a tailoff, leading to the remail. We did some testing last year that indicated that we could have fewer contacts and get the same amount of orders.


"Because it's a niche, need-based product, it's not a spontaneous purchase. Being in the mail too frequently is not to our advantage."


Just under two-thirds of May catalog orders were realized via telephone while 5 percent were placed through www.paulayoung.com and 30 percent came through mailed order forms.


In May 2001 the total per-piece expenditure was 38 to 39 cents. This year it was 42 cents.


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